Test anxiety: "I'm running out of time!"

One of the most common causes of test anxiety is running out of time, or the fear of running out of time. The clock is ticking and you are stuck on a problem. The clock is ticking and you still have too many problems to go. The clock is ticking and you won’t have the time to review answers you were uncertain of.

There are three causes for test anxiety about running out of time. I’m going to bullet each one and then give you the remedies.

  1. Not enough study. If you don’t really know the material well you’re going to stumble. You won’t have the certainty that comes from knowing that you know. “Study” means comprehending, learning, not just retaining. It also means practicing– doing simulated problems or taking practice tests. By studying in the right way you will use the time on the test more efficiently.
  2. Self-doubt. Even if you are well-prepared for a test you may suffer from self-doubt once the test begins. You think you can’t remember what you studied. You second-guess your intuition, and you aren’t sure of your answers. This leads you to go round and round on questions, over-think your answers, and leaves lingering doubts that make you want to go back and review your answers before the test is over. Self-doubt causes your internal clock to stop. The trouble is, the one on the wall is still ticking.
  3. Distraction. Distraction takes several forms when you take a test. You start thinking about something else (what you’re going to do for your summer vacation), you become preoccupied with the person next to you (why can’t he stop fidgeting?), or you are evaluating your performance as you’re going along. All of these waste your valuable test time

What are the remedies?

  1. Studying. Plan your study time. Have a schedule. Make sure you start studying for a test with good lead time. Do not wait till the last minute.  Your study times should be broken up into 30-40 minute segments with short breaks in between (“short” means short. Just get up and get a drink of water, stretch your legs, go to the bathroom. NO texting, emailing, web surfing– save those for the longer breaks).  Make sure your study time includes practice– if you can find old exams, or with your study buddy make up some mock questions, or test yourself with flashcards. When you simulate the conditions of the exam, including setting the clock, you will have practiced in the most efficient way. You will be ready to take the test because you’ve practiced.
  2. Confidence. You need to keep your confidence up throughout the exam. If it starts slipping you need to know how to get it back. There are three tools for maintaining confidence. All three are in my book. The best way to build confidence is to break up any problem into small manageable steps. Take each one in turn. Take each one successively. You’ll get to where you’re going, but if you rush ahead out of anxiety (“I don’t know this! I’m going to run out of time!”) chances are you will make a mistake and you will have to spend even more time to correct that. Think of what you can do rather than what you can’t.
  3. Stay focused. Become aware of how you become distracted. Learn to stop the distraction just when it appears.Tune into what the next step should be. Take it decisively.  Example: you’re taking a test, you start thinking about the pizza party after it. Stop– that thinking is not taking you to your goal. What do you need to do get you back on track?  You’ll know. Do it.

If you’re having trouble with timing on tests you need to pinpoint the issue and consider why you are having it. I’ve given you the major three reasons people have difficulty on timed tests. If there is something I’ve missed. Please let me know.

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