Most of us get nervous about tests, especially standardized tests, where our scores can have a significant impact on our future. Nervousness is natural—and it can even be an advantage if you know how to channel it into positive energy.
The following pages provide suggestions for overcoming test anxiety both in the days and weeks before the test and during the test itself.
Two to Three Months before the Test
The number one best way to combat test anxiety is to be prepared. That means two things: Know what to expect on the test, and review the material and skills on which you will be tested.
Know What to Expect
What knowledge or skills will the exam test? What are you expected to know? What skills will you be expected to demonstrate? What is the format of the test? Multiple choice? True or false? Essay? If possible, go to a bookstore or to the library and get a study guide that shows you what a sample test looks like. Or maybe the agency that’s testing you for a job gives out a study guide or conducts study sessions. The fewer surprises you have on test day, the better you will perform. The more you know what to expect, the more confident you will be to handle the questions.
Review the Material and Skills
You’ll Be Tested On The fact that you are reading this post means that you’ve already taken this step in regard to logic and reasoning questions. Now, are there other steps you can take? Are there other subject areas that you need to review? Can you make more improvement in this or other areas? If you are really nervous or if it has been a long time since you reviewed these subjects and skills, you may want to buy another study guide,sign up for a class in your neighborhood, or work with a tutor.
The Days before the Test
Review, Don’t Cram. If you have been preparing and reviewing in the weeks before the exam, there’s no need to cram a few days before the exam. Cramming is likely to confuse you and make you nervous. Instead, schedule a relaxed review of all that you have learned.
Get some exercise in the days preceding the test. You’ll send some extra oxygen to your brain and allow your thinking performance to peak on the day you take the test. Moderation is the key here. You don’t want to exercise so much that you feel exhausted, but a little physical activity will invigorate your body and brain.Walking is a terrific, low-impact, energy-building form of exercise.
Like your body, your brain needs the proper nutrients to function well. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in the days before the test. Foods high in lecithin, such as fish and beans, are especially good choices. Lecithin is a protein your brain needs for peak performance. You may even consider a visit to your local pharmacy or health foods store to buy a bottle of lecithin tablets several weeks before your test.
Get plenty of sleep the nights before you take the test.Don’t overdo it, though, or you’ll make yourself as groggy as if you were overtired. Go to bed at a reasonable time, early enough to get the number of hours you need to function effectively. You’ll feel relaxed and rested if you’ve gotten plenty of sleep in the days before you take the test.
At some point before you take the test, make a trial run to the testing center to see how long it takes you to get there. Rushing raises your emotional energy and lowers your intellectual capacity, so you want to allow plenty of time on test day to get to the testing center. Arriving ten or fifteen minutes early gives you time to relax and get situated.
Plan some sort of celebration—with family or friends, or just by yourself—for after the test. Make sure it’s something you’ll really look forward to and enjoy. If you have something to look forward to after the test is over, you may find it easier to prepare and keep moving during the test.
It’s finally here, the day of the big test. Set your alarm early enough to allow plenty of time to get to the testing center. Eat a good breakfast. Avoid anything that’s really high in sugar, such as donuts. A sugar high turns into a sugar low after an hour or so. Cereal and toast, or anything with complex carbohydrates is a good choice. Eat only moderate amounts. You don’t want to take a test feeling stuffed! Your body will channel its energy to your digestive system instead of your brain. Pack a high-energy snack to take with you. You may have a break sometime during the test when you can grab a quick snack. Bananas are great. They have a moderate amount of sugar and plenty of brain nutrients, such as potassium. Most proctors won’t allow you to eat a snack while you’re testing, but a peppermint shouldn’t pose a problem. Peppermints are like smelling salts for your brain. If you lose your concentration or suffer from a momentary mental block, a peppermint can get you back on track. Don’t forget the earlier advice about relaxing and taking a few deep breaths. Leave early enough so you have plenty of time to get to the test center. Allow a few minutes for unexpected traffic. When you arrive, locate the restroom and use it. Few things interfere with concentration as much as a full bladder. Then find your seat and make sure it’s comfortable. If it isn’t, tell the proctor and ask to move to something you find more suitable. Now relax and think positively! Before you know it, the test will be over, and you’ll walk away knowing you’ve done as well as you can.
Combating Test Anxiety
Okay—you know what the test will be on. You’ve reviewed the subjects and practiced the skills on which you will be tested. So why do you still have that sinking feeling in your stomach? Why are your palms sweaty and your hands shaking? Even the brightest, most well-prepared test takers sometimes suffer bouts of test anxiety. But don’t worry; you can overcome it. Below are some specific strategies to help you.
Take the Test One Question at a Time
Focus all your attention on the one question you’re answering. Block out any thoughts about questions you’ve already read or concerns about what’s coming next. Concentrate your thinking where it will do the most good—on the question you’re answering now.
Develop a Positive Attitude
Keep reminding yourself that you’re prepared. In fact, if you’ve read this book or any other in the Learning Express Skill Builder series, you’re probably better prepared than most other test takers. Remember, it’s only a test, and you’re going to do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you. If that nagging drill sergeant voice inside your head starts sending negative messages, combat them with positive ones of your own. Tell yourself:
■ “I’m doing just fine.”
■ “I’ve prepared for this test.”
■ “I know exactly what to do.”
■ “I know I can get the score I’m shooting for.”
You get the idea. Remember to drown out negative messages with positive ones of your own.
If You Lose Your Concentration
Don’t worry about it! It’s normal. During a long test, it happens to everyone. When your mind is stressed or overexerted, it takes a break whether you want it to or not. It’s easy to get your concentration back if you simply acknowledge the fact that you’ve lost it and take a quick break. You brain needs very little time (seconds, really) to rest. Put your pencil down and close your eyes. Take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, and let it out slowly. Listen to the sound of your breathing and repeat this two more times. The few seconds this takes is really all the time your brain needs to relax and get ready to refocus. This exercise also helps control your heart rate, so that you can keep anxiety at bay. Try this technique several times in the days before the test when you feel stressed. The more you practice, the better it will work for you on test day.
If You Freeze
Don’t worry about a question that stumps you even though you’re sure you know the answer. Mark it and go on to the next question. You can come back to the “stumper” later. Try to put it out of your mind completely until you come back to it. Just let your subconscious mind chew on the question while your conscious mind focuses on the other items (one at a time—of course). Chances are, the memory block will be gone by the time you return to the question. If you freeze before you even begin the test, here’s what to do:
- Do some deep breathing to help yourself relax and focus.
- Remind yourself that you’re prepared.
- Take a little time to look over the test.
- Read a few of the questions.
- Decide which ones are the easiest and start there.
One of the most important—and nerve-wracking—elements of a standardized test is time. You’ll only be allowed a certain number of minutes for each section, so it is very important that you use your time wisely.
The most important time strategy is pacing yourself.Before you begin, take just a few seconds to survey the test, making note of the number of questions and of the sections that look easier than the rest. Then, make rough time schedule based on the amount of time available to you. Mark the halfway point on your test and make a note beside that mark of what the time will be when the testing period is half over.
Once you begin the test, keep moving. If you work slowly in an attempt to make fewer mistakes, your mind will become bored and begin to wander. You’ll end up making far more mistakes if you’re not concentrating. Worse, if you take too long to answer questions that stump you, you may end up running out of time before you finish.So don’t stop for difficult questions. Skip them and move on. You can come back to them later if you have time. A question that takes you five seconds to answer counts as much as one that takes you several minutes, so pick up the easy points first. Besides, answering the easier questions first helps build your confidence and gets you in the testing groove. Who knows? As you go through the test, you may even stumble across some relevant information to help you answer those tough questions.
Keep moving, but don’t rush. Think of your mind as a seesaw. On one side is your emotional energy. On the other side is your intellectual energy. When your emotional energy is high, your intellectual capacity is low. Remember how difficult it is to reason with someone when you’re angry? On the other hand, when your intellectual energy is high, your emotional energy is low. Rushing raises your emotional energy and reduces your intellectual capacity. Remember the last time you were late for work? All that rushing around probably caused you to forget important things—like your lunch. Move quickly to keep your mind from wandering, but don’t rush and get yourself flustered.
Check yourself at the halfway mark. If you’re a little ahead, you know you’re on track and may even have a little time left to check your work. If you’re a little behind, you have several choices. You can pick up the pace a little, but do this only if you can do it comfortably. Remember—don’t rush! You can also skip around in the remaining portion of the test to pick up as many easy points as possible. This strategy has one drawback, however. If you are marking a bubble- style answer sheet and you put the right answers in the wrong bubbles—they’re wrong. So pay close attention to the question numbers if you decide to do this.
When you take the test, you want to make as few errors as possible in the questions you answer. Here are a few tactics to keep in mind.
Remember that comparison between your mind and a seesaw? Keeping your emotional energy low and your intellectual energy high is the best way to avoid mistakes. If you feel stressed or worried, stop for a few seconds. Acknowledge the feeling (Hmmm! I’m feeling a little pressure here!), take a few deep breaths, and send yourself some positive messages. This relieves your emotional anxiety and boosts your intellectual capacity.
In many standardized testing situations, a proctor reads the instructions aloud. Make certain you understand what is expected. If you don’t, ask. Listen carefully for instructions about how to answer the questions and make certain you know how much time you have to complete the task. Write the time on your test if you don’t already know how long you have to take the test. If you miss this vital information, ask for it again.
This may seem like a silly warning, but it is important. Place your answers in the right blanks or the corresponding ovals on the answer sheet. Right answers in the wrong place earn no points—they may even lose you points. It’s a good idea to check every five to ten questions to make sure you’re in the right spot. That way, you won’t need much time to correct your answer sheet if you have made an error. Logic and Judgement Questions Standardized tests often feature a section designed to test your judgement, common sense, or logic. Often, these questions are based on a hypothetical situation, which may be presented in a separate paragraph or as part of the question. Here are a few tactics for approaching such questions. This may seem strange, but a few questions can be answered without reading the passage. If the passage is short (four sentences or so), read the questions first. You may be able to answer them by using your common sense. You can check your answers later after you’ve actually read the passage. If you’re unsure, though, don’t guess; read the passage carefully. If you can’t answer any of the questions, you still know what to look for in the passage. This focuses your reading and makes it easier for you to retain important information. If you know what to look for ahead of time, it’s easier to find the information. Questions based on a hypothetical situation actually test your reading ability as much as your logic and common sense. So be sure you read the situation carefully. Circle information that tells who, what, when, or where. The circles will be easy to locate later if you come across a question that asks for specific information. Marking up a passage in this way also heightens your concentration and makes it more likely that you’ll remember the information when you answer the questions following the passage. Be sure to read the questions and answer choices carefully, too. A simple word like not can turn a right answer into a wrong answer.
Choosing the Right Answers by Process of Elimination
Make sure you understand what the question is asking. If you’re not sure of what’s being asked, you’ll never know whether you’ve chosen the right answer. So figure out what the question is asking. If the answer isn’t readily apparent, look for clues in the answer choices. Notice the similarities and differences in the answer choices. Sometimes, this helps put the question in a new perspective and makes it easier to answer. If you’re still not sure of the answer, use the process of elimination. First, eliminate any answer choices that are obviously wrong. Then, reason your way through the remaining choices. You may be able to use relevant information from other parts of the test. If you can’t eliminate any of the answer choices, you might be better off to skip the question and come back to it later. If you can’t eliminate any answer choices to improve your odds when you come back later, then make a guess and move on.
If You’re Penalized for Wrong Answers, You must know whether there’s a penalty for wrong answers before you begin the test. If you don’t, ask the proctor before the test begins. Whether you make a guess depends on the penalty. Some standardized tests are scored in such a way that every wrong answer reduces your score by one-fourth or one-half of a point. Whatever the penalty, if you can eliminate enough choices to make the odds of answering the question better than the penalty for getting it wrong, make a guess.
Let’s imagine you are taking a test in which each answer has four choices and you are penalized one fourth of a point for each wrong answer. If you have no clue and cannot eliminate any of the answer choices, you’re better off leaving the question blank because the odds of answering correctly are one in four. This makes the penalty and the odds equal. However, if you can eliminate one of the choices, the odds are now in your favor. You have a one in three chance of answering the question correctly. Fortunately, few tests are scored using such elaborate means, but if your test is one of them, know the penalties and calculate your odds before you take a guess on a question. If You Finish Early Use any time you have left at the end of the test or test section to check your work. First, make certain you’ve put the answers in the right places. As you’re doing this, make sure you’ve answered each question only once. Most standardized tests are scored in such a way that questions with more than one answer are marked wrong. If you’ve erased an answer, make sure you’ve done a good job. Check for stray marks on your answer sheet that could distort your score. After you’ve checked for these obvious errors, take a second look at the more difficult questions.
You’ve probably heard the folk wisdom about never changing an answer. It’s not always good advice. If you have a good reason for thinking a response is wrong, change it.