Test-taking can rattle even the smoothest student. Kids can feel like they’re heading into a vast unknown, hostile territory when they walk into the classroom and face that exam. Before your child gets all Ernest Shackleton on you, assure him or her that there are ways to tame that test anxiety and “show what you know”. This week, we consulted with two top learning experts and combined our superpowers to share with you our top 10 tips for overcoming test anxiety and preparing effectively for tests.
First up, tips from Bobbi DePorter, president of Quantum Learning Network, an educational company producing programs for students, teachers, schools, and organizations across the United States and abroad. Bobbi created SuperCamp, one of the leading academic summer camps in the U.S. and abroad. It is designed to teach students learning and life skills in an environment that cultivates self-esteem and confidence.
- Write it down. During the test, write out your reasoning, even if you don’t know the exact answer. Get partial credit where you can. If the wording for a question is ambiguous, write down how you interpreted it in order to answer the question.
- Use imagery. If you can’t remember a fact during a test, close your eyes and picture where that information is in your notes or in your book. Was it highlighted? Did you doodle something right next to that piece of information? Was it near a graph or table in the textbook? Sometimes picturing the context in which you saw the information can help you recall it.
- Get psyched, stay psyched. Coach yourself before and during the test. Say positive messages like: “I know the material and will remember it easily.” Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Either way, you are right.” Unleash the power of your mind to keep you focused on what you want to accomplish, and not what you fear if you don’t do well.
Next, we feature some test-taking wisdom courtesy of Lisa Jacobson, founder of Inspirica, which has provided individualized tutoring and test preparation to thousands of students since 1983. Inspirica has offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, as well as online options for students anywhere in the world.
- Show all work. Avoid strictly mental calculations when doing math. This allows your teacher to get a glimpse into your problem-solving process and pinpoint where you may be going off the rails. It can also help to not only avoid simple errors, but to get partial credit when one small error early on throws off your answer.
- Keep your perspective…it is not all or nothing. One single test will not decide your future. Think of tests as a snapshot of a student’s ability to show what he or she knows on a particular day and time, given competing priorities and other factors that can help or hinder performance. That grade is not a reflection of how “smart” you are, but rather how well you prepared and maintained your focus during the test.
- Stay physically and mentally healthy – rest, eat well and exercise. It sounds simple, but so many students neglect the very things that keep brains functioning at peak performance. You wouldn’t try driving a car with an empty gas tank, would you? How can you expect to execute the sharp mental turns necessary for a calculus test on 2 hours of sleep and half a Pop-Tart?
Finally, our own Beyond BookSmart Executive Function coaching perspective on test preparation. In 1:1 sessions with our students at their homes or online via Skype, we’ve helped hundreds of students learn how to study and manage their time more effectively. Study skills, time management and test preparation strategies can help a student overcome test anxiety.
- Get tricky: use mnemonics for recalling material. Creating funny memory tricks can help a student easily access the material when it comes time to take an exam. Need to recall a list of words for a test? Whether it’s planets, states, or presidents, this handy little mnemonic generator will create a suitably ridiculous sentence based on the first letter of each word you type into the text box.
- Uncover your error patterns. Scrutinize your previous tests. What went wrong? Do you always mix up timelines? Practice writing out key events in order. Were some unexpected questions on material from a handout or Powerpoint? Make sure you track down and review those handouts in addition to the textbook.
- Hunt for clues. Dig through your notes and on your class website. Did your English teacher mention The American Dream every day for a month? Chances are this will feature prominently in the exam; be able to describe it in great detail, with examples from your readings. Justify what you spend time reviewing. “Well, I have this underlined in my notes, so I can tell Ms. Jordan really wants us to know tectonic plates for this test.”
- Study in a small group. Don’t be content to “look at notes” to prepare. Active studying requires quizzing yourself -- better yet, in a small group of classmates, quiz each other on essential terms, formulae, themes, etc. Even the ability to create questions for your study group peers will show what you know about the important ideas for the test.
Now you have the choicest nuggets of knowledge about overcoming test anxiety from three sources who are experts on learning and test-taking. If your child
gets anxious before tests or doesn’t know how to study effectively, sit down and read through the list together. Chances are, you'll be able to identify one or two that he or she may be willing to commit to trying in the weeks ahead.
Does your child panic at the thought of an essay test? Download our handy guide, Any Essay Brainstorm, to help take the mystery out of preparing for open answer tests and learn to face them with confidence.
Jackie Stachel is the Director of Communications for Beyond BookSmart. She joined the company in 2010 and is based in our Boston branch. Jackie leads Executive Function presentations for parent groups throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Additionally, Jackie manages our You Tube channel as well as our company blog content through editing submissions, writing articles, and collaborating with professionals from outside Beyond BookSmart to create useful, informative content. Finally, Jackie coaches students supporting them in learning and developing Executive Functioning strategies.