As we quickly approach exams, many of our stress and anxiety levels get ratcheted up to a new degree. I, for one, have never been too keen on exams, and I feel like it is safe to say that many of you feel the same way. Often times, I will cram the night before, possibly all night long, suck down a few gallons of coffee, and hope for the best.
I'll walk into my classroom and BAM! Someone will ask me an obscure question about the material that I won't know off the top of my head. Frantically, I will search through the text looking for the answer, and upon finding it, there will be an "oh duh" or "oh crap" moment.
Minutes tick by, and I cannot tell if that is a good or bad thing. Part of me wants to keep cramming as much as I can, and the other just wants to take the test to get it over with. Then the moment of truth comes. I have the test in front of me and I blank. Everything I have learned all semester long is flushed away in a feeling of obscurity. Think, think, think! I'll tell myself in my head, as my palms begin to sweat. In this moment, I am at the mercy of my anxiety.
Thankfully, it has been a long while since I have felt that anxious about an exam or test, but that's not to say that I still do not stress about exams. After all, much of the time, the entire semester may come down to one final exam. The hypothetical situation presented above is about the worst-case scenario for test anxiety. Luckily, I have learned how to avoid many of these pitfalls surrounding test anxiety over the years, and hopefully I can share something of use.
Hopefully, you have been doing the work throughout the semester because this is when it pays off. Being able to have easy access to the information gleaned over the semester is also very helpful. If you have notes jotted down in your notebook that you can barely read, they can hardly be of use.
If you have the time to type up your notes, it makes a world of difference. I personally use the notebook layout in Microsoft Word, and it has helped me greatly over my college career. Having a digital copy of your notes means that you can virtually access them anytime you are on the go. I have found it is even nice to print them off and add more notes or thoughts to them. While some people like to be more organized than others, being organized is a great way to build confidence for test-taking.
Practice and Preparation. No Procrastination.
Preparation is not too hard if you have been organized throughout the semester. Ideally, you would like to have your notes together at least a week or two before, but worst case a few days. Please avoid cramming the night before the exam, which often causes an insufficient amount of sleep. A lack of sleep may affect your cognitive test taking ability, and is an easy way to make things much harder on yourself.
People who usually spend all night cramming the day before an exam tend to look towards caffeine as a helpful tool. While small amounts may help with alertness and response time, too much can lead to a crash that makes decision-making much harder. The key to early preparation is to study bits of material at a time. This can help you avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed. If you take it one bite at a time it will help build confidence over the material, and you may avoid some of the stress and anxiety associated with test taking.
Remember to relax. If you get the moment in which you blank out the material, take 5-10 minutes and relax. Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and let the material slowly come back to you. Trusting yourself is essential to any sort of testing. Read through the exam once to get an idea of what is being asked of you. Often times you can find questions that will answer each other. By finding little gems like this, you can build some momentum that will help with your confidence.
It is not a race. If you find yourself needing a break, or crashing from lack of sleep and too much caffeine, take a minute or two to think about something completely random, or even have a quick stretch. This slight change in your thought process may help you look at the questions in a different light. You may not be able to control the questions on the test, but you can most definitely manage the state you are in while taking it. Have faith in yourself and believe in positivity over negativity.
While I am sure much of this is not earth shattering news, but I hope it may bring some encouragement for the end of the semester. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing classes and talking with many of you, so I hope you all finish strong. Good luck, we are almost there!