Self-Help Materials: Testing Strategies and Test Anxiety

I. General Strategies  


A. Prior to Exam

1. Get plenty of sleep and eat regular meals prior to tests.

2. Review, review, review.

3. Make sure you know what material is going to be covered on the test.

4. Know how your instructor designs and grades tests.

5. Find out the weight and passing score of the exam.

6. Know what equipment is necessary and permitted for use during the exam.

7. Predict test questions.

8. Practice or at least outline possible essay questions/answers.

9. Weigh the pros and cons of guessing. Is there a penalty for wrong answers? If not, answer every question and use educated guesses.

10. Go to the test early and have all materials ready to use.

11. Relax, take two cleansing breaths, and use brief visual imagery.


B. During the Exam

1. Listen to verbal instructions and read test directions.

2. Look over the entire test to develop a plan for time management. Use longer time periods on more involved questions and those that are difficult for you. Allow ten minutes to check your work.

3. Did you miss any questions? Make careless errors? Follow directions?

4. Check yourself at 15-10 minute intervals to determine if you are progressing at an acceptable rate.

5. As soon as you get the test, lightly write anything you need to remember in the margin, such as facts, dates, equations, memory cues.

6. Start with the questions you can answer readily.

7. Mark questions you want to return to if you are not sure of an answer.

8. Remember that answers often pop up in other test questions.

9. When you're not sure of an answer, go with your first instinct. Studies show that your first response is usually correct.

10. Mark your answer sheet carefully. Make sure the numbers are corresponding with the questions.

11. If you have remaining time, edit, check, and proofread answers.


C. After the Test

1. Review returned tests, and, if possible, write the correct answer on it.

2. Record your test score and keep test on file.

3. Examine each question you got correct. Try to remember how you knew that information was important.

4. Determine the level of thought your instructor expects of you: recognition, analysis, synthesis, or application.


II. Specific Strategies


            A. Multiple Choice Exams

1. Underline key words in each question.

2. Try to come up with the correct answer in your head before you look at the choices.

3. Read all choices carefully and completely.  Concentrate on details.

4. If a question seems too easy, it deserves a second look.

5. Eliminate choices you know are incorrect. Mark them out if you are permitted to write on the exam.

6. Don't pick an answer you've never heard of before.

7. If two choices are similar or opposite, probably one of them is the correct answer.

8. If one answer includes another and adds additional information, the more complex answer is usually correct.

9. If you know two answers are correct and aren't sure about the third, choose "all of the above."

10.  Often grammatical agreement between the question and answer can hint at the correct answer.

11.  Non-answers such as "zero" or "none of the above" are usually poor guesses.

12.  In questions asking for the most or least, pick the answer next to the most or the least if you are unsure (most: 5 8 9 12).

13.  "All of the above" is generally a good guess.

14.  Longest multiple-choice answers are good guesses.

15.  If a few questions have five possible choices instead of four, pick number five if you are unsure.


B. Essay Exams

1. Use erasable ink.

2. Survey the entire test before answering any of the questions to avoid overlap.

3. Underline key terms as you read each question.

4. Write legibly and use complete sentences.

5. Don't use abbreviations.

6. Leave a margin or space for comments and only write on one side of the paper.

7. Leave space after each question for additional information, which may occur to you later.

8. Pay attention to the verbs in each question. They will require different approaches to answering.

9. Write clearly and concisely. Get down as much as possible in the most logical fashion.

10.  Before writing, jot down key words, ideas, and points to organize information. Make your introduction very brief (usually one sentence). Provide details to support it and provide a very brief summary statement.

11.  Provide a consistent and logical arrangement which runs throughout the entire essay.

12.  The body of an essay is generally constructed chronologically or categorically. History essay exam answers usually use the following acronym: STAMPIERE

S ocial

T echnological

A dministrative

M ilitary

P olitical

I ntellectual

E conomic

R eligious

E xternal

13.  Underline your key concepts, number them, or start a new paragraph when you introduce a new point.

14.  Clearly separate facts from opinions. Provide evidence or specific information that supports each key concept or example.

15.  Mention exceptions to general rules or statements.

16.  Use key words and terminology or vocabulary words.

17.  Summarize and draw conclusions.

18.  Live for partial credit. Write something down!

19.  Be general when you are not sure of exact details.

20.  If you are running out of time, at least write down points in a list that you would have covered.

21.  Proofread and correct your spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.


C. Matching Exams

1. Answer the questions you know first, and use a process of elimination to answer the remainder of questions.


D. True-False Exams

1. One word can determine whether a statement is true or false. Read carefully.

2. True/False tests frequently have more true answers than false one.

3. If you don't know the answer, GUESS. You have a 50-50 chance.

4. Statements with "always", "never", "every", "all", or "none" are usually false.

5. Statements with "usually", "often", "sometimes", "most", or "many" are usually correct or true.

6. Be alert for multiple ideas or concepts within the same statement. ALL parts of the statement must be true or the entire statement is false.


E. Math Exams

1. Write down the "hard to remember" formulas, equations, or rules before you begin to work on the test problems.

2. Identify the principle or law for particular problems that may first appear as difficult for you to tackle.

3. Before you start to solve a problem, estimate what the answer will be.

4. If you are having trouble with a problem, try drawing a picture or a diagram.

5. Use all of the information.

6. Show all of your work.

7. Clearly identify or label your answer, so it can be found quickly.

8. Work systematically. Write carefully. Write in columns. Copy accurately.

9. Use a calculator, if possible.

10. Check all of your answers.

11. Whenever possible, recheck your answer in a different way from that employed when you did the work. For example, add down the column of figures if you added up the column when you first solved the problem.


F. Verbal Analogy Exams

1. Practice with similar tests from previous years.

2. Practice at least 15 minutes per day.

3. Turn the analogies into sentences.

4. Find a word for the possible relationship, i.e.: purpose, cause, and effect; part to whole; part to part; action to object; object to action; word meaning; opposite word meaning; sequence; place; magnitude; grammatical; numerical; characteristic.


III. Overcoming Test Anxiety


            A. Before the Exam

1. Psych yourself DOWN!

2. Remember: Exams measure what you demonstrate about your learning thus far in a course of study, not your worth as a person.

3. Know the symptoms of anxiety: headaches                                      feeling too hot or too cold, wet and trembling hands, blanking out, dry mouth, negative self-statements, pounding heart, lack of concentration, nausea, faintness, fear, panic, sleeping problems, excessive fatigue, wanting to laugh or cry too much.

4. Replace negative self-statements with positive self-statements: "I'm getting better/" "I'm learning to cope more smoothly." "I'm pleased with my progress."

5. Another coping strategy is when the fear comes, just pause. You should expect your fear to raise some. Don't try to eliminate fear totally. Just keep it manageable. You can convince yourself to do it. You can reason your fear away.

6. Start studying early and avoid cramming as it will only increase anxiety levels. Spread review sessions over several days.

7. Study enough to feel confident.

8. Mentally practice going through the test experience. Close your eyes and see yourself walking in confident, answering all the questions correctly, and receiving the grade you want.

9. If you have physical symptoms of anxiety, be careful what you eat and drink prior to the test. Avoid sugar and caffeine (such as soft drinks, coffee, tea, or chocolate). Consider walking for approximately 20-30 minutes prior to the exam.

10.  Do something relaxing the hour before the test.

11.  Take two cleansing breaths. When you breathe out say "relax" to yourself. Systematically flex and relax your body parts, starting with your head and going down to your feet. Close your eyes and briefly engage in visual imagery (go to a relaxing place).

12.  Remind yourself through rehearsed statements not to overplay the importance of the exam.


B. During the Exam

1. Remember that a little anxiety is good. It keeps you alert and you can focus your attention better. Keep the focus on the present. What is it that you have to do?

2. Picture a huge red stop sign when you begin to engage in negative thoughts. Replace them with thoughts that are positive and relaxing.

3. If your fear/panic begins to take over, describe what is around you.

4. Identify your "triggers" and avoid them. For example, if hearing others talk about the test causes you anxiety, arrive right on time to avoid them. If you experience anxiety when you see others finishing the exam, remember that we all work at different speeds. If sounds distract you and cause you anxiety, sit front and center or off to one side, away from the door. Avoid sitting next to a window with distractions.

5. Bring hard candy or gum and use it to stimulate your brain and increase oxygen levels.

6. Plan mini breaks throughout the exam.