Tests and test taking may be the single largest fear of college students at all levels. Still, tests do not need to present the kind of stress they do for a large percentage of students. Psychologists call this “test anxiety.” When we study anxiety (fear of the unknown, doubt, uncertainty, feelings of doom) this semester you will see that psychologists believe that a moderate level of anxiety is normal and helps human beings accomplish things. Too little anxiety may result in failure because the person with too little anxiety is apathetic, and therefore not well motivated. Too much anxiety and the person becomes disabled by fear, is unable to concentrate, and may even develop physical symptoms such as tremors, insomnia and fatigue.
If there is one theme to emphasize in coming to grips with this problem, it is the concept of familiarity. Familiarity is, by far, the best way to reduce or even eliminate anxiety. Make sure you are familiar with:
►your individual’s teacher’s testing style and expectations,
►your individual teacher’s testing procedures and policies,
►the types of tests that will be taking,
►the “weight” (i.e. the degree to which they determine your final grade in the course) of the tests involved,
►above all - the material - the facts and ideas - that will be covered by the test.
To become familiar with my testing style and specific procedures, be sure to click the bar “Preparing For Tests” on the Introduction to Psychology page. You will find a page titled, “Frequently Asked Questions” which will explain in detail my rules when I administer tests to my classes. You will also find two other sections on quizzes and examinations that describe each of these types of tests and provide numerous practice questions to help you do well on my tests. You may be relieved of some of your anxiety by realizing first of all that I do not give essay questions in class – so you will not have the double worry of both needing to know the information and needing to know how to write.
It may also relax you to keep in mind that the purpose of tests is not only to discover how familiar you are with the facts that have been presented in the lecture and the textbook, but also to discover how well the educational process is succeeding. While the tests you take tell me how effectively you are mastering the course material, they are also telling me how effectively I am teaching that material.
The best way to become familiar with the facts and ideas that will be tested in my course is to take the practice tests (for quizzes use the textbook web site and for exams use my website) over and over. While at first you may take these tests at random, as the semester progresses, you should try to take the tests while replicating (as best you can) the conditions under which the tests will be administered. Once you have studied the practice questions a few times, select the number of questions that will be included in the test (twenty for quizzes and one hundred for exams) and then take the exam under the same time limits you will encounter in the classroom: make sure you are not interrupted, make sure you don’t look up any answers, use Scantron forms for the exams, take about twenty minutes for a quiz and one hour and fifteen minutes for an exam. Once you have finished, grade yourself. No matter how well or how badly you performed, do the same thing with different questions again. Then again. Practice questions are the most common way to prepare for most tests (even civil service tests and professional licensing exams are prepared for in this manner). You will find numerous practice questions in the textbooks of virtually all of your courses.
Taking preparation quizzes and exams over and over should also enable you to avoid "cramming" (intense and prolonged studying in a brief period of time before an exam - mostly the night before). Cramming is one of the most counter-productive methods of studying known. First, you reduce your chances of being relaxed at the test because cramming usually involves a great loss of sleep, assuring that you show up for the exam sleepy, stressed out and apathetic. Second, especially if you have not spent time going over the materials during the semester, the facts that you crammed into your head are the night before the exam become muddled and confusing the next day. Third, cramming may serve to increase rather than reduce anxiety, because the cramming session often shows you how little you actually know and how much you missed or forgot over the several weeks covered by the exam.
Another method of coping with anxiety generated by questions is to make up a number of your own questions. Pretend you are the instructor. Go through your textbook and make up test questions (multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and True or False) and then test yourself later, or have other members of your study group take them. This not only helps you focus on the important information in each chapter, it also takes some of the mystique out of the questions since you will experience some of the same problems as your instructor when you attempt to structure your questions in a fair and meaningful way. Identifying with the problems your instructor is experiencing will help to reduce your anxiety. (If you really put in the work and give this an honest try I assure you that you will eventually come to look at test questions far differently than you have in the past.)
Anxiety will be reduced if you study in an ongoing and organized way with fellow students (a "study group"), not only because you will have the benefit of constant and frequent review, but also because your group will be an important source of social support.
There are other simple ways to reduce your test anxiety. Get familiar with things such as traffic conditions, parking problems and the result of weather conditions at the testing site. Show up early for your test. Make sure you have plenty of all the materials needed (eg. Scantron forms, pencils, erasers, scrap paper). Try to have on hand things that will comfort you, such as water, candies, etc. (IF your professor allows these). Make sure you find out in advance if you are permitted to have electronic devices such as calculators or dictionaries with you while taking the test. If you studied while drinking coffee or tea, then drink coffee or tea before taking the test. Come to the test rested, but not over-rested; in fact the night before taking a test you should try to go to bed and get up about the same times you normally do.
While many test-takers are comforted by superstitions (wearing your “lucky sweater” or mismatched socks), don’t let superstition extend to the actual test. For example, don’t waste time and energy trying to analyze if there is a repeated pattern to the letters of the multiple choice questions, or trying to decide if it is “good” or “bad” to go back and change answers, or if you’ll do better by answering the even numbered questions before you answer the odd numbered.
Last, be sure to keep your good manners. Don’t interrupt the ability of others to concentrate by talking out loud, mumbling, or nervously tapping your pencil or wiggling your leg. If you have a cold or the sniffles, go to the lavatory and blow your nose. Once you have finished the test, do not hang around outside the classroom discussing the test with classmates. Turn off all electronic devices. Don’t cheat: don’t solicit others to cheat and don’t cooperate with cheaters.