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Overcoming test anxiety

ARE YOU concerned about the approaching examinations? Are you unsure about preparation and how to go about it? Generally, we all experience some level of nervousness or tension before tests or other important events in our lives. A little nervousness can actually help motivate us; however, too much of it can become a problem ? especially if it interferes with our ability to prepare for and perform in exams.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2007 17:09 IST

ARE YOU concerned about the approaching examinations? Are you unsure about preparation and how to go about it? Generally, we all experience some level of nervousness or tension before tests or other important events in our lives. A little nervousness can actually help motivate us; however, too much of it can become a problem — especially if it interferes with our ability to prepare for and perform in exams.

Preparation helps
Preparation is the best way to minimise anxiety. Consider the following:
1 Avoid ‘cramming’ for a test. Trying to master lessons the day before the test is a poor way to learn and can easily produce anxiety. This is not the time to try to learn a great deal of material.

2 When studying for the test, ask yourself what questions may be asked and try to answer them by integrating ideas from lectures, notes, texts, and supplementary readings.

Some basic requirements
Students preparing for tests often neglect basic biological, emotional, and social needs. To do your best, you must attend to these needs. Think of yourself as a total person — not just an exam taker.
Remember to:

1 Continue habits of good nutrition and exercise. Continue your recreational pursuits and social activities to a reasonable degree— all contribute to your emotional and physical well-being.

2 Follow a moderate pace when studying. You can vary your work when possible and take breaks when needed.
On the day of the exam

3 Begin your day with a moderate breakfast.

4 Try to do something relaxing the hour before the test — last minute cramming will cloud your mastering of the overall concepts of the subject.

5 Plan to arrive at the test location early — this will allow you to relax.

6 Avoid classmates who generate anxiety and tend to upset your stability.

7 If waiting for the test to begin causes anxiety, distract yourself by reading a newspaper.
During the exam
Before you begin answering the questions take a few minutes and do the following:

1 First review the entire test paper; then read the directions twice. Try to think of the exam as an opportunity to show the teacher what you know; then begin to organise your time efficiently. Work on the easiest portions of the test first.

2 For essay questions, construct a short outline for yourself — then begin your answer with a summary sentence. This will help you avoid the rambling and repetition, which can irritate the evaluator. For short-answer questions, answer only what is asked — short and to the point. If you have difficulty with an item involving a written response, show what knowledge you can. If proper terminology evades you, show what you know in your own words.

3 For multiple choice questions, read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious. Unsure of the correct response rely on your first impression, then move on quickly. Beware of tricky qualifying words such as ‘only’, ‘always’ or ‘most’.
4 Do not rush through the exam. Wear a watch and check it as you go ahead. If it appears you will be unable to finish the entire test, concentrate on those portions, which you can answer well. Recheck your answers only if you have extra time — and only if you are not anxious of the following ways:

Anxiety control during the exam
1 Tell yourself ‘I can be anxious later, now is the time to take the exam.’

2  Focus on answering the question, not on your percentage or others’ performances.

3 Counter negative thoughts with other, more valid thoughts like, “I don’t have to be perfect.”

4  Take a couple of slow deep breaths and try to maintain a positive attitude.

5  If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom.

6  Eat something.

Just after the exam
Wheather you did well or not, be sure to follow through on the reward you promised yourself — and enjoy it! Try not to dwell on all the mistakes you might have made. Do not immediately begin studying for the next test and indulge in something relaxing for a little while. (The author is a psychologist and heads the twin departments of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at
drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com )