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Self-Help Tools: Career Choices

Exams (Test Anxiety)

Here are some tips on how to deal with Test Anxitety:

Before the Exam:

Learn the procedures for effective study.

Study with regularity.

Find out what the exam will cover. (For example, what chapters in your textbook will be included? Will you be held responsible for supplementary reading? Will information given during class lectures be included?

Find out the date and place of the examination. (This seems too obvious to mention, yet I've had students who walked in my class on exam day shocked to discover that we were taking an exam. If you have had to miss classes because of illness, etc., it is your responsibility to find out from the instructor what you've missed so that when you return you'll be prepared.)

Find out total time allowed for the examination. (Will the instructor give you the entire class period or only part of it?)

If possible, find out the weight and passing score of the examination. (Some exams are more important to a grade than others. You need to know which ones will affect your grade most heavily so that you'll know how to budget your study time.)

Find out equipment needed and allowed. (Will it be an open book test? Will you need your own paper or special pencils, etc.?)

Find out what kind of exam it will be: objective, essay, or a combination of both. (If the exam will be essay, find out whether there will be several short questions or one or more long ones, or both. It's important to know the type of exam because the preparation for each kind will differ.)

Study previous exams (that means your past quizzes, and tests and exams given by the instructor in previous years) so that you can become familiar with the types of questions most frequently asked by the instructor. Also, when you are able to obtain previous exams, work on the questions under simulated exam conditions. This is a great way to find out how well you work under pressure. That question that seemed so easy at first glance probably will be more difficult to answer than you thought, and you'll also probably find that you are taking more time for each question than you should and then are hurrying at the end. Research has shown that if two people of equal background, intelligence, education and training take an exam, the one who is familiar with exams in general will have the greater advantage. Also think over exams you have taken thus far. Reflect on the grades you received and comments written by the instructor on the margin of your test. Where were your scores disappointing to you? Decide on the reason or reasons. Then write out your diagnosis of your past test-taking strengths and weaknesses.

When writing your diagnosis, don't include chance errors that are unlikely to recur. Concentrate on difficulties that you consider characteristic.

Try to anticipate the questions the teacher might ask and decide what your answer would be were those questions asked.

Start reviewing for an exam early. Don't wait until an all-night cram session the night before the exam. If you do, you'll go into the exam with a blurred mind filled with a jumble of facts and no sense of perspective.

The first review should always take place at the end of each chapter or assignment. (Immediate self-recitation and review, which are parts of the SQ3R Study Method, are of great help in keeping memory at a high level.)

You should also review lecture notes immediately after class. (The SQ3R Study Method is presented in the Study Skills subsection.)

There needs to be informal intermediate review to keep the material fresh in one's memory. Occasional looking over of one's notes (both class and textbook notes) with rereading of obscure points reduces forgetting. Some students find it helpful to take time for a short review of all subjects once a week, or at least once a month. This time spent in reviewing should not, however, cut into the time spent for regular study. Your worst subject is the one that should be reviewed the most frequently. If you find there is still some material you don't understand, then you must reread it thoroughly until you have gained an understanding.

As for time spent in review, it's far better to review in short chunks, at the most one or two hours at a time. When necessary, give yourself an unexciting break of about l0 or l5 minutes. If you have reviewed from the first, then the final review need not be too lengthy. You shouldn't have to spend much more than one or two hours the night before the exam. Remember that the final review is not a last minute effort to learn for the first time but a concentrated review of material previously learned. (If the final review does require more than one or two hours, the review should be divided into several sessions.)

On the day of the test, get to the examination ahead of time. Sit down and relax for a few minutes before the test begins.

During the exam:

Before you start writing:

Glance over the whole exam to see how many questions there are, how difficult each one is and the grade value given to each question. Then prepare a schedule for progress through the exam, budgeting your time as follows: (If there is no clock in the exam room, be sure to wear a watch.)

Plan to answer first the questions that count most toward the grade.

Plan to spend more of your total time on those questions that count most toward the final grade. If, for example, the total point value for the test is l00, then a 50 point question is worth about half your time regardless of how many questions there are.

In setting up the schedule, leave some time at the end to go back to complete any skipped items and to check some completed items.

If all the questions are of equal value, plan to answer the easier ones first (perhaps as you write you'll remember the answers to the more difficult ones). Don't worry about a tough item. Skip it, and come back to it later.

Make up your mind to ignore other members of the class. Trying to judge your time by the amount of time they take is risky business.

Plan to use the entire time allotted to you for the exam. If you finish early, you should check your paper carefully. Change any responses you are feel are wrong. It is probably best not to change those about which you have any doubt.

Read the directions and special instructions carefully. Underline key words in the directions. Some of these are list, outline, enumerate, state, define, describe, explain, trace, compare, discuss, evaluate, etc. Then when you start writing, follow directions carefully. If you do not clearly understand the directions, ask the instructor.

Read each question carefully. Pay close attention to these words: all, most, some, no, none, always, usually, sometimes, seldom, never, much, little, more, equal, less, bad, good, is, are, may, should, would.

Also, be prepared to write clearly and legibly. Grading papers is no fun. A badly written paper does not put the instructor in a happy or generous mood. She/He is human -- believe it or not.

When you begin to work:

Make a sincere attempt at every question. Do not avoid those that look complicated and involved. Stick to your schedule. If you tend to rush, slow down. If you tend to dawdle, pace yourself.

When you are finished:

Check over your exam for two purposes:

To see whether you have left out any questions you meant to tackle later.

To see whether you have followed directions to catch careless errors.

After the exam:

When you get your paper back, analyze your work. Note what you did wrong and be certain to find out why. Try to detect whether you have any exam taking deficiencies such as simply not following directions, bogging down on relatively unimportant items, misreading questions, getting the main idea but rushing sloppily through proofs, etc. Then the next time you face an exam, watch yourself for the weakness.

Also note what you did right and repeat the successful techniques next time.