Essential College Skills: Test-taking: Tips for Showing What You Really Know

You've read the assignments, attended class, and stuck to your study schedule, but a looming exam still has you worried. Research shows that roughly 25 to 40 percent of students experience some form of test anxiety, which is physical or emotional distress that can make it difficult to concentrate. Manage your test-taking fears and boost your confidence with a few tips described below.

Remember, when you take a test, you're showing your instructor how well you understand the material. If you've managed your time well and studied regularly, you're probably more ready for the test than you realize.

Boost your confidence

Prepare for a test with positive self-talk. Anxious students tend to think negatively about their performance, telling themselves, "I always mess up, I'll never get an A, or everyone is better than I am at this subject." Don't let negative thoughts creep into your inner dialogue. Instead, encourage yourself like you would a friend. Remind yourself that you are prepared.

Manage your time before the test

If you pace your learning and study throughout the semester, you can avoid cramming before a big exam. By not procrastinating, you'll find you're calmer and more confident heading into a test. Cramming weeks' worth of work into an all-nighter isn't good for deep learning. Prepare for a test throughout the semester by attending class, reading and listening actively, and taking detailed notes.

Test anxiety can also set in when you don't know what to expect. If you have questions about the test format or type of questions, make sure to meet with your instructor prior to test day. An objective test is primarily composed of true/false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank questions. A subjective test may include short answer or essay questions. Knowing which format to expect may influence how you study.

Take care of yourself

Visualize yourself doing well and reaching your goals. Besides studying and attending class, you need to take care of yourself, too.

  • Get plenty of rest: A full eight hours of sleep will ensure you're rested and alert on test day.
  • Eat something: Heading into a test hungry can be distracting and cause you to lose focus. Eat protein or foods that will boost energy. Avoid too much caffeine, which can amplify anxieties.
  • Be on time: Reduce fears by arriving early and giving yourself time to calm down and relax.
  • Stop being critical: Encourage yourself with positive self-talk.

During the test

Stay calm. Review the entire test and read all of the directions before you begin. Plan ahead, if necessary. For instance, if you know that an essay question at the end is going to take you at least 15 minutes to answer, allow plenty of time for that question as you pace yourself through the rest of the exam. Try not to rush. While testing, don't dwell on what's done or what's ahead. Focus on the question in front of you. If you begin to feel overcome by anxiety, stop briefly and try to relax. If it helps, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and continue with the exam.

Remember, you're probably more ready for the test than you realize!