Overcoming Test Anxiety: Part I

AnxiousTeenIf you’re suffering from test anxiety you’ve come to the right place.  This post, and the next three, will help you. I’m a psychologist who coaches students to reduce, and in many cases, eliminate their test anxiety. In these posts I’ll share with you what you need to perform at your best without test anxiety.

There are four essential factors that contribute to successful test performance. You need to know and master all of them. Without any one you’re going to have test anxiety. When you master all four you’ll be a powerhouse.  The four factors are (1) know the test content; (2) understand how the test is structured; (3) practice and build endurance; and (4)  have performance skills.  Starting with this post and in each of the next three, I’m going to take apart each factor.  Study these posts well!

KNOW THE TEST CONTENT.   This may seem like a no-brainer. “Of course I need to know the content!” But you’d be surprised if I told you that what most people think of as “knowing” the material is not really knowing it at all. They’re just memorizing what they believe will be on the test.

But what happens, during the test, if you get a question that you haven’t seen before? You memorized all the right stuff but now you’re finding that’s not enough. What do you need to do?  Here are the three guidelines for really learning test content.

(1) Make sure that you understand what you’re studying. Many students skim the surface, memorizing some facts or formulae that they don’t truly understand. After you memorize something then explain it to someone else. It will show youwhat you know and what you still need to learn.

(2) Record the material:  write it down on flashcards, or make a study guide highlighting main points.

(3) Build flexibilityAs you review the material, change it up: shuffle your flashcards; create mock problems for yourself; if you have a study buddy make up questions for each other. When you take a test you need to expect the unexpected! So play around with the material so you feel comfortable with it.

A final point: start studying well in advance of a test!  This is probably the most important factor as you learn content: give yourself enough time to thoroughly digest the material. Many students cram at the last moment and so the material is not yet assimilated. Students who give themselves ample time to read, study, review and gain flexibility will not only score much higher, but will do so without the burden of debilitating test anxiety.


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