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How to Deal with Test Anxiety

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How to take a test

Ok this is a fourth workshop this semester this month, fourth Wednesday meeting and this as important as the other three. I say that every week that this is a very important segment for you to have to be a successful student. Perhaps this is just as important as the other three. Because if you want to strike fear in the hearts of students anywhere around the world, say the words quiz, or test, or exam and immediately we tense up. So today's workshop is hopefully going to give you some information to help you to be able to overcome test anxiety and to identify it in a particular proper steps to do well in all your tests and quizzes and anything else that comes your way. The timing is particularly good since we're only a couple of weeks away from midterms for any of you who will be having midterms. We want to talk a little bit today about how to deal with the anxiety and how to do that in an effective manner. Of course that's one way bust up the computer, but that's not the most effective way. What is test anxiety? Well, we can identify in a number of ways but when you begin to feel like your head is in a vice, or your stomach is turning, or it's burning up or hurts and you're sweating, these are physical attributes of anxiety and these are things that we can look at and we can remember and help us to identify when we're beginning to feel test anxiety. When you begin to ask yourselves questions like have I you know I just studied all of this stuff yesterday why can't I remember now, you may be suffering from anxiety, or when you just feel like I can't think about this and you're staring at that paper and your mind is blank you may be experiencing anxiety. As soon as you leave the test and all of a sudden all of the answers come flooding into your mind, you may have been suffering from test anxiety and all of this is manageable. What is some good news about anxiety and the first good news is that it's not genetic, you weren't born with it, test anxiety you can get over it. Secondly, anxiety is something you've learned to do and because you learned it you can unlearn it. You spend a lot of time learning how to be anxious about tests, how to worry about tests, how to act in those physical ways and not remember the answers so you can take some time and practice how to learn the habit but before we learn something new we want to look at it just a little more in depth. And anxiety is good for us; it's good that we have that anxiety. Every time I get ready to do one of these workshops I have anxiety. Every time I stand in my pulpit on Sunday morning I have anxiety. Anytime you're about to face some group of people or do something for the first time or something where you will be judged you experience some anxiety but as you look at this chart you can tell that there's a problem when you begin to experience too much anxiety, when it gets too high your performance drops off. Some anxiety will help you to perform better. It heightens your senses, it causes you to act more aggressively and so some anxiety is good but we want to be able to get that anxiety level at the place where we are performing at our utmost best and that's in that zone you know on the chart. The chart says that if you have a certain amount of anxiety you will peak in your performance and then more anxiety will cause you to drift off and perform more or less proficiently. Athletes call it "the zone." It's kind of like a runner running a long distance at some point you hit that wall and your performance begins to drop but if you keep going that runner if you're in shape you'll be renewed and you get into a zone and your performance will increase. And that's what we want to do with our anxiety; we want to get our anxiety to a point where we are performing at an optimal level. So how do you get to "the zone?" Well a number of factors that can increase your performance. In each case we will be working to reducing the stress to get you back into the zone. The first factor is physical factors, being able to identify those things and being able to overcome them and to control them. The second is rehearsal, practice, practice, practice and the third is thought. What you think can sometimes cause you anxiety. So first physical factors: First, you need to take care of yourself. You need to take care of those basic health needs and make sure that you're eating right, that you're getting the proper amount of sleep, remember we're saying 7 to 8 hours a night of sleep is what you require as an adult. It's no longer just you know catch sleep as you can. You need to get 7 or 8 hours of optimal sleep and know that you're well rested. Your body will respond better when you're rested, when it's rested, you'll be healthier, you'll be able to think more clearly, you'll be more alert so we need to stop abusing our bodies and thinking that we can stretch, remember when we talked about time management you can stretch the number of hours in a day but your proficiency will go down so if you're more proficient you're actually getting more things done, if you're getting the proper amount of rest. So we want to remember not to over abuse our bodies, not to take in all the drugs that will slow us down. Caffeine works for some of us part of the time but eventually too much caffeine will take its toll on us so even those kinds of things. We want to work in a natural state where distractions are not around us so that we have a heightened level of ability to perform. One thing we want to remember that sometimes when we think we're experiencing anxiety there may not actually be an anxiety. If we stay up all night drinking tons and tons of coffee to study for a final that we haven't prepared for throughout the semester then it's probably fatigue and not anxiety that's wearing us down and lack of preparedness. It could be that if we overdose on caffeine, take too much coffee in that might try to stay awake that might be a problem as well so sometimes we blame anxiety when anxiety is not the culprit so you just want to be aware of what's going on with our own bodies and try to be in control. Beyond the health factors, the physical factors we also have to learn how to relax. When it comes to our physical environment sometimes we allow ourselves to be over distraught through learned fear so how we unlearn it is learning to be in control of our body's reaction. We all heard the techniques of causing our bodies to relax by deep breathing and things of that nature. Well you may think that that's hocus but it's true, it works. If we were to stop now we just take in two or three deep breaths and hold them each one for 3 or 4 seconds some people say count up to 8 and then release slowly in the same way. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, you do that 3 or 4 times you would actually no doubt feel your body begin to relax. If you're setting at a desk and you feel a little stressed out if you begin just then to relax to relax your muscles you will begin to feel the stress levels drop. So we can do those physical things, we can learn those exercises, learn those techniques to slow our bodies down to where we can actually perform and think better with less stress. My favorite trick to tell people now is happy place. If you can think of a place where you've been happy and where you've enjoyed something, or you know my thing was when I was young I used to like to get home early and I grew up on a farm so I would go out to this back field and look down over the hillside and set under a tree just listening to the sounds of the forest in the fall when you'd hear the falling leaves and the whistling of the squirrels and running out across the ground and in the trees and you just watched the clouds and that was my happy place. I mean still yet when I get stressed out I'll take a sec, I'll close my eyes and I'll put myself back on that hillside, underneath that tree and I can just visualize that I can just feel my senses, I'll feel that experience again and my stress levels will begin to fall so if you do that you pick your happy place, you practice going there, the more often you go there the faster your stress levels will drop so that in time when you need it, for example when you're facing a quiz or a test and you feel yourself tensing up, if you go to that happy place your stress level will drop immediately so just start practicing that, find that happy place. You can carry it anyplace you want to go and it's always there. So you want to practice those techniques. You want to practice being comfortable and deep breathing, hold your breath for just a split second and breathe out slowly. Repeat that a few times and you'll find that your stress levels will drop. So why slow down? Well let's assume that the problem is that your stress is too high rather than too low. If your stress is too high you begin to slow your body down, you begin to take control of your heart rate, your breathing rate, all this will cause an anxiety level to decrease and that increases your performance ability. You can think clearer some of those physical signs forgetting what you've been studying will disappear, stomach cramps and your headache will go away and you'll be able to concentrate. The other thing that we said you wanted to do was rehearse. You want to practice, practice, and practice. All of these things can be accomplished but the more you practice them the easier it is to control your stress levels. So you want to practice controlling your stress levels where the combination of the happy place and deep breathing or whatever your method might turn out to be. You want to practice it so that it becomes instantaneous but you also want to practice being prepared for the test so that if you do some of the things that we've already talked about before some of the notating skills and in classroom skills, you do those things before hand, you do pre-reading beforehand, you do the outlining, the highlighting the notating and the margins of your notes and in your text book you'll find that studying and practicing will be much will become much more easily. If you do that and you do the rehearsal, or the practice, or the review within 24 hours of taking your notes or reading the materials if you do the review weekly then you'll find that studying for those tests or being ready for that pop quiz or exam will be much easier. As we approach midterms you're thinking wow I've got a whole 8 weeks of stuff to remember. For some of you that's a lot of chapters and multiple courses but if you have been prepared and even now at this late date if you begin to prepare and begin to review your notes and it will be a lot easier to pass the midterm and handle then midterm without stress than if you wait till the last minute to try cram it all in the night before. So practice, it's important on all of those levels. Things won't seem so overwhelming if you do that. It's a lot easier people say to do familiar things than it is to do brand new things. So if you practice, practice, practice it's like driving a car, the first time you got into a car you may have had difficulty driving it but the more you practice, the more you did it, the easier it became and now it's probably second nature to you. The same thing applies to controlling your stress or doing the work in your classroom. The more you practice something just the way you will have to perform it, the easier it becomes. Many people report anxiety when they have to perform without adequate practice. This is because they're not used to it, it's like a new thing so if we practice, practice, practice.

[Pause] I'm gonna throw this story in, I skipped the first one, but this one talks about because one of our problems that we seem to tense up in math and in word problems. This student goes to a math class and is taught A+B=C. She studies at home over and over again, A+B=C, A+B=C, A+B=C. Then she gets to the test and she sees the equation A=C-B and its throwing her cause she didn't see exactly that way in class but if you practice, practice, practice, practice all the variables then things like that won't throw us and that's how we turn that practice into our favor in math classes and things of that nature where you have to think a little bit. If you've seen enough of it won't be quite as big a surprise when it pops up in different format on a quiz or an exam. So you practice, practice, practice. There are 3 basic kinds of tests: Multiple choice, essay, and concept learning or story problems and its concept learning or story problems, particularly in math again, that seem to give us the biggest amount of difficulty. Each test requires different kinds of practice because they're asking for different kinds of responses. The instructors that ask these questions are usually looking for particular types of insight in their students. Multiple choice tests are also referred to as objective tests. They're true false tests, short answer tests, they're matching and they're asking you to know how discreet bits of information are connected, like 1492 connects to Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Little bits and bytes of information relate to each other and that's what objective tests are looking for. With short answers it allows you to match them or true false they'll so you practice those, you practice those by using flashcards or something related to the flashcards. When people ask you a question or give you a phrase or a word and you give a quick and short response. Essay tests ask you tell how things are related, or are not related. They'll ask things like they'll ask for contrast and compare or describe and discuss so when you see words like that on a test they'll be instructors asking for a more in depth response, 2 or 3 sentences on each of those contrast and compare, or compare and contrast. Tell the things that are alike about two different things and how they are different. Describe and discuss tells you to describe something and then talk about it, how it relates to the overall topic or what it does well or what you know about it. So you write more on an essay test. Outlining and understanding main points and how they are connected works best for tests that are going to be of that nature, of essay nature cause you have then the main topic and then you have the supporting points and you sometimes points below that and then you can use each of those in a sentence to talk about that main topic. Tell what the main topic is and then you lift it up, support it with the points that were made so outlining works real well for that. Concept learning asks you to show what you know that you know what the concept is saying and that you're able to use it. Math story problems ask us to how much gas will we use when we drive from here to Louisville Kentucky in a car that burns I guess 32 miles per gallon and the distance is. It asks you to think about it and describe it and tell us the answer so you understand the concept. Using a concept in a different way than it was discussed that C=B+A is the same as A+B=C. Just talk about it, show it so that you can use it and work out the answer. Studying the concepts from different angles and views to see how they connect to each other works best so you study all of the concepts, look for how it relates to the topics in general and then you talk about it and always, always, always begin by studying first. The best way to reduce anxiety is to practice it in the same way that you will be asked to perform. So if you know that your instructor is going to ask multiple choice questions, or true false questions, then flashcards or something of that nature will work best for you in studying for that exam. If you know they're gonna ask essay questions then studying your outline will work best because it gives you the main point plus all the supporting points. But first you have to study the material; you have to study the material. So don't wait till the last minute to cram, if you study all semester long and that helps us to reduce our stress overall. It also means that you might study ahead and actually be in front of the instructor a little bit. We should always have read the assignment when we come in the class but it wouldn't hurt to also have read the beginning of the next part the next assignment so that we understand how to it interlocks and we can even ask questions that stem from that advanced reading. After you've studied the material and know it then you practice some more. You practice like you're taking a test. Ask yourselves several questions, make up several questions that you think might be on the exam, look for those clues in the instructors lecture as they talk about what thing and watch for what excites them or those clue's we were talking about the other day as they point at something on the board, they underscored or they repeat it several times, those are things that most likely will be on the exam so you want to study those things and become more familiar with them. If you work up a practice test then time yourself as you take it so that you know how long it takes for you to respond to 20 questions of this particular topic or how long it takes to match 20 questions, or answer true false questions, or answer 4 or 5 essay questions. As you practice look for any information that you're missing about the topic or the question so that you can then go back and look it up, find it and explain your basic knowledge. That way when you sit down at the real test you've covered all of those bases and you won't get quite so stressed out, we use that term and then we ask you to practice a little more. After you've identified the weak areas study more than practice again. If you're unsure that you have studied everything then go back and look at it again. Ask the instructor for important, it's important to talk about what you know, what you don't know, sometimes even asking them what kinds of things will be on the exam a few days before the exam helps, they may give you some generalizations they won't tell you exactly the questions but they may give you enough information to narrow your scope and help you to be able to practice what you need to be looking at. Make a list of things that you don't know and then ask your instructor if your list of the things that you know is complete or ask for clarification of the things that you are still weak in. If you ask the question what's on the test teachers are not going to respond as openly as we might hope, they may be very gentle, they don't particularly like that question but they don't mind going over types of things and try to help you narrow your study. So study and practice find your weak points and study and practice some more and what you think is what you get. This is the third point that we were talking about. Our thought process sometimes can cause us great difficulty when it comes to stress so if we want to reduce our stress on test anxiety we want to think about how we think, if we think right off the bat that we are going to do poorly on an exam then you can pretty much count on doing poorly on the exam. Our thoughts have a way of coming true. If you wait till the last day to study for that exam then you pretty much guarantee that your thought process of doing poorly on it is going to come true. If you begin at the beginning of the semester and do the things that we talked to you about already and you do your pre reading and you read all of your assignments, you do the outlining and the note taking and you set in the proper places in the classroom and you ask questions and become engaged in the class and you stay up with your assignments because you did them all on your calendar and you've been through the syllabus then as you approach the exam you'll find that you'll be prepared and you'll be much more energized and you'll feel energized, you'll feel ready and you won't have that sense of being overwhelmed. Some people will wait till that last minute, feel like they just can't get prepared and you know say to themselves sometimes I may not have enough time to study everything, it might be that what I study won't even be on the test and they'll just talk themselves down and out and out of applying themselves so the idea is to be prepared for the beginning and begin to prepare in the beginning and stay prepared the whole time. If you don't think about freezing up, doing the exam, you won't freeze up during the exam but if you think that I perform poorly before even and I just can't learn this then chances are that you're gonna live that out and you're not going to do well on the exams, even if you do know the material.

[Pause] This is a psychological truism. Psychologists and great thinkers who study humanity like to believe that they know lots about people. The truth is we don't know that much but here's one thing we do know. What you think will happen has a dramatic and often direct effect on how you behave. So if you think negatively, if you think you will fail, if you think you won't have time to get prepared then you won't be prepared and you will fail you'll bring that to fruition. You want to practice imaging yourself succeeding in class, succeeding as you take the test, you want to see yourself doing well as you practice, practice, practice, and you want to see the material as it relates to you and your life. You want to know that you're prepared and that you're ready for whatever the instructor puts on the exam. If you think positively you're most likely to get positive results. You reduce test anxiety by eliminating those negative messages to yourself by sometimes doing even simple things like staying away from negative people before the exam begins. People like to cluster in the hallways and outside of rooms and talk about what they don't know and how tough the exam is going to be before an exam sometimes, so you might want to avoid those people so that they don't plant negative thoughts in your mind because you are prepared, you've practiced, you've looked at the types of questions and you've answered those questions and you've been over the material from the beginning to the end of the process and so now you know that you have positive images in your mind so don't let anybody steal those images and plant negative thoughts and cause you undo anxiety.

 [ pause in speaking ] If you can imagine yourself doing a good job, if you see yourself doing a good job, chances are that you will be able to actually relax a little bit more, use those text books that we talked about earlier before and your test anxiety will be reduced. The first keys to reducing test anxiety is good basic health, eating, sleeping, exercising and avoid mood enhancing foods or drinks like caffeine or alcohol, particularly on your day of your test. If you're in a classroom where they'll allow you to bring in snacks and what not on the day of the test have those available, for a little extra boost of energy, it also helps you to relax with water and that will help you to relax as well but by all means get plenty of sleep the night before. Studying in advance, practicing the way you think the test is going to be will help you to do well on the test, will help you to get into that zone we were talking about stress wise where your skills are heightened and the performance shows it. You now know how to study for different exams, put that into practice and that will lower your stress levels and increase your performance. Learning a stress management technique can help you to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress so remember deep breathing and practice that, remember those soothing imagery, we talked about that happy place, quiet time, just whatever you do to relax, think about that, perform it and practice those things and that will help you slow your body down and slow down the physical side of anxiety and help to make you a lot more proficient. If you want to think realistic positive thoughts, not practical if you haven't taken a note, and you haven't been to class, thinking that you'll do well on the exam by itself won't get the job done but if you've been to class, you've read the assignments, you've done all the proper study skills beforehand and you practice, practice, practice then you ought to be able to envision yourself as being successful on the exam. If you rehearse that and rehearse the questions then you'll be just fine. We hope that you've found something in this quick segment today that will help you to relax, to reduce your stress, to not be fright stricken when you hear the words test, exam, or quiz. As we look at new terms that you go back and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, practice, practice, practice, and you still have lots of time and you'll find that you'll be a successful student. Much of this presentation was created by Dr. Donald Rosen, Director at the Texas Woman's University Counseling Center and is presented this presentation is created for educational purposes only. Thanks for taking your lunch time, with stopping by, viewing it online. We hope that it's been helpful.