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Quizzes, tests, and exams. Oh, my! Overcoming test anxiety

Ever had that churning feeling in your stomach just before a test begins? Ever break out in a sweat as your instructor passes out the midterm? Ever feel like skipping a class because a quiz is scheduled?

Those feelings are the worst. They can make you feel like you failed before you even start.

Well, don't worry. There are things you can do (besides running away screaming) that can help you deal with the dreaded condition of test anxiety.

Test anxiety is a nervousness or fear experienced before, during, or after a test because of distress, worry, or panic. Almost everyone experiences some nervousness. But some students find that anxiety interferes with their learning and test-taking to such a level that their grades suffer.

Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to keep the anxiety from interfering with your goals. First, it's important to know that you don't have to eliminate it entirely. A certain level of anxiousness is good as it helps you stay motivated and focused on the test at hand.

Being prepared for the exam is more than half the battle when overcoming text anxiety. Attending class is crucial to test knowledge and performance. Know when tests dates are scheduled and what information will be covered in exams. Avoid cramming the day or night before a test. You will not retain information as easily by overloading your memory at the last second. Both long- and short-term memory come into play when retrieving information. Maintain a study routine that allows you to absorb information at a steady pace rather than all at once. Study in a location where you can concentrate, get interested in the material, and give it your complete attention. Limit distractions such as cell phones, televisions, and Internet. Take thorough notes and convert them into flash cards you can review several at a time. People learn differently—some people are visual (seeing) learners, some are auditory (hearing), and some are kinesthetic (hands-on). Discover your best learning style and create a way to study around it. This will ensure that you are matching your study time to your learning style.

Be self-confident going into the test. Avoid thinking negative and self-defeating thoughts. Things such as "This teacher doesn't like me" and "Everyone else is smarter than me" will only destroy your confidence and motivation. If you find that you have the tendency to do this, try writing these statements on a piece of paper, and then respond positively to yourself in another statement. Essentially, give your own pep talk. Set your mind up for success rather than failure.

Before the Test:

  • Take a practice test the day before with conditions as much like the test as possible.

  • Get enough sleep. Avoid caffeine which increases anxiety.

  • Stop negative thoughts and focus on positive statements.

  • Give yourself time to feel composed and to be on time for the exam.

During the Test:

  • Skim through the entire test, read the directions, plan your approach, and plan your time.

  • Start with the easiest questions first.

  • Focus your attention on the test. Don't waste time and energy worrying, thinking about the consequences of not doing well, or wondering what others are doing.

  • If you don't know an answer, mark the question and plan to come back to it later. Often, other questions will jog your memory to remember the answer.

  • If you start to feel anxious, close your eyes and take three or four deep breaths. Relax and continue to focus on the test, question by question.

  • If your time is running out, concentrate on those questions you know well and/or have the most weight.

  • Use all the time allowed for reviewing your answers and completing ideas. Only change answers if you are sure of yourself.

After the Test:

  • Learn from your performance. Make sure you understand the answers to questions you got wrong (a great reason to use office hours or discuss in a study group).

Give these ideas a try. They will help you in overcoming test anxiety. They also will make test day a breeze, and you might even look forward to it. (OK, probably not, but it won't be nearly as big a deal).

Happy testing!

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