FEAR OF TAKING TESTS
A. Basic Fear of Taking Tests.
Most people know that the fear of taking tests is a form of social anxiety. But did you know that a small amount of anxiety is a good thing and will improve the test scores. Hence dulling the senses with alcohol or a tranquilizer will reduce the test results. It’s only when the anxiety level becomes too high that it tips the scale and becomes a problem.
One study reports a wide range between 10 and 40 percent of school age students may experience test anxiety sufficient to have a negative effect on the outcome.
Not wanting to take a test and the fear of taking tests are entirely different. Telling the difference between the two is trickier. If a student performs well on pop quizzes and other tests, but fails the big ones, indicates the possibility that the student has a test anxiety.
B. Causes for Fear of Taking Tests.
1. Lack of Preparation. This is the number one cause of the fear of taking tests. The good thing is that this is within your control. The hard thing is that if you do not already have good study habits, you’re not going to develop them by tomorrow.
The amount of time that someone should study depends on the type of test and the importance of the test. A pop quiz might not require any preparation whereas a mid-term or final test may require many hours. Licensing tests often takes weeks of preparation.
Non-written tests such as playing a musical instrument and endurance tests may require months of preparation and practice extending over a long time period. This section only covers written type tests, including interactive computer testing.
2. Poor Past Test Performance. This is number two. The consequence is similar to not paying your credit card off each month with interest on interest piling up. Each poor result adds to your fear reservoir. The false negative thoughts act as accumulating interest. It makes things worse.
The sooner you solve your low test scores, the better. Unfortunately, passing tests do not accumulate in your memory cells in the same way as fear does. For example, if you are walking down a pathway and everything is nice, you will not store “everything is nice” information in your memory. However, if a lion jumps out, that information will be stored in multiple locations for easy access.
There are techniques to improve the information storage of average and good results.
3. Mind going Blank. This comes in as number three. Blanking out on a question or a person’s name happens to everyone. It is normal and should not be feared. It does not mean that something is wrong with you.
The best solution is to go onto the next test question and, if you have time, go back, and try again. Most people who do poorly on tests, usually spend too much time on a few questions and are unable to finish the test.
4. Fear of Failure. This is number four. This fear is more associated with low self-esteem rather than taking tests.
For example, do you worry all the time about what other people think about you? Are you driven to please others? Do you frequently think that you are dumb? These are fear of failure manifestations.
If you have these types fears it may be the reason for your test anxiety. It is important to address these fears first and as soon as possible. Check out the chapter on Fear of Rejection.
C. The Test Questions.
In order to pass a test, you need to know the elements of the test itself. These include understanding:
- 1. The Subject Matter;
- 2. The Purpose,
- 3. Type of Questions, and
- 4. The Grading Rules.
Being familiar with these four elements will reduce your anxiety level.
1. Subject Matter. This may appear obvious, but before you take the test, it would be wise to research this issue. If you are taking a school course, then you probably know the subject matter and scope from the lectures. However, there are many tests outside the classroom.
Almost all professions have their own competency tests. Governments have licensing tests. Some employers have tests directed to their product or service. Each of these types of tests have their topics added beyond the general subject matter. For example, licensing tests will add questions regarding legal duties and ethics.
An internet search would be helpful to determine the topics, the type of test, and the time allotted. There are refresher courses and seminars to help pass these tests.
2. Purpose. Knowing the test purpose is often ignored. Many simply study the subject matter and then show up and take the test. If the purpose of the question is to find out how much you understand the concept, then getting the right answer will only give you partial credit.
How you identified the problem, What steps you took to solve the problem, and Why your solution solves the problem are discussed in the link below.
Sometimes the WHY is implicit in the describing the steps taken. However, many times the Why is not implicit and must be explained. This is particularly true with questions associated with business, politics, psychology, law, and history.
In the last 20 years, there has been a push to extend the HOW-WHAT-WHY analysis into the math and science areas. This was one of the bases for the Common Core teaching method.
Here is a hint in determining when the purpose is directed to HOW-WHAT-WHY. Look at the words used in the question. Words such as explain, show, why, provide an analysis, describe, justify, defend, etc. are flags that something more than the answer is needed. Here is an example:
Tom is 30 years old. He is 6 years older than Jane who is twice the age of Sam. How old is Sam?
This question does not have any of the key words and appears to be looking only for the answer. The answer is Sam is 12-years-old. That will get you 100% credit.
Change the question to: How old is Sam and show your analysis. To get full credit, you must show your HOW-WHAT-WHY. Here is how that is done.
Option 1 Answer. Tom is 6 years older than Jane. Since Tom is 30 that means Jane must be 24. Jane is twice as old as Sam. That means Sam is half of Jane’s age. If Jane is 24, and Sam is half her age, he must be 12 years old
Option 2 Answer. An alternate analysis is by using equations:
- Equation 1: Tom = 30;
- Equation 2: Tom = Jane +6 ; and
- Equation 3: Jane = 2(Sam)
Substitute Tom ‘s age in Equation 1 into equation 2. 30 = Jane +6. Solve for Jane. Jane = 30 – 6. Substitute Jane into equation 3, i.e., 30 – 6 = 2(Sam). Solve for Sam = (30 – 6)/2. Answer Sam is 12.
If all you did was write down that the Sam was 12 years old, you would likely receive 30% credit which is an F.
This simple analysis illustrates the importance of understanding the purpose of the question.
If you feel that reading this section is boring or you have the urge to daydream about other issues, it means you probably need to improve your study skills.
Use this urge to your advantage.
It is telling you that your test anxiety is likely associated with poor study skills. Do a computer search on How to Improve Study Skills and check out some YouTube™ videos on the subject. Good study skills are critical to passing tests.
3. Type of Question. There are many types of questions. But the written test is mostly composed of True or False, Multiple Choice, Matching Items, and Essay.
Each test type has its own characteristics. The first step is that you must allocate your time so that you can finish the test. If you can, determine the number of and types of questions before you take the test. The link below discusses each type and how handle each type with examples.
True and False questions need the least amount of time. On average, each true false question takes about 30 seconds. Average means that some will take less, and some will take more. For answers that you know, the time could be as short as 2 seconds.
Multiple-Choice questions take about 2-3 times longer. The average time spent on a multiple-choice question is between 1 to 1.5 minutes. It depends upon the type of question (math, science, history, law, health, etc.) and the number of available choices.
Matching Items take up to 3-5 times longer than the T/F questions.
The Essays questions demand the most time. The average time per essay question is about 10 to 15 minutes per question.
Schedule about 3 to 5 minutes per hour to review your work. However, you must keep in mind that it is more important to complete the test than to review the test.
You need to allocate your time among the various types and numbers of questions. If this information is available before the test, then make the allocation before the test. If it is not, then make a quick review of the question types and numbers. Use a watch or timer to give you a general sense of how you are doing.
After making a rough allocation, then begin the test. It starts with reading the question. There is one significant exception. For reading comprehension questions, a favorite among English and Literature teachers, it is often advantageous to read the available answer choices before reading the background paragraph. This avoids re-reading the background facts for each answer choice. On the other hand, following this method may not apply to some people. To determine if it applies to you, you need to answer several comprehension questions in a practice test and measure your accuracy and your time for each method. This will give you information that is personal to you.
After reading the question, if you’re immediate impulse was that you know the answer, then answer it. Don’t use special techniques and don’t second guess your answer. Just answer it and move on.
Take more time with those questions that you are not quite sure about the answer. This is where the various techniques can help you.
After you complete the test and if you have time, it is a good idea to review the answers that you guessed or were unsure. Do not reread all of the questions. This is important. Only reread the questions where your answer is in serious doubt. In checking these answers re-read the question slowly. Sometimes questions are misread.
Do not change your answer unless you are convinced that you misread the question, or that you guessed, or that your first answer is incorrect. Avoid second guessing as much as possible. Why? Because second guessing is usually a false negative thought trying to find fault with you and not the answer. The greater your fear anxiety the more likely you will fall into this trap.
(a) True/False. These types of questions are the easiest to answer since they are either true or they are false. They are never both. If you know the answer, then check the correct box and move onto the next question.
If you are uncertain, then do the following: In order to answer something as true it must be true in all parts. Therefore, look for any, literally any, reasonable interpretation that is false. If there is anything false, then the answer is false.
Take the question, “A red light means stop?” That question has interpretations that are true. But is there any interpretation that is false? A red colored light reflecting from the moon or from a red shirt does not mean stop. Therefore, the answer is false.
There are exceptions. Look to see if there are qualifying words like “sometimes, often, seldom, generally, etc. Those words expand the scope of what may be True. For example, the question, Sometimes a Red Light means to stop? The answer is true, because of the qualifier.
Strict qualifiers are red flags that that make most answers false. Some strict qualifiers include words like all, always, never, entirely, none, every, completely, absolutely, nothing, etc. Example, A Red Traffic Light always means to stop. The answer is false. Why. Because the traffic light might be defective, and a police officer may be flagging people to drive through. The Word “always” is itself a red flag.
Sometimes a question will have a negative modifier, such as no and not. If it is confusing, then remove the no or not and then answer the question. Then reverse your final answer. Here is an example.
Most ducks cannot walk before 1 month.
Remove the word “cannot” and see if the temporary answer is true. Most ducks walk within minutes of birth. Then switch the temporary answer to false.
The more facts stuffed into a question the more likely the answer is false. For example, take the question: all birds, bees, and marsupials can fly? If you have no clue as to what a marsupial is, then the probabilities favor a false answer.
(b) Multiple Choice. These questions often have 3 to 5 choices with 4 being the average. Read the question carefully. This may require that you cover the potential answers while you read the question. Your eyes subconsciously consider everything in the periphery. The multiple answers can have the effect of influencing or biasing what you are reading. Practice reading multiple choice tests while covering the answers. If it helps you then cover the answer choices. If it does not help you, then don’t use it since it is another step that takes up time.
After reading the question if you know the correct answer, then select that answer and move on to the next question. It is only when you do not know the answer do you use the various techniques discussed below.
Almost all multiple-choice questions have at least one answer that is obviously wrong or is out-of-place. Eliminate that answer quickly. If you can write on the test question, it may be helpful to put an X in front of that answer. Do not over- think why this out-of-place answer was used. The people writing the test almost never use trick answers or trick questions. They are considered unethical among those in Academia. Therefore, if you think the out-of-place answer is correct, you are probably allowing false negative thoughts to influence your choices. And the more fear anxiety you have the more false negative thoughts you will have.
If you can, eliminate the next likely wrong answer based on your understanding of the subject matter. Treat each multiple answer choice as a True or False question. Therefore, answer choices that contain strict qualifier words like always, never, all, must, etc., are likely false statements. This is illustrated by the sample question below:
Question: Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere are __________?
(a) Always associated with weather;
(b) Often associated with a warming ocean;
(c) Primarily attributed to socialism;
(d) Primarily attributed to coal mining.
Analysis: The first step is to eliminate the obvious or out-of-place answer. That would eliminate (c). Socialism is an economic political system and greenhouse gases is a scientific system. Next, the word “always” is used in answer (a). Although weather may have an effect on greenhouse gases it is not always associated with it. Therefore answer (a) is eliminated. This leaves answers (b) and (d). Read the question and answer carefully. This will eliminate (d). Coal mining does not produce greenhouse gases. It is the burning of coal that adds to the greenhouse gases. Therefore, the answer is (b). When the ocean warms, it reduces the solubility of CO2 in the water and the Greenhouse gas bubbles into the atmosphere.
When you get down to two potential answers, pick the one that your gut or intuition believes to be correct.
If you cannot eliminate a weaker answer, then use some common sense techniques. The question and correct answer will often have verbs and nouns with the same tense.
Question: What elements are contained in the first row in the Periodic Table?
(b) Argon and Helium;
(c) Hydrogen and Helium;
(d) All Compounds.
Analysis: The first step is to eliminate the out-of-place answer. That would eliminate (d). Compounds are a combination of elements, and the question is specific as to elements. Answer (a) is wrong since the question asks for what elements are in the first row. Elements is plural and hydrogen is singular. That leaves Answers (b) and (c). If you know that the Periodic Table begins with one proton and each element thereafter adds one more proton, then you can eliminate answer (b). If you did not know anything about the Periodic Table, then guess. You have a 50-50 chance of answering the correct answer of (c).
Answers that contain expanding qualifier words like generally, often, frequently, ordinarily, etc., that are used to broaden the scope of the answer and are more likely to be true. Therefore, if you do not know the correct answer, then select the one that contains the expanding qualifier.
Answers such as “all of the above” or “none of the above” are easier to answer. Any one inconsistent answer eliminates the choice. In addition, these answer choices are very difficult to draft. As such, if they are used then all of answers are typically apparent or obvious. Academic Institution avoid these types of answer choices because it does not provide enough information on the students’ learning metrics, a fundamental purpose of academia.
Estimating is a short cut to reduce the time spent on questions. For example, if the question asks what is the closest number of 4.1 percent of 98? Estimate the answer before making the actual calculation. Round 98 up to 100 and multiple. The following answers are given: (a) 5.6, (b) 4.1, (c) 4.0 and (d) 2.0. Check to see if there any answers are slightly below 4.1. Anything 4.1 and above is impossible since you artificially added 2 points to the real number of 98. That eliminates (a) and (b). (d) is a very large reduction and far more than any effect of adding 2 points to 98. Without making the actual calculation the answer is clearly (c) 4.0.
(c) Matching Items. This type of test is used in memorization type questions. They are normally easy to understand, particularly at the elementary school level. These tests are great at learning names of people, places, events, and dates.
It is a time-consuming test that produces limited information. The test is not used to measure higher learning and understanding. As such it is a more of a learning tool rather than a testing tool.
(d) Essay Questions. The essay answer is the gold standard in measuring all higher-level learning aptitudes. Most people simply commence writing with the purpose of impressing the readers how smart they are. But most graders read those rambling statements as blah, blah, blah.
It is extremely important to learn how to write a good essay answer. There are classes at every University, seminars, workshops, books, and videos that teach various techniques. The great thing is that once you learn this skill it stays with you.
The first step is to carefully read the question and understand what the questioner wants. Often the last sentence contains the most important information on what the questioner wants. It is a good idea to read the last sentence first and then the body of the question. Knowing what they want before you read the facts will inherently arrange your thoughts.
The second step is to organize your points or topics. Jot down as many points as you can. Never list only one point. If you do, you have not read the question carefully. After you have jotted down at least 3 topic points (preferably less than 5) then re-read the question to make sure those points are the important ones. If you discover that one of your points is not really important, take it out or if you discover a new significant point then insert it into your list.
The third step is “start writing.” You should have studied “how to write an essay” before you take this test. Some methods require a discussion of compare and contrast, others require you to define your major points, etc. The old adage of “winging it” will almost never work. You must research and then practice. If your essay answer involves scientific equations or graphs, make sure you describe each term in the equation, and identify the vertical and horizontal axes in a diagram or plot.
The fourth step is to provide a short conclusion or summary. Two to three sentences are all that you need.
Here is an example of short one sentence summary: Most people do poorly on tests because they do not study for it; they fail to manage their time; they do not carefully read the questions; they allow negative thoughts to influence their answers; and they don’t take the time to organize their answer.
4. Know the test Rules on Grading. This information is usually available before the test date. Most true/false and Multiple-Choice questions do not assess a penalty for a wrong answer. Therefore, you must guess rather than leave it blank. However, sometimes there is a penalty for wrong answers. In these cases, you need to know the size of the penalty before guessing. The SAT tests at one time assessed a ¼ point (25%) penalty for each wrong answer in a multiple-choice question with 5 choices. But if you are able to eliminate one or two answers, guessing will still be beneficial.
Guessing Penalties are rare in true/false questions. However they are used in a learning situation where you can take the same test multiple times. In that situation, the penalty gives some information to the teacher about true learning by eliminating the guessing factor.
Another factor is partial credit. Partial credit is frequently used in mathematics and science tests. This is because knowing how one sets up and processes the work is more important that the answer itself. In these types of questions, there are more points given for the process than for the correct answer.
D. How to Reduce Test Anxiety.
1. Caused by Lack of Preparation. Create a learning plan. Outline the study areas, calendar time to study each area, and then describe how you will implement it. Studying with others is an effective implantation tool.
Taking practice exams is always important. It allows to you apply what you have learned as well as use many of the techniques outlined in this chapter. Many have found that taking practice exams is more valuable than restudying the subject.
Almost all topics require an enormous amount of memorization. If you do not know the terms, expressions, places, dates, and definitions, it is hard to pass any test. On the other hand, there are techniques that can help. It is important to know how these techniques are interrelated. This is discussed in more detail below.
Here are a few techniques useful in learning the subject matter.
- Common Sense & Logic.
Each of these tools has advantages with a different type of learning. But they work best when used together.
Repetition is more effective in memorization tasks than common sense and logic. How things work, however, deals more with Common Sense and Logic sections of your brain than repetition. Association/Analogy is often more useful in solving abstract problems, such as motivation, emotions, etc.
(a) Repetition. This is one of the more obvious methods. In a study of Army soldiers assembling and disassembling a large gun, they found that Group One did 30 repetitions to become proficient, Group Two did 60 repetitions, and Group Three did 30 repetitions and then waiting 4 weeks and did another 30 repetitions. All three Groups were tested after 8 weeks. Group Three functioned 67% better than Group One followed by Group Two at 57% better.
Other studies show that a repetition of 7 times is the minimum number. A catastrophic event can be learned in a single incident, such as the 9/11 Airline Crashes in New York City. In essence, the more senses that are included in your learning method or the more emotional something is then the fewer the repetitions.
This means, increasing the number of senses involved will improve the retention. For example, NH3 is the formula for ammonia. Smell ammonia once and the formula will be quickly recalled. Coffee is bitter (taste) will be remembered by taking a sip of dark roasted coffee without sugar or cream. Picking up a piece of lead (touch) will connect “heavy” to lead. Injecting helium in a balloon will permanently associate helium as being lighter than air.
Incorporating multiple senses cannot be done for most learning sessions, but it can be used on some of the more important points or things.
(b) Association/Analogy Memorization is always more effective if association and common sense are used along with repetition. For example, if you have difficulty remembering people’s names, a very effective tool is to associate a physical characteristic of the person with something else that you already know. For example, you meet a red-headed person name Roberta who is thin as a bird. Immediately associate her with a Robin bird. Repeat this association several times, preferably with a gap of 1 or more days between repetitions. This is an example of Association and Repetition working together.
The Dale Carnegie course guarantees that they can teach everyone in the class how to remember the 13 original states in the order of their admittance. And they say that you will be able to learn it in 30 minutes. Most people believe that such ability only applies to a few people with good memory abilities. Here is what the teacher does.
They start by an elaborate dinner plate with ornamental filigree surrounding the outside edge. The plate is fine dinnerware and is associated with Delaware. Next a ball point pen is thrust into the center of the plate. The speaker exaggerates how powerful the thrust must be in order for the pen to break a hole into the plate. That causes cracks to shoot out from the hole in all directions. The pen stands upright in the center of the plate. The ball point pen represents Pennsylvania. Then a miniature toy red and brown Jersey cow is balanced on the top of the pen. The Cows feet are squeezed together in order to balance on the top of the pen and it causes the utter to poke out between the four legs . The Jersey cow represents New Jersey. We now have a dinner plate with a pen sticking straight up from the center and a toy cow balanced on top of the pen, representing Delaware-Pennsylvania and New Jersey. One more. On top of one of the cow’s horns is a giant Peach about the size of the toy cow’s head. It has been pushed down over the horn and peach juice is dripping from the puncture and trickling down the cow’s face. Of course, the Peach represents the Georgia Peach. You have spent about two minutes with this analysis of the first four States.
Can you recite the first four states admitted to the Union in the order that they were admitted? Can you do it backwards? Now, do you believe that anyone can recite forwards and backwards the 13 states, with only a 30-minute learning session? It is not only possible it is almost 100% probable. Techniques work. All you have to do is learn them.
(c) Common Sense & Logic. Common sense is nothing more than sound judgment based on simple observation and experience. You push on the accelerator to make the car go faster. You jump over the creek to avoid getting wet. A dog observes his master carrying a leash and becomes excited.
Logic is very similar to common sense but incorporates math and science into the judgment. It deals with testing the validity of inferences. John saw a red car on the way to work. When he got to work, he was fired. The inference is that seeing a red car is bad luck. Thousands of people have seen a red car and were not fired. Therefore, the inference is false.
How does common sense and logic apply to tests? If you think about it, common sense and logic are in almost all test questions. It is common sense and logic that allows one to eliminate obvious out-of-place answers. It is the step of disproving the validity of a true and false question. It is the how you organize your thoughts in an essay question to convey your point of view.
Learning common sense and logic means observing how things work. You can learn by reading something from a textbook or hearing something in a lecture. But there is something more memorable. It is observing something in response to an action.
You can read about thermodynamics in a book and the equation:
P1V1/T1 = P2V2/T2 .
But it might be difficult to comprehend and is probably intimidating. Suspend a burning candle from strings attached to each corner of a paper bag. Then wait and watch it float away preferably in the cool night air. This observation proves the above equation. An increase in Temperature reduces the density inside the bag and the air pressure outside bag pushes it up. Everyone can agree that the observation of the bag is easier to understand than the textbook equation.
There are numerous examples of everyday observations proving more difficult to understand scientific principles. Put your hand out the window of your moving car and you will feel that wind exerts a force on your hand and that the force increases with higher speeds.
Learn the importance of ratios. Stand next to a tall tree that you want to know its height. Take a 1-foot ruler and stand it up vertically in the ground next to the tree. Then measure the distance of its shadow. Measure the length of the tree’s shadow by the number of paces. The height of the tree is the ratio of tree’s shadow to the ruler’s shadow.
If you want to get the attention of fellow employees, treat them the same way that you would like to be treated. If you want your employees to show up on time, provide a reward for promptness or a penalty for tardiness. This is nothing more than common sense based on human nature and observation. Can you apply that reasoning to the following test question?
Question. In general, what is the best employment environment for worker satisfaction?
(a) 1 Worker only.
(b) 3 workers together.
(c) Either 2 or 4 or more workers together.
Analysis. Does a single person work better alone or with others? If you do not know from experience, then think about what you would like. Chances are that you would elect to work with others. Therefore, the first answer choice (a) can be eliminated.
Next, would you like to work with three people. Common sense suggests that in a group of three people, two of them will eventually form an alliance against the third. So, answer (b) is wrong.
The answer must be (c). This is a non-math test question answered solely based on common sense.
There are hundreds of simple common-sense observations that will help. Rather than watching a reality television show, or reading some social media gossip, set aside one hour a week to watch fun “common sense” observations. These can be readily discovered by a simple internet search for common sense lab experiments on YouTube™. You may not realize how these observations help. That is because they operate in your subconscious nudging you in the right direction.
2. Caused by Past Failures. In order to get over past failures, you must offset those failures with wins. This takes time and multiple wins. Plus, you must make the wins noteworthy. You can do this by celebrating each high test score. Do a little dance, eat some ice cream, listen to your favorite song, have your cell phone repeat an announcement, chalk up another win, etc.
But you must do something as a reward. This associates a passing grade with something enjoyable. The section on the Fear and Joy Connection teaches that it takes 3 joys to offset each fear.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Reduce the amount of time you think of past failed tests.
- Associate more with people who pass tests rather than those who fail tests.
- Learn good study habits.
- Get a good night’s sleep before the test.
- Avoid midnight cram sessions.
- Eat a good healthy meal at or near your normal meal time.
- If allowed bring water into the test room.
- During the test, relax and every once in a while, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
- Avoid looking around to see if others are leaving.
3. Caused by Mind going Blank. This condition typically occurs during the test. Many scientists believe it is caused by your brain sensing a major threat and this triggers the hypothalamus to stimulate the production of various hormones. It is almost always triggered by exaggerated false negative thoughts of “doom and gloom” if you do not pass this test.
Those doom and gloom thoughts must be vanquished. Close your eyes, breath slowly and deeply, and take a few sips of your water. Some studies have shown that looking up helps.
Most mind blanking episodes only last a couple of minutes. During this period, it is not productive to continue with the test.
Rapid heartbeats and high blood pressure can aggravate or even trigger an episode. Both of these conditions can be caused by dehydration. Hence, bring water with you and drink it.
If you mind went blank working on a particular question, stop working on that question and go to the next question. You can come back to the missed question after you finish that section of the test.