The Learning Center has a three week mini-course specially made for how to take a college-level exam. It is called, ACDV B70D ``Study Skills: Test Taking'' and it usually begins the week before the first astronomy exam. Look in the ``Academic Development'' course listings at the beginning of the semester's schedule of classes. What follows are some universal tips adapted from a publication by Glynis Boultbee and are some of skills you will develop in the ACDV B70D class. I have condensed and modified her publication for the students at the community college where I teach. Contact her to get the full article.
Students who get intensely anxious about exams usually feel that way because they feel they have no control in the exam situation. As a result, they'll blame the instructors, poor questions, difficult material, etc. That negative attitude causes them to lose even more confidence and a downward spiral begins (or continues).
There are ways for the student to take back control. The problem may be lack of preparation (problems with time management, notetaking, studying, etc.---skills learned in other ACDV B70 mini-courses!) or difficulty with exam writing (an inability to read questions systematically, to budget time appropriately, etc.---skills learned in ACDV B70D!).
Although your brain has to do the work on exams, if the rest of the body isn't ready, student performance suffers. It is important to separate symptoms from problems. Is poor concentration causing poor exam preparation which is causing sleepless nights? Or are poor sleeping habits causing concentration difficulties which are causing poor exam preparation? Once the student has determined what the real problem is, they can get on with the business of generating solutions and evaluating them.
For further information, contact one of the staff at the Learning Center. There are a lot of them available eager to help you reach your goals and improve your success in any college course you'll take.
If after going through the steps of the previous section and you find that you still do not know the answer, it is okay to guess. You may know more than you think you know---perhaps something in the test (e.g., previous questions) may help you figure out the answer. Ask yourself, what in the test can help you with the test? Leaving a question blank gives you an absolute zero chance of getting the question correct.
It is okay to change answers, but only if you have a good logical reason to change it. Hesitate in changing your answer if you only have an emotional reason. Let the exam help you out. You can learn a bit about the material even as you are taking the exam. Sometimes, several questions will be about the same topic. Looking over the answers for the questions will usually show you which single answer is in common with the questions.
When studying for multiple choice exams, try to anticipate what questions will be asked (e.g., modified quiz questions). Focus on the details of the material. Some instructors will give you a review sheet to help you out with this. Use that review sheet---the instructor has a very good idea of what will be on the exam!
In summary, the ``testing smart'' skills you need for multiple-choice exams are:
Do not focus on the symptoms. There are usually two sides at work in those who suffer from test anxiety. One part thinks you will fail and that you are not worthy. The other part of you blames yourself for being so test anxious. It is a vicious cycle. How can you stop the negative spiral and not get anxious about exams?
Past poor exam performances have a major effect on test anxiety. People usually relive those negative experiences. Despite those negative past experiences, you need to divorce yourself from the past and move forward. If you are returning to school after an extended time out of the classroom, you have changed since you took those classes long ago. You are not the same person you were in high school or several years ago.
What if you blank out right in the middle of an exam? Do some deep breathing or a relaxation exercise. You will not ``waste time'' by calming yourself down! In fact, you will be more productive and cover more material.
Unfortunately, spending more time studying for an exam does not lessen the anxiety while taking the exam. The anxiety will always be there. Realize that you will have it, so you can prepare for it and manage it. You need to stay in a rational place.
In summary, channel your nervousness correctly, a positive attitude is essential, and avoid negative thoughts and people. Give yourself a break and decide that you can do it. Be realistic---do not expect miracle cures overnight. It will take time for you to learn how to manage your test anxiety.
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last updated: August 31, 2013