Test anxiety plagues many students from elementary school through post-graduate work. Many students literally fear taking tests and can "freeze up" at the first challenging question. Are you one of these students? If so, how can you learn to relax and build test-taking confidence?
First of all, teach yourself that no one is perfect. Perfectionism is a key cause of test anxiety. No student knows all of the answers to every test. No matter how much you have studied, there are bound to be some test problems that will have you stuck for answers. This may not be due to a lack of study. In other words, it's not your fault. All tests will have test problems beyond your power to control. Avoid practicing perfectionism. Feeling guilty or panic-stricken because of perfectionism is within your power to control. When the test is passed out, take the time to "self-talk." An internal dialogue such as "I've prepared the best that I can for now. I will not get some answers correct. All I can do now is to try my best."
Second, re-label your emotions. Just labeling your fears of test-taking as "test anxiety" produces a negative personal response. Try re-labeling your condition as "test excitement." This is not just a psychological manipulation or a con. Anxiety and excitement produce quite similar physiological responses: increased heart rate, increased perspiration, etc. However, the former is certainly perceived as negative, while the latter is seen as positive. Choose the positive over the negative. Add "I am excited about the challenge of taking this test" to your pre-test self-talk ritual.
Finally, let's get into some practical "nuts and bolts" to reduce test anxiety. Many test-takers do not have an accurate concept of time. Poor time management is a key contributor to test anxiety. SAT® test-takers complain more about time and pacing issues than about the content of the exam. An enlightening experiment is to close your eyes after setting the oven timer to five minutes. Practice gauging the amount of time, without counting, until you get close to the five minutes. It does no good to keep track of how much time to allot to each section of a test, unless you have a good grasp of time. Time recognition is a skill to be learned. It improves with practice.
Learn how to quickly mark bubble-in answers accurately. Spend no more than two seconds filling in any answer. Perfectionists waste valuable time on this activity. Your shaded answers don't have to be overly dark or works of perfect art. If the test allows you to write on the test booklet itself, such as on the SAT®, MCAT®, or LSAT®, write your answer responses on the test and transfer these answers at the end of a test sub-section by groups. This technique improves accuracy and saves time.
While reading the answer responses, look for the wrong answers first, not the right ones. This is called using the process of elimination and it builds test-taker confidence and reduces test anxiety. It is easier to make a decision between fewer choices than many. Slash through the wrong answers to reveal possibly correct answer choices. If writing on the test is not allowed, use your fingers to point to incorrect answer responses to more visually isolate the correct answer response.
Skip and return only to the test problems that you are sure that further reflection may really improve your chance of helping you select the correct answer choice. Minimize the amount of skipped test problems. Do not review any marked answers. Those who report feeling test anxiety have a much greater likelihood of changing answer choices to wrong choices upon review.
Make sure to guess and never perceive guessing as a failure. Many students fail to take advantage of guessing on multiple choice tests because they feel that it won't affect their grade much. Wrong! Strategic guessing really can improve your overall grade. On a 100 problem test, if you leave ten answers blank because you don't know the correct answers, you have probably lowered your grade by one-half by failing to guess. Guessing odds are much better with each wrong answer eliminated.
Mark Pennington is an educational author, presenter, reading specialist, and middle school teacher. Mark is committed to differentiated instruction for the diverse needs of today's remedial reading students. Visit Mark's website at http://www.penningtonpublishing.com to check out his free test anxiety teacher resources and books: Teaching Reading Strategies, Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.