Sunday, November 25, 2012

Test Taking Tips, Anxiety-Busters Strategies and Motivating Quotes

For most of us test taking is an integral part of our lives (in and out of school).  Most of us also realize that text taking is a coveted talent that inevitably carries varied amounts of anxiety.

  • Attention to details - to understand the nuances of the question as well as provide the necessary content, depth and details in the response.  IF the exam is an essay, it also involves attention to the writing process making sure spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct.  IF the exam involves math, the student must also attend to the written work, making sure numbers were copied correctly, and computations were completed accurately.
  • Memory - making sure ALL the required materials were recalled and presented accurately, and that everything the questions required were addressed.
  • Language - students must be able to read and comprehend exactly what the questions are asking, and then be able to recognize the 'best' answer from a multiple choice array, OR relate the necessary material in a comprehensive and comprehensible manner.
  • Sequencing - students must often recall ORDERS of events (be they historical, fictional, numerical, etc.) and must be able to relate them in the correct sequence and comprehensive manner.
  • Grapho-motor skills - are also involved as students must have the physical control and stamina to write responses for each question in the proper test location and in a 'readable' answer.
  • Cognition/Comprehension - aside from simply understanding the question, students must recognize and follow patterns, construct main ideas, compare and contrast information from memory, compare and contrast what is necessary from what is not, compare and contrast choices as to how to respond.  Students must also analyze questions and options, they must brainstorm how to respond as well as brainstorm what is the 'best' response. In essay exams students must often analyze, explain, relate, criticize, and evaluate content information, ALL of which requires higher order cognitive skills.
And we wonder why test-takers get anxious?

This post hopes to relieve test-taking anxiety while improving test-taking and study skills.

"A hundred cartloads of anxiety will not pay an ounce of debt" ---Italian Proverb.

While it's often ineffective to tell someone not to be anxious when they are,  ANXIETY will not only not pay an ounce of debt, it won't help improve test scores either.  In fact, if you're like me it will actually hurt test taking.

So aside from boning up on relaxation techniques and/or yoga, the remainder of this post helps parents, teachers and students PREPARE for tests, how to TAKE tests, and GAIN PERSPECTIVE to bust anxiety to a manageable inconvenience.  [Feel free to add your own strategies in the comments.]

  • Begin studying as soon as you know of the test.  Schedule your time with breaks.  The more time you have to prepare, the more opportunities review, the less pressure on time management and (hopefully) the stronger your memory links.
  • Make outlines, review sheets, flash cards, "cram sheets" to review and establish multi-sensory memory paths and 'recall routes'. 
  • Here is a great note-taking/summarizing technique:
  • From:
    • Break your page into three sections: First, fold the paper in half vertically so you have a right side and a left side.  Leave space on the top of the paper (for a title describing the page's contents), and space across the bottom (to write a brief summary).
    • On the top section across the page - label or title the contents (summarize)
    • On the right side, write your notes in bullets
    • On the left side, under each bullet of notes, leave a key word or include some visual icon or image to represent its content
    • On the bottom of the page write a summary
  • Prepare review sheets, writing key points and ideas on one side of the paper (in outline or concept map format) showing relationships between key points. Use the other side of the paper for definitions, examples, formulas, etc.
  • Review your notes, and you may want to review others' notes as well.  Older kids may want to form study groups and parents (for kids in newly established groups) may want to monitor making sure the group actually studies.
  • Take breaks.  Get up and walk around.  You may want to walk around while reciting - the kinesthetic aspect has been found to help with memory retrieval. Sometimes creating songs or chants also helps memorization.

  • Eat a light meal before the test (food is necessary for energy but heavy foods can make you groggy).
  • Sleep before a test - 8 hours of sleep is recommended.
  • As soon as you receive your test...mind dump: ask for/use a scrap piece of paper to jot down any memorized information you think you might forget.
  • Quickly scan the test, thinking of how best to budget your time, making sure you allow time to  read the directions and questions carefully.
  • Read the entire question carefully. Don't assume you know what it is asking until you have completely read it.
  • IF you are concerned about time, answer the questions you know you can answer first and mark the more challenging questions to return to later.
  • Focus on your test, don't bother looking to see how others are responding - it will distract you, it will take time away from your work and it will not help you.
  • IF you don't understand a question, ask the teacher to clarify it (if appropriate). You may also want to write a note in the margin explaining your response.
  • Circle key words in difficult questions. This may help you focus on the main point.

For ESSAY QUESTIONS  the objective is to demonstrate that you know the topic, can explain it, AND can support your explanation using vocabulary and technical jargon used in class and readings.  When taking the test:
  • Start your essay with a clear opening sentence that DIRECTLY responds to the question prompt.
  • Make sure you understand the questions:
  • From:
    • Compare questions usually want students to focus on SIMILARITIES as well as DIFFERENCES.
    • Contrast questions ask students to focus on differences between related items, qualities, events or problems.
    • Criticize questions usually call for YOUR JUDGEMENT with respect to merits or factors of given ideas, statements, or events.
    • Define questions require concise, clear meanings presented in an authoritative manner.
    • Discuss questions ask students to ANALYZE carefully and present considerations (pros and cons) of targeted subjects. This requires a complete and detailed response.
    • Evaluate questions require a careful look at an idea/event and responses should stress ADVANTAGES and LIMITATIONS. Responses should be written in an authoritative tone with some personal comments.
    • Explain questions usually ask students to CLARIFY and INTERPRET the material. Here, students should address the "how's" and "why's" of a given event/situation, often consolidating and/or reconciling differences of opinions.
    • Illustrate questions require students to translate, clarify, diagram a given topic/situation with CONCRETE examples to support their positions.
    • Relate questions ask students to SHOW RELATIONSHIPS, emphasizing connections and associations, usually in descriptive form.
    • Review questions typically require students to CRITICALLY EXAMINE a topic.  Students should analyze and comment briefly about the topic in an organized, sequential manner which addresses the major points of an issue/problem/event.
    • Summarize questions typically ask students to concisely relate the main points, ideas or facts of an issue. 
For MULTIPLE CHOICE (and True/False) questions:
    • Read the question a few times to make sure you understand what it is asking.
    • Underline key terms and clue words.
    •  If you run into vague terminology, define it in your own terms and then look for the best alternative answer.
    • After reading the question, come up with your 'most likely' response BUT read ALL the response choices before selecting your 'best choice'.

    • BE PREPARED - studying and self-testing can help. Toward this end, set up realistic study goals. Goals should be :
      • specific (reading or writing "x" amount of work or reading/writing for "x" amount of time a sitting)
      • measurable (for example set aside a specific amount of time or a concrete goal or number of pages to read, etc.)
      • challenging but attainable
    • Evaluate your success with goal setting and adjust future goals when necessary.
    • THINK POSITIVELY and IF you find you're worrying too much, try to consciously change gears.
    • Break studying into chunks.  Make a study schedule that includes breaks which will distract you from your tension and anxiety while empowering you to better incorporate what you've studied.  
    • Anxiety feeds on itself.  IF you tend to freeze, you may want to talk to a teacher and see if there are alternatives WHILE you address the anxiety.
    • No one I've known - even very gifted students - 'ace' every test.  Realize this. Also realize that there are often several ways to achieve your goal, and often circuitous routes are more enriching.
    • Think about tests you may not have done well on.  Was there a pattern or type of question that you had/have difficulty with?  If so try to address these issues.  You may find you need to:
      • Slow down and read the directions more carefully
      • Slow down (especially math or physics) making sure you don't copy an equation wrong or misread a number, or simply make careless calculation errors.
      • If there is extra time - go over your work before handing in the test. 
      • Congratulate yourself on completing what you have done - focus on the good and easy and not on the overwhelming.
    • Use relaxation techniques while studying and before exams.  


    Finally, some INSPIRATIONAL / MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES to help you relax and gain perspective, or simply laugh.  [Please feel free to leave your own in the comments.]

     "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot...and I missed. I have failied over and over and over again in my life. And that's precisely why I succeed" ----Michael Jordan, NBA Allstar
    "I'm not telling you it is going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it"---Art Williams, Professional basketball player
    "Neither you nor the world knows what you can do until you have tried." ---Ralph Waldo Emerson
    "So many times people end up fixated on doing things right, that they end up doing nothing at all." ---The Wright Brothers
    "When I was young I observed that nie out of ten things I did were failures, soI did ten times ore work." ---George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright
    "Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start form now and make a brand new ending." --- Carl Bard, Scottish theologian religious writer broadcaster
    "Try not. Do or do not; there is no try." ---Yoda, Jedi Master, Star Wars
    In closing, here is a YouTube clip from
    As always, thank you for your visit.  Please leave your own test-taking advice, motivational anecdotes of funny test-taking experiences in the comments.


    1. Holy moly! This is valuable info I can pass along to my kids, thanks!

    2. When my daughter was in kindergarten, they wanted her to spell in the way they thought the word sounded like. When she discovered that it was not the actual way it was spelled, she burst into tears, and the teacher had a difficult time consoling her. This took her mother and me by surprise, but she's still that hard on herself, and it's not coming from us.

      1. I was really hard on myself too...still am in some ways. Some of us are wired that way but finding ways to relieve the anxiety is important. Once, I had a dream that I froze on a test and the next morning that happened. I was so upset. I've learned to put things more in perspective and that there are always many roads one can take to achieve similar outcomes. I have found that planning and thinking ahead (while being flexible about alternate options helped me a lot.There will always be other opportunities if you keep your cool and stay open to cues and options.

        I'm sure your daughter is a super student and will do fine. I wish her (and you) luck!

    3. I am so sorry, but I never prepared myself with a test taking strategy of any kind. I just studied hard every day and repeated everything till it stuck in my brain. I must say I always passed all exams. I don't know if I did anything wrong, because I had no other strategy than that I left all my books on the table and studied them as soon as I had a spare moment.When I studied English I turned on the BBC on the radio and listened to it all day long.
      You are a real perfectionist, which is admirable! Your posts are impeccable! Have a great week.
      Wil, ABC Team.

    4. Great tips! I always panicked when it came time for test taking, even though I always passed every test. I still panic to this day when the word test is used. Even a simple eye test at the DMV lol. I guess I have a big fear of failure or something.

    5. Where were you when I was taking the dreaded tests...way back in the "Dark Ages". I really could have used these pointers and logical methods.
      Thanks Meryl for this help. I will pass this along to my 18 year old college freshman granddaughter.

    6. Such excellent TIPS...I'm going to copy them and have my students read through it before finals.

      abcw team

    7. Just reading this makes me anxious lol. My oldest daughter always freaks before tests, but usually does very well. I used to worry with her, but I've learned it doesn't mean she's really going to fail when she says "I'm going to FAIL!!!".

      Great tips :))

    8. Your blog is fantastic and loaded with wonderful information ~ hope you use some 'social media's to get the word out ~ (A Creative Harbor) ^_^

      ps. thanks for coming by ~ so good to 'see you' again ~ ^_^

    9. I inherited anxiety and depression disorder -- a chemical imbalance, but I never had anxiety in taking tests. There is a whole other kind of anxiety; that is anticipation and being out of control of one's circumstances. That kind of anxiety can actually be physically painful. As a retired teacher I know I had many students over the years who could have benefited from your wonderful post. I struggle with my kind of anxiety, but have it 90% under control now.

    10. Do NOT Study 20 minutes before a test so that your brain dumps all the short term memory so that it can bring in the blocks of long term memory. If you study right up until the test is handed to you, your short term memory is already full. It cannot bring up any more blocks of long term memory. I little sugar and/or peppermints before a test is great, for it will trigger the synapses

    11. New follower here. This is SUCH wonderful information! I am going to print this out and keep it for my teens and tweens that seem to be "poor test takers." Such great information!
      Thank you for sharing!
      nancy-of the crazy 9

    12. Checking you out from the WW blog hop. New follower. Please come check me out & follow back;

    13. Always an interesting lesson here! You should've seen the flash cards I devised for myself in studying for my art history exams! I made elaborate sets of flash cards then realized that I did better using the dates to memorize and letting the rest cascade in by way of association. Although I am lousy at math, I can remember numbers.

      1. Flash cards are GREAT ways to study. You have to re-write information, summarize it and then you keep seeing it again and again as you review. As a result of moving the cards, writing the cards, seeing the cards you create lots of memory associations. Thanks so much for sharing this!

      2. I use flash cards with my kids often when we are reviewing for their tests or doing some exercises.

        Catching up with all the T entries.

        Travels & Wandering
        Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

    14. Wow. I wish I had this to refer to over my school years. You've covered all the bases from the basics - eating and sleeping to the specific techniques, to dealing with anxiety - and I love that you included the quotes. This will be helpful for my son that will be in middle school next year. It's the perfect time to instill these great study habits.

    15. Some good hints here, especially the mind dump onto a piece of scrap of paper, I can remember trying to get down some key hypothesis down at the beginning of an essay so I didn't forget them. I never minded tests, unless they involved maths. Happily my days of tests are behind me, I always found that unstrapping the watch to lay on the desk and then put out a neat row of pens and super sharp pencils were the best part, it was all down hill from then on:-)

    16. Ordinary Words...Terrific advice. And if you don't get the grade you wanted, it is ok...sometimes that pressure to make the grade is over-rated and we have to learn how to fail♫

    17. Thank you for the advices... I'm so lucky that my child is not attending school yet. I stopped by from Sincerely Paula's linky. Come and check out my blog anytime ;)

    18. You made some excellent suggestions. Thanks for linking up to our Wordless Wednesday. We hope to see you again next week.

    19. that's a lot of info - I got anxious just reading it all! thanks, though, I'll see how many of these I can integrate for my third-grader!

    20. I am definitely going to bookmark this site for when my daughter is in school. Thanks!

    21. Wonderfully informative post ~ 'spot on' ~ (A Creative Harbor ^_^)

    22. I will have to pass this on to my husband! He's got the worst test anxiety.

      New follower from Weekend Social.

    23. great tips. thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop.xo

    24. Bookmarked this!! Wonderful tips!

      I found you through a blog hop, glad I did! I look forward to reading your posts and am now following you! Come on by the Aloha Friday Blog hop and link up with us too!! It's easy and you could end up being next week's featured blogger!!

    25. This is such a useful post. I am glad I stopped by from Hip Homeschool Moms. Please consider adding this to the Look What We Did home school resource website. I think others who visit the site would appreciate reading this, too. -Savannah

    26. I am interested in reviewing a copy of your new book and doing a short interview about you on my blog. Please send me an email if you'd like to discuss this. -Savannah

    27. Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing!

    28. I'm glad I don't have to take test anymore =) These are some good tip, though! Thanks for sharing them with us at Trivium Tuesdays!

    29. "No one I've known - even very gifted students - 'ace' every test."
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