Ways to Address Test Anxiety

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a smart, capable, hard-working student perform below their potential due to test anxiety. There is some exciting new research about ways to address this problem, so I thought I would list a few and solicit more from my dear readers! Here are the strategies I suggest:

1. Be prepared! If you have studied hard for a class-related test, you have nothing to worry about. Study regularly throughout the term, quiz yourself on key concepts and vocab, have others quiz you, attend any optional study sessions, ask questions, and consult outside sources for more info. If you have done these things and KNOW you are ready, there's nothing to be anxious about.

2. Be familiar with the test. One big factor that produces anxiety on tests is the surprise factor. If you have never seen an analogy question before, it might throw you for a loop. For standardized tests that are hard to "study for," at least familiarize yourself thoroughly with the format. Take several full practice tests while timing yourself to make sure you know what that feels like, too! Know whether you're better off eliminating a few choices and guessing, or if it's more to your advantage to skip questions. You want the test experience to feel like just "going through the drill" again, not experiencing something new and frightening.

3. Know your words and terms! Don't shy away from memorization. Although people say it's hard to study for the SAT or GRE, it's not impossible. Set aside a good chunk of time over a 6-month period to methodically memorize the vocabulary and math terminology. Use flashcards. Most of the successful graduate students I have talked to told me they did this if their practice test GRE scores were lower than they liked. Knowing the most common 500 words down cold will make the whole test MUCH easier. And keep in mind that many of these words do appear in the academic readings you'll have to do once you get to college or grad school. In other words, you're not wasting your time.

4. Defuse anxiety by writing about it in a journal for 10 minutes right before taking the test. Results of a new study on test anxiety found that students who unloaded their worries onto paper before starting a test freed up working memory that those anxieties were taking up. See this article for more details:

5. Be realistic and keep things in perspective. In my experience, some students can raise their scores 150-200 points by learning more about the tests, studying hard, and practicing a lot. Others, whose level is very low or already quite high, may not be able to overcome long-standing issues such as a general lack of familiarity with academic writing (all those "I never read anything outside of school" students!), or with limits on how quickly they can finish the test sections and items. Set a realistic goal for yourself, like raising your score from the middle range to the upper range, and then keep working towards it. But also keep things in perspective - none of these tests are life-or-death matters. There are many wonderful paths in life, and high test scores only lead to a few of them. If you think of yourself as a tiny speck of carbon on a planet that is hurtling through space, you will see that a test is nothing to be anxious about. No great harm will come to anyone regardless of the outcome, so scribble away without worry!

Good luck, and please post your comments below!


Julia S.

20+ hours
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