We’ve all been there: you’re trying your hardest to keep up with a particularly difficult course and it seems like the next unit test will be the end of your success. Whether it’s a class that is notoriously rigorous or just a subject you struggle with, there will be times when you feel unprepared and anxious over an exam.
The first thing to note about your test anxiety is where it is coming from, or what is about. For example, you may feel anxious about your ability to memorize, problem-solve, or check your work. Each teacher and each type of class will test differently but understanding your worries can help you to be better prepared.
I always note what my anxiety is about so that I can channel that into my study routine. Here’s how I combat different types of test anxiety and use it as a tool to further my study sessions!
Anxiety about preparedness
Feeling unprepared can certainly be anxiety-inducing and sometimes it is even difficult to pinpoint what you are feeling most unprepared about. If your professor has released a study guide for the exam, review it in its entirety and solve the problems that it mentions. If you find yourself making many mistakes, get in contact with your professor and ask if they find a pattern of mistakes!
The one thing to always note is that you aren’t expected to be perfect. Your professor will never judge you for not knowing the answer, in fact, they will usually be excited to talk one-on-one about the subject. After all, it is their job to teach you, and it is the moments when you ask for help that they can do that best!
Anxiety about memorization
This was a big one for me. Some classes will require a certain memory that I didn’t always have. Math and science classes are notorious for having many formulas and not all professors will allow for a formula sheet on exams. Always ask about new formulas and whether they will be provided in homework or on tests! If many people in the class are struggling, the teacher may be willing to include it in the exam materials.
I recommend talking with your professor about preferred ways of study. Chance is, they’ve probably heard from many students through the years who have developed new studying habits that you may find helpful!
I found that flashcards did not work for me as well as writing things out, so I’ve switched over to writing my notes out multiple times if it is key information! Understanding your best form of studying is very important as it is a huge factor in how well you retain the information.
Anxiety over bad grades
If you have a big test coming up and it is heavily weighted or has many points, it can be scary to think how a poor grade could impact your overall grade in the class. I have had my fair share of anxiety surrounding a big grade, even if I feel confident about my understanding of the material. Here’s how I prepare for heavily weighted exams or even big projects!
- Ask your teacher about the rubric! Clarify what subjects will be covered and how many problems will be assigned per subject so you can study smarter.
- Watch for point-heavy problems! Multiple-part problems are likely to be worth more points, so make sure you are confident with the entire problem!
- Test how the new grade will impact your overall grade: many grade books have an option to fill in a buffer grade until your teacher finishes the scoring! Use this to understand how a high or low score will change the class grade.
- Don’t focus on the numbers! Focus your energy on improvement and understanding rather than the concept of a high grade. You don’t want your worries to distract you from studying when you could be working toward your education goals!
Anxiety about problem-solving skills
Having good problem-solving skills is important, especially as you take on more difficult courses throughout your education. The courses I am taking this semester are pushing me to further develop these skills outside of class so that I can apply them in class without any issues.
I wasn’t prepared at first and questioned how I could improve and refine these skills without the help of an advisor, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve:
- Practice regularly! I use a whiteboard to practice the same type of problem repeatedly without taking up so much notebook space. It helps a lot with recognizing the problem on a test and solving the problem is like muscle memory!
- Attend student hours! If your teacher is available for student hours, meet with them and go over problems that you struggle with. They will likely find a pattern in your mistakes and can help you know where you are making them, so you can work on fixing that before test day!
- Give yourself homework. Many textbooks have practice problems at the end of each chapter, with solutions and answers elsewhere in the book. Use these to understand what you are confident answering and what needs improvement.
Test day anxiety
The closer test day comes, the more anxious we can get. However, there are a few things you can do to encourage a positive mindset and a healthy test environment!
Of course, having a good night’s rest and a healthy meal will keep you fueled to stay awake and alert for your test. If allowed, keep a water bottle by your workspace for mini-breaks during the exam.
On top of being fueled, you also need to enter the exam with a positive attitude. Test day is not the day to feel self-doubt! Remember that you have been preparing as best you can and having that willpower is already helping you to succeed.
As an online student, I have been taking exams from home. Many are recorded to prevent cheating, so I don’t get to spend that time in my PJs, but I would if I could. You should feel comfortable and calm in your testing environment, though there are some things out of your control. Make sure you have pets away from your workspace to avoid distractions and turn off your phone while you’re at it!
Another thing that helps me feel less anxious is to plan something else on test day. That way, if I don’t feel good about the test and I am worried about the upcoming grade, I don’t let it ruin my day. It can be something as simple as a favorite lunch or a new episode of a show that I’ll watch when the test is over. Just make sure you aren’t distracting yourself with these other exciting things while taking the test!
If you’re nervous about a big grade, you’re not alone! The good news is, there have been plenty of other people in your shoes and there are many options for you to get help!
Anxiety ranges on a large spectrum and what works for some folks may not work for you.
Remember that so long as you are doing your best to succeed, that is all you can control. Many factors contribute to your success and the education system is set in stone, making it difficult to adapt to change.
Reach out to your advisors and be honest about your expectations and what you can handle. Your educational success won’t be linear so only take on as much as you reasonably can. Don’t let the pressure to do better get so overwhelming that it is hindering your chance to reach your goals, and give yourself some grace when you don’t succeed the first time.