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Preparation keeps test-taking fears at bay

Photo: Jilly Hall

Students can tackle test-taking anxiety with time management and preparation.

By Madison Wray, Staff Writer

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This is it – the day of that big test. You stayed up late cramming, then you overslept and didn’t have time for breakfast. But you figure all the sacrifice will be worth it to do well on the test.

Well, guess what? Your test-preparation methods may be setting you up for a big fall. According to experts, you’ve done at least three things that may actually hurt your chances of doing well on an important test.

So what IS the best way to prepare for and take tests – especially those critical ones that may help determine a grade, a scholarship or a college acceptance?

Many students have trouble with studying and test taking, and no one method is guaranteed to work for everyone. But experts agree on several main factors that should give you the best chances for success.

The week before the test

What? Think about a test a week before? Shocking as it may sound to some, if you know a test is coming up in a week, it’s a good idea to start preparing now. Phyllis Pacifico, a Kettering resident and former biology professor at Wright State University, said she tried to help her students learn how to prepare. “I gave my students study guides. They never had to do them, but it showed who took the time to do it and the others who didn’t,” she said.

The following suggestions come from Pacifico, Dartmouth College and Pearson, a leading publisher of educational books and materials:

  • Find out what the test will cover.
  • Make sure you’ve gotten notes on any missed material.
  • Make a list of the most important topics.
  • Plan to study a little bit each day, and set aside extra time to study the most challenging topics.
  • Consider studying with a buddy. “Study groups seemed to be the most successful with my students,” Pacifico said. “I found students teaching students was very helpful, and they built off each others’ input.”
  • Take breaks while you study. Dartmouth College’s website suggests that studying in chunks is the most effective way to study. It recommends 20- to 50-minute time periods followed by 5- or 10-minute breaks.

The night before the test

At some point, everyone has tried to do all of the test prep in one night. It may work – if you’re lucky and you won’t need to recall the information again on another test. But experts agree that this last-minute method is a bad idea. Some suggestions:

  • Don’t cram. If you cut your time so short, at best you’ll end up memorizing material instead of understanding it. The night before should simply be a review of material you’ve already had some experience with. “I always focused on students understanding the material I was teaching, rather than just memorizing it,” said Pacifico.
  • Get to bed early. Without sleep, your brain and body don’t function well.

 The day of the test

OK, so you’ve made it to test day, but you’re still feeling nervous. Just remember that you’ve prepared as much as you can, so try to relax and follow these last few tips.

  • Don’t skip breakfast. You feel better when you’re not hungry, and your brain feels better, too.
  • Be prepared. Go over a few notes before class starts. And make sure you have what you need, such as pencils, a pen, an eraser and/or a calculator if it’s permitted. Being prepared can help relieve the inevitable stress at the start of a test.
  • Read the directions slowly and carefully. Many students skip the directions and go straight for the problem or question. But if you don’t follow directions, what you think you are doing right could be completely incorrect. Pacifico also recommends paying attention to any charts, graphs or other “visuals” provided with the test. “Images are very important when taking a test,” she said. “Pay close attention to what you are looking at; it can help most students understand something more easily.” 
  • Skim through the entire test before proceeding so that you have a good idea of what to expect on the test; this prepares you for what problems come next. Start with the simple questions that you know how to do and work your way up from there to the harder questions. This gives you a warm-up for those tough questions and keeps you from losing time scratching your head over one hard question.
  • Don’t worry about your speed. The thing that seems to stress students the most is how fast they are working. Learn to relax and not worry about when others in the room are finishing up. Many students find they do much better on their test if they just sit down and concentrate on their own test.

Using these simple techniques will help you tackle any test – and an “A” may be your reward. So, what are you waiting for? Buckle down and get studying!

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The school newsmagazine of Kettering Fairmont High School.
Preparation keeps test-taking fears at bay