Apr 8, 2015

Feeling a bit...anxious? Instructor offers tips on overcoming test anxiety

Exam. Test. Final.
Anyway you say it, the fear is the same. First, the heart beats faster. Next, the stomach is in knots.
It’s pretty common for students to get anxious before a test, said CLC psychology instructor Alita Reque-Peterson. But what’s less common is physical illness and severe emotional stress that can be debilitating.
Still, every year, students experience just that.
“That fear can be so encompassing, it causes you to choke or freeze,” she said. “If you can get your mind to calm down, then you can relax and zone in, and you can focus on what you have prepared for.”
To help create that bridge from anxiety to relief, Reque-Peterson led a student workshop on Tuesday at Central Lakes College’s Brainerd and Staples campuses.
“Preparation is the biggest source of anxiety typically,” she said.
The first signs of anxiety come when a student begins studying.
Anxiety isn’t a bad thing, though.
“Stress can push us and motivate us to prepare,” she said. “But it’s devastating when it overcomes someone.”
So Reque-Peterson offered students these tips:

Before the test
*Pay attention to phrases instructors use to signal importance: “Write this down,” “let me summarize,” “let me say it again.”
*Note takers: Don’t write down lectures verbatim. Develop a system of key words and phrases. That will help you hear more of what’s being sad.
*Remembering strategies: Select, remember, review/read/recite/rewrite.
-Select: Hone in on what you have to focus on. Review notes, look at past assignments, and review the study guide. No study guide provided? Make your own, outlining the chapter and using the summaries in the back of the book.
-Remember: Use visualization to connect and remember a definition with a picture or drawing.
-Review/read/recite/rewrite: Read a section in a book, review it, recite it from memory, rewrite sections to bring to class and cross-reference it with what the professor is saying.
“All of this can help retain information much longer than going to class without having read the chapter,” Reque-Peterson said.
*Use mnemonic devices to remember information: Rhyme, acronym, abbreviation, acrostic.
Science courses use this a lot, especially in nursing, Reque-Peterson said.
*Active reading strategies: Review a chapter and section headings, review bold type words, study the pictures and tables, look at sidebar information, review and answer the questions at the end of each chapter.
“Pictures and tables are there for a reason: to enhance what’s in the text,” Reque-Peterson added. “Looking at those will help later on, too.”
*Toss out distractions. Put your phone away and find a quiet study zone. If hitting the books at home proves to be too difficult, block out some time to study in the library before heading home.
“You can get so much more done in one hour of uninterrupted studying, compared to two hours of distracted time at home,” she said.
During the test:
*Come prepared.
*Stay focused. Don’t let that early test finisher distract you when they get up.
*Have a strategy. Scan the test first and tackle the easy parts next. Be sure to read the entire question. Skip the question if you’re stuck and come back later. Don’t forget to look over the whole test before turning it in.
“If you start with hardest part first, you might spend entire time there and run out of time for the rest of exam,” Reque-Peterson said.
*For multiple choice/true or false/comparable type tests, follow these tips: Answer based on your first impression. Don’t change your mind because of mere doubt.
More often than not, Reque-Peterson says when a student changes their answer they were right the first time.
*For essay tests, follow these tips: Read the question carefully, rewording it if needed. Answer the parts of the questions you know first. Outline your answer before writing down the official one. Count answers and questions before handing it in to make sure you didn’t overlook anything.
After the test:
*Look over the test after it’s graded. Make sure the instructor marked everything correctly.
*Review and understand mistakes.
*Take notes about what the instructor wanted.
*Ask about extra credit you can do.
*Save the test for review material for the final (if allowed).
“If you learn about their testing and what information they’re looking for, you’re more keyed into exactly what they are looking for,” Reque-Peterson said. “It doesn’t mean you’ll get a different grade. But you can do what you can to change and do better next time.”
Overcoming test anxiety is a long process, Reque-Peterson said. It takes a sound strategy and a good attitude.
“Negative self talk really can do a lot of damage,” she said. “(Students) put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect, and that can cause a debilitating fear that ‘if I don’t pass this, I’ll fail everything.’”
She continued, “Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t tie self-worth to an exam. Some people just aren’t great test takers.”
Reque-Peterson pointed to some campus resources: Counselors, tutors in the Learning Commons, Disability Services, which can offer testing outside the classroom and a check and connect coach.

*The next workshop will cover stress management and starts at noon April 22.
It’s free to CLC students, and is sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Tribal Relations.