FEAR OF TAKING TESTS
A. Basic Fear of Taking Tests.
The fear of taking tests is a form of social anxiety. But some stress is good and will improve test scores. Dulling the senses with alcohol or a tranquilizer usually causes lower test results. It is only when anxiety becomes too high that it tips the scale and becomes a problem. One study reports that between 10 and 40 percent of school-age students may experience test anxiety sufficient to hurt the outcome.
Not wanting to take a test and the fear of taking tests are entirely different. Telling the difference between the two is more complicated. Here’s one hint. If a person performs well on pop quizzes but fails the big ones, test anxiety may be the problem.
B. Causes for Fear of Taking Tests.
There are many causes, including language barriers, fear of crowds, fear of germs, fear of tight spaces, and many others. There may be multiple factors as well. Four common ones include:
- Lack of Preparation.
- Poor Past Performance.
- Mind went Blank.
- Fear of Failure.
1. Lack of Preparation. This is the most frequent cause, and the good thing is that this is within your control. The tricky thing is that if you do not already have good study habits, you will not develop these habits by tomorrow.
The amount of time that you should study depends on the type of test and the importance of the test. A pop quiz might not require preparation, whereas a mid-term or final test may require many hours. Licensing examinations often take weeks of practice.
Non-written tests such as playing a musical instrument and endurance tests (athletics) may require months of preparation and practice extending over a long 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 does not accumulate in your memory cells 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 kept in multiple locations for easy access.
There are techniques to improve the information storage of average and good results. A few of these techniques are included in this section and in the general sections on the List of Fears?
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 on to 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 cannot 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, if you worry all the time about what other people think about you, you may have self esteem issues? 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 chapters on Fear of Rejection and Fear of Failure.
C. The Test Questions.
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, you probably know the subject matter and scope of the lectures. However, there are many tests outside the classroom.
Almost all professions have competency tests. Governments have licensing examinations. Some employers have tests directed to their product or service. Each of these tests has topics added beyond the general subject matter. For example, licensing examinations 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. These are almost always helpful.
2. Purpose. Knowing the test purpose is often ignored. Many 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 correct answer will only give you partial credit.
If the question asks for you to explain your answers, you have to do more than simply getting the answer correct Almost all essay questions require more than the right answer. The link below discusses what you must do to get more than the partial credit. It involves discussing How, What and Why.
Sometimes the WHY is implicit in describing the steps taken. However, many times the Why is not assumed and must be explained. This is particularly true with business, politics, psychology, law, and history questions.
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 six years older than Jane, who is twice the age of Sam. How old is Sam?
This question has no keywords and appears to look 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 six 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 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.
3. Type of Question. There are many types of questions. But the written test mainly consists of True or False, Multiple Choice, Matching Items, and Essay.
Each test type has its characteristics. The first step is that you must allocate your time so that you can finish the test. If you can, determine the number and types of questions before taking the test. The link below discusses each type and how to 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, 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 remember that it is more important to complete the test than to check it.
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 quickly review 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 must answer several comprehension questions in a practice test and measure your accuracy and 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 you are unsure 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 you guessed or were unsure about. 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, 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 and anxiety, the more likely you will fall into this trap.
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.
(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, check the correct box and move on to the next question.
If you are uncertain, do the following: 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 wrong, then the answer is false.
Take the question, “A red light means stop?” That question has true interpretations. But is there any false interpretation? A red-colored light reflecting from the moon or 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 does a Red Light means to stop? The answer is true because of the qualifier.
Strict qualifiers are red flags that make most answers false. Some strict qualifiers include words like all, always, never, entirely, none, every, completely, absolutely, nothing, etc. For example, A Red Traffic Light always means to stop. The answer is clearly false. Why. Because the traffic light might be defective, and a police officer may flag 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, remove the no or not and answer the question. Then reverse your final answer. Here is an example.
Most ducks cannot walk before one month.
Remove the word “cannot” and see if the temporary answer is true. Most ducks walk within minutes of birth. Then switch the quick 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 what a marsupial is, then the probabilities favor a false answer. But because the word all was used, it makes the answer false. A bird with a broken wing cannot fly.
(b) Multiple Choice. These questions often have 3 to 5 choices, with 4 being the average. Read the question carefully. This may require you to cover the potential answers while reading 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, don’t use it since it is another step that takes time.
After reading the question, if you know the correct answer, then select that answer and move on to the next question. You use the techniques discussed below when you do not know the answer.
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 rarely 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 and 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 the 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 gas is a scientific system. Next, the word “always” is used in answer (a). Although the weather may affect greenhouse gases, it is not always associated. 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, use common sense techniques. The question and correct answer often have verbs and nouns with the same tense.
Question: What elements are contained in the first row in the Periodic Table?
- (a) Hydrogen,
- (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 what elements are in the first row. Elements are 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 adds one more proton, 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., 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, 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 inconsistent answer eliminates the choice. In addition, these answer choices are tough to draft. All answers are typically apparent or obvious if they are used. Academic Institutions 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 shortcut 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 usually easy to understand, particularly at the elementary school level. These tests are great for learning the 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. It is more of a learning tool 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 on how smart they are. But most graders read those rambling statements as blah, blah, blah.
It is essential 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 it stays with you once you learn this skill.
The first step is to read the question and understand what the questioner wants carefully. Often the last sentence contains the most important information on what the questioner wants. Reading the last sentence first and then the body of the question is a good idea. 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 three topic points (preferably less than 5), re-read the question to ensure those points are the important ones. If you discover that one of your points is not really necessary, take it out or if you find out a new significant point, insert it into your list.
The third step is “start writing.” It would help if you studied “how to write an essay” before you took 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 rarely works. It would help if you researched and then practiced. 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 a short one-sentence summary: Most people do poorly on tests because they do not study for them; 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 SATs once assessed a ¼ point (25%) penalty for each wrong answer in a multiple-choice question with five choices. But guessing will still be beneficial if you eliminate one or two solutions.
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. Knowing how one sets up and processes the work is more important than the answer itself. In these types of questions, there are more points 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 you to apply what you have learned and 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. It is hard to pass any test if you do not know the terms, expressions, places, dates, and definitions. On the other hand, some techniques can help. It is important to understand how these techniques are interrelated. This is discussed in more detail below.
Here are a few techniques helpful 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 helpful 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 waited four weeks and did another 30 repetitions. All three groups were tested after eight 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 included in your learning method or, the more emotional something is, the fewer the repetitions.
This means that increasing the number of senses involved will improve retention. For example, NH3 is the formula for ammonia. Smell ammonia once, and the formula will be quickly recalled. Coffee is bitter (taste) and 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 into a balloon will permanently associate helium with 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 associating a person’s physical characteristics with something else 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 believe such ability only applies to a few people with good memory abilities. Here is what the teacher does.
They start with an elaborate dinner plate with ornamental filigree surrounding the outside edge. The plate is fine dinnerware and is associated with Delaware. Next, a ballpoint pen is thrust into the center of the plate. The speaker exaggerates how powerful the thrust must be 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 ballpoint pen represents Pennsylvania. Then a miniature toy red and brown Jersey cow is balanced on the top of the pen. The Cow’s feet are squeezed together 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 they were admitted? Can you do it backward? Do you believe anyone can recite forwards and backwards 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 a 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 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 do common sense and logic apply to tests? If you think about it, common sense and logic are in almost all test questions. Common sense and logic allow one to eliminate obvious out-of-place answers. It is the step of disproving the validity of a true and false question. It is 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 challenging 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 it pushes it up. Everyone can agree that the observation of the bag is easier to understand than the textbook equation.
Numerous examples of everyday observations prove more challenging to understand scientific principles. Put your hand out the window of your moving car, and you will feel that the wind exerts a force on your hand and that the pressure 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 vertically on 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 tree’s height is the ratio of the tree’s shadow to the ruler’s shadow.
If you want to get the attention of fellow employees, treat them the same way 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) Three 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, 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 will eventually ally 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 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. To get over past failures, you must offset those failures with wins. This takes time and multiple wins. Plus, it would help if you made the wins noteworthy. You can do this by celebrating each high test score. Do a little dance, eat ice cream, listen to your favorite song, have your cell phone repeat an announcement, chalk up another win, etc.
But it would help if you did something as a reward. This associates a passing grade with something enjoyable. The Fear and Joy Connection section teaches that it takes three 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 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 regular meal time.
- If allowed, bring water into the test room.
- During the test, relax; 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 significant threat, which 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 your 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.