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Test Taking Tips for Tackling Content and Anxiety

I was one to get so nervous on tests that it would affect my ability to recall information, so seeing testing anxiety in my students has been something that has always bothered me. I've noticed that a couple of processes have really helped me and my students prepare and “feel” prepared for their exams. If a student has mainly content-recall issues, I not only recommend doing several practice problems of the material they are having trouble with, but I also recommend reviewing notes and formulas frequently the day before and the day of the test as follows:

1. Review for 10–15 minutes after school.
2. Review for 10–15 minutes right before bed.
3. Wake up 10–15 minutes earlier the next morning and review for 10–15 minutes.

Studies and my own personal experiments show that “sleeping on” information gives the brain a chance to process it and, just as importantly, rest, so when reviewing the material again in the morning, a lot of the time, it seems way simpler and almost “too easy.”

I also found that “talking myself down” out of my anxiety during tests helped me to keep my head clear enough so that I can calculate and write efficiently. The thought process I use is based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which, to sum it up, involves reprogramming the brain out of negative thought patterns. CBT does a lot of digging and uncovers the core beliefs at the root of the anxiety issue, but my process is more simplified; I “keep it between me and the test,” which means that I see the exam as a measurement of what information I can recall and process, not as a measurement of my self-worth, my value to someone else, or an indication of my holistic intelligence.

When I notice that I get anxious, a dialogue that I have with myself might look like this:

1. Are you very nervous? Yeah, I can’t wait to see how this goes.
2. Why are you so nervous? Well, I want to do really well on this assessment.
3. Why is it important that you do well? I did well on my last assessments and I would feel silly if I did worse on this one.
5. Is there anything else that is upsetting you? Yeah, I don’t think this webinar gave me all of the information I need.
6. What could you do if you don’t have the information? I can look up a few things before I start writing.
7. What if it is an open-ended question? Oh, I don’t want to put something stupid and “fluffy,” but I think I have some really good ideas and philosophies about this topic that I am hoping will be well-received. I should explain my point as well as possible regardless.
8. What if they don’t like your answers? Well, I am still learning about this topic. Perhaps at a later date, I can retake my assessment or show improvement on another one.
9. What if you score lower on this assessment than your last assessments? Haha, this one is a bit harder than the last ones! I will not be angry with myself if I don’t do as well. I will just put forth my best effort and see what happens.

Manifesting such a dialogue can take a bit of practice and more than a couple of positive thoughts to really start becoming a good habit, and it can also be very difficult for someone with severe anxiety, so there may be cases where professional help would be necessary. In addition to these tips, feel free to try using songs or tangible objects to help remind you to study when needed to make sure to check that your anxiety is not taking over your thoughts. Having a study plan and relieving myself of unnecessary worry about “being judged” on assessments or even my past performances has freed me from a lot of extra stress and improved my outlook on life, and I’m hoping it will benefit others.