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This blog and its resources are here to assist all students throughout their college years and into their careers. Blog is moderated by a Certified Professional Career Coach and Master Tutor Trainer. Site moderator, Neil O'Donnell, is an EOP graduate of Buffalo State College and can be reached at odonnenp@buffalostate.edu.

Defeating Test Anxiety

Defeating Test Anxiety

Many people suffer from anxiety before, during and after tests; I was one of those sufferers.  The dread someone feels about tests is a very real and oppressive anxiety that prevents a test taker from doing well on a test and, by extension, doing well in college.  Unfortunately, many students don’t realize there are ways to confront, reduce and even eliminate such anxiety.  How?  In truth, there are an endless number of ways to manage and eliminate test anxiety.  From my experience, the best strategies to beat down test anxiety include healthy living, early test preparation, effective study groups, generating sample test questions, developing/working from a study guide, and seeking assistance from a professional counselor.
Healthy Living
Academic specialists spend a lot of time discussing the importance of getting a good night’s sleep before taking a test and eating a healthy breakfast.  The good sleep ideally helps students stay alert, focused and relaxed during the test while a good breakfast provides the energy to power students through the test.  More specific advice often includes the avoidance of coffee, which can cause students to be jittery during the test, which could make it difficult to focus on and recall information.  Likewise, an unhealthy breakfast, say two loaded hotdogs washed down with a large Pepsi (my typical test-day breakfast early on), may cause a student to be irritated during a test.  Again, this could make it difficult to focus on and recall information during the test.  Juice, bagels, cereal, water, nutrition bars, and sandwiches are good staples for breakfast before a test.  Yet, will this truly be enough to help defeat test anxiety?  It’s a start.  I definitely recommend that students get seven to eight hours of sleep the night before a test and eat a well-balanced breakfast with fruit, protein and juice or water.  That said, developing a healthy-living strategy would arguably be the best way to go.
Every student should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.  Yes, even on weekends.  Furthermore, students should stick to a sleeping pattern, going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.  As for meals, eat healthy at every meal.  Try to cut out caffeine, soda and unhealthy snacks like what vending machines generally offer.  I’m not suggesting students never grab a bag of chips or a soda during a break.  I’m not even suggesting that you never pull an all-nighter.  What I am suggesting is that such breaks from a student’s routine be few and far between.  Why?  From my experience, the more
a student sticks with a schedule and eats well, the less test anxiety he or she encounters.
Early Test Preparation
We’ve already covered study techniques, which help students achieve academic success.  Let me reiterate here, it is imperative that students continuously study course material.  On weekends, take time (for each course) to go over the notes from the week’s classes; I suggest you do this on Saturdays.  Then, spend Sundays reviewing notes in each course taken since the last exam.  Added with studying notes after class and each week night, this plan of continuous study will help students retain information.  From my experience, students who follow this study regime not only achieve higher grades, they also
experience less test anxiety.
Effective Study Groups
Study groups can be very helpful or they can be disastrous.  I find that an effective study group, at least for students who attend regularly and contribute, helps reduce students’ test anxiety, because the students generally remember much more of the course material.  What makes an effective study group?  The group should start early in the semester, include students or tutors who were/are successful in the class, and require all students to contribute.  Again, from my experience, those who start and/or attend such study groups usually go into a test more relaxed, because the study group participants generally retain more of the material covered in the course.  If you attend a study group where no one is putting effort in and no one is having any success in the class, the study group will provide little assistance and guidance.  For those wanting to start a study group, but don’t know how to begin, simply ask the professor to make an announcement that anyone interested in joining a study group should see you after class (or provide a sign-up sheet with a place for interested students to write their names and contact information down).
Create Sample Test Questions
I have an advantaged, because I am experienced at taking and creating/administering tests, which include multiple choice, short answer, true/false, matching and essay questions.  Guess what?  The steps students go through to determine what a professor is going to ask on a test match up well with how professors generate test questions.  Often times, professors will look for bold-faced or italicized words to turn into multiple choice questions.  Those essay questions students so often dread?  Essay questions often match up well with class discussion, particularly discussions that went on for more than one class (more reason to not miss any classes).  With this in mind, students should take their own experience and create
practice tests to study from.  Give this a chance; create sample questions every weekend, which will help students with
retaining information and preparing for tests.  Students who make this effort often find their questions match well with the actual test questions.  As a consequence, those students usually become relaxed during the test and do well.
Create a Study Guide
I’ve found that a simple study guide goes a long way towards helping students relax and get through test anxiety.  Such guides help students feel more in control and better prepared going into a testing situation.  What happens if a professor does not give students a study guide?  Than it is the students’ responsibility to create their own study guides.  How?  Generate a list of terms, people and events discussed in class lectures and textbooks.  Want to take things a step further?  Students should ask the course professor to look over and give feedback on the study guide they made.  What is the guide missing?  What things on the study guide are irrelevant to the test?  Worst case scenario, the professor won’t look it over and give feedback.  Either way, creating the study guide often helps students relax and defeat test anxiety that pops up before and after a test.
Seek Assistance from a College Counselor
Most colleges and universities have facilities staffed with professional counselors, counselors often extensively trained in helping students confront and overcome test anxiety.  Whether it’s through a counseling center-run workshop on test anxiety or through a confidential, private session with a counselor, college and university students suffering from mild to extreme cases can find ways to battle test anxiety before, during and after a test.

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