Are You Experiencing Test Anxiety?
Do you dread an upcoming major exam that could determine the fate of your future? Perhaps the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, or even your final exams at school? How’s your memory, and ability to absorb tons of text information and conceptualize facts, hold several ideas in working memory, and solve tricky problems, while under the stress of time pressure?
From a psychological standpoint, test anxiety goes deeper than just the fear of testing. Often, the greater fear is of taking that big step and not succeeding, or having dreams crushed and opportunities denied. Top schools are harder to get into than ever, and today’s economy demands more education and a higher level of diversified skills. Most of these achievement tests can be repeated if scores are low, but some scores may be reported on the transcripts.
Dr. Ben Allen offers stress-reducing strategies, stress inoculation, and cognitive-behavioral approaches to feel more confident and prepared for tests and performances. If the test anxiety runs deeper in terms of psychological conditioning, he treats the fears and original triggers to try to desensitize the threat response that occurs with taking examinations.
Here are several cognitive science tips to help you diminish test anxiety and enhance your mental and memory fitness for the big exam.
- Learn some basic stress management techniques. Practice them because they work well for making the mind and body fit for an exam. Learn strategies for abdominal breathing, relaxing muscles, warming the hands and feet, and quieting the mind.
- To absorb text information and notes more effectively into long-term memory, get a foundation first. Sit up straight, use deep breathing to get your mind energized, and make your study area clean, fresh, and ergonomically sound. Look at the textbook, and think specifically of your task. Get interested in the process however you can. Having a focused desire and a target, as this may elicit your memory like a sponge. Before beginning your reading, examine the entire table of contents and the front and back cover. Ask yourself, “What will I know specifically throughout this book as I move along?” Before you begin a chapter, scan the headings and length of each section, and read the summary to get the essence of the chapter. Now go to step 3.
- Put meaning into each concept. This is how information gets stored into long-term memory. After reading a completed idea in any section or paragraph, reflect on what it means, or compares to. Try to fully conceptualize the idea based on bits and pieces of what you already know – meaning by association. You’ll find it makes studying more interesting, and helps strengthen memory retrieval because you can relate to the ideas.
- Teach your test material to anyone that will listen. This is the most powerful memory strategy, as it solidifies ideas into memory
- Most importantly, practice testing under time pressure. Go to a place similar to the testing center and do practice tests with simulated pressure, but with your stress management strategies intact. Set up a timing strategy, and don’t forget to take at least two very brief breaks during an exam to regroup. Think strategically.
- Learn self-hypnosis strategies. Train through rehearsal into the subconscious mind to prepare and succeed on tests.
Fear not, because there is a cognitive science to taking achievement tests and using memory effectively, and stress management works on the biological side. Learn about all of these wonderful skills. Take on something of greater importance than the test itself, something to last a lifetime. Take on the gift of enhancing mental fitness, poise, motivation and purpose. Take on cognitive self-mastery.