Thursday, May 8, 2008

Slipping Into the Test Anxiety Zone

You’re sitting in your classroom before a major test. Your senses are heightened. The lights seem too bright. You hear your classmates chattering nervously about how hard this is going to be. In your head you try to quickly review what you studied, but your mind is too flooded with worries and self-doubts to think clearly. You are now entering the Test Anxiety Zone.

Most students experience a reasonable amount of anxiety before a test, which is necessary for top performance. But, when anxiety begins to damage test scores, it becomes a problem. Test anxiety is relatively common among college students. Some researchers have estimated it occurs in 15 – 20% of college students at any given time. Test anxiety involves changes in physical processes, emotions, thinking, and behavior that can impede test performance.

Test anxiety is most often caused by being under-prepared, but this doesn't necessarily indicate laziness. Under-preparation for a test can also arise from limited study skills, poor study habits, poor time management, or learning problems. Some other factors that can contribute to test anxiety include inexperience with tests and college level material, excessive pressure to do well, competitiveness, over-valuing test results, and low self-confidence.

The first line of defense against test anxiety it studying well. Thorough preparation for tests involves:

· Showing up for every class and participating
· Talking to your instructor about their expectations and testing style
· Keeping up on readings and assignments
· Finding out where you study best and using it
· Planning ahead to study about 2-3 hours per credit hour per week
· Studying a little every day, taking reasonable breaks (don’t cram)
· Studying during your most alert and productive times
· Knowing your learning style and capitalizing on your strengths
· Learning the material using several study methods, not just one

The next line of defense is developing good test taking skills. It is possible to improve your performance on a test just by knowing good test taking strategies. It is also possible to do poorly on a test, even when you know your stuff, by letting the test outsmart you. There are many types of test questions (short answer, essay, multiple choice, true/false) and each requires different strategies for success. Most colleges have a learning center that offers help with test taking skills. For national and major standardized tests, there are companies who will teach you specific strategies for a fee.

Manage your time and learn to identify your time wasters. Set priorities and focus on what’s most important first. Use a calendar or planner and review your schedule at the start of each week to make sure you have allocated enough time for everything. Recognize your limits and delegate tasks when you can. There are only 24 hours in a day; learn to say “no” when you need to.

Get organized. Establish a productive work environment that is clean and spacious with limited distractions. Break large tasks into smaller steps to prevent them from becoming overwhelming. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to clear your work area and plan for the next day,

Remember to take care of yourself. Don’t stay up all night abusing substances before a test. Resist the urge to misuse stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, or speed to stay awake and focus. Get plenty of rest, eat right, and exercise. Reward yourself for your accomplishments.

Sometimes test anxiety is a symptom of a deeper problem such as an anxiety disorder or other emotional issue. If you suspect this is the case, a mental health professional may be able to help. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. You can also call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.