Are you a good test-taker?
Are your test grades an accurate reflection of your true abilities?
If you answered “no” to these questions you are not alone.
But the good news is that you can tackle your test anxiety. Here are THREE simple tips for taking control of your test anxiety and showcasing your true capabilities.
#1. Overlearn Everything
In a test situation, you won’t have time to work things out or look things up. Your knowledge has to be instinctive and at your fingertips.
Overlearning means that you are going beyond familiarity and studying to mastery. When you master the material, you walk into the test with a self-confidence that banishes the jitters and sets you up for a good grade.
Overlearning takes time. Most students vastly underestimate the time it takes to get from familiarity to mastery. While it is hard to put a number on how much time it takes to master content, a good place to start is 3-5 times longer than you think.
#2. Study Smart
Never cram for a test. What you learn by cramming you will quickly forget. You might pass the test, but you could be in trouble later when you have forgotten what you learned through cramming. Instead, study in small, frequent chunks leading up to the test so you can really learn the concepts rather than memorize facts.
Studying smart also means that you should know the format of the test and how it will be graded. Will there be essays? Multiple choice? Are you penalized for guessing? Will you get partial credit?
Knowing about the test directs your study time and behavior on the day of the test. If you know there will be an essay, you should practice writing essays under simulated pressure. If the teacher gives partial credit, be sure to show all work so you can get points for correct reasoning even if a careless mistake gets you to the wrong answer.
Studying smart is slightly different for each subject. Here is a summary of how to Study Smart for each subject:
Math – It is quite likely that your math homework assignments started with easier problems first, and progressed to the harder problems. Identify the harder problems for each major concept and practice them until you can do them without pausing, without help from your tutor, and without looking in the book.
Languages other than English - As in math, overlearning is key. Languages, like math, are cumulative. Target your studying for not only the next test, but also to build a foundation that will carry you through the semester, and hopefully beyond.
Learning a modern language involves mastering these five skills: speaking, listening, understanding, reading, and writing. When you study for a language test, you should be proficient in all of these skills.
Science – Science tests are usually designed to measure your understanding of concepts, and your ability to solve problems. For a science test, it can be extremely helpful to do outside reading to reinforce the concepts you learned in class. Hop online and look at Khan Academy videos. Check the science section of the New York Times. Current events in science are always fascinating, and will help strengthen your
Your teacher relies on many sources for his or her knowledge of the subject. Try doing the same and see how much it pays off.
English – English tests will require knowledge of structure, usage, and communication. Think of structure as grammar rules. Usage is putting the rules into practice, orally and in writing. Communication involves listening, speaking, reading, and understanding.
Of all of the English skills, communication is the most difficult to measure by conventional tests. Be sure you know your teacher’s standards for measuring your communication skills.
Social Studies – Social Studies is a wild card because of the variety of teaching strategies used. Some teachers lecture most of the time. Others organize discussions and group projects. Some stress politics, social and economic problems, dates, names, and places. The best study tip here is to talk with your teacher to gain a very clear understanding of how he or she is going to measure what you have learned so you can study accordingly.
#3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice is a close cousin of overlearning. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the repetition of homework is tedium. Homework is your chance to practice and reinforce your new-found knowledge in a low stress setting.
As any accomplished musician or athlete can tell you, practice is the cornerstone of achieving your goals, and always involves repetition.
Most courses have practice built in through homework. If the course is well-designed, the homework reinforces concepts learned in class and sets you up for doing well on tests.
If you do not understand the homework, ask now! Ask your teacher, get a tutor, or ask a friend. If you struggle to do your best on the homework, just think of how that is going to project forward to the test. Never settle for partial understanding on homework.
An Easy Place to Start
We tend to believe our own self-talk, so start with a pep talk! Never, ever call yourself a bad test-taker. If you are not at the top of your game yet, start with calling yourself an “evolving” test taker, and have faith that you will soon be an accomplished test-taker.
The best way to turn things around is to experience successes, and conversely, more failure is only going to make things worse. Picture yourself acing your next test, study beyond familiarity to mastery, study smart, and walk into your next test with confidence.