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Test Anxiety

  1. Oct 31, 2005 #1
    I had a midterm today, and I think I did bad on it even though I studied hard for it.

    When I first glanced at the paper, I knew how to every problem. But when I started to each problem, my neck started to go stiff, and I couldn't think properly. It seems as if though everything I studied during the past week just completely went straight out of the window. This was very frustrating for me because I had limited amount of time to finish the exam. Nevertheless, I convinced myself to calm down and finished the test anyway. However, I didn't think I performed to the best of my ability because I felt really nervous. I am disappointed because I knew that I could've done better, given that I would have been more relaxed during the exam.

    If I performed badly during my test, then I have to really get my act together for the final exam to do well in the class. So, having explained my situation, does anyone recommend ways to remain cool during exams?

    I've just started my upper div physics classes (namely, mechanics & E&M), and I feel that I am going downhill because of my anxiety.

    Any suggestions are greatly appeciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2005 #2
    I don't know what works for you, but what worked for me sometimes, i had a similar problem a while back, was not studying right before the exam, i mean immediately before, all it does is it makes you doubt what you learned, trust what you studied the night before. Other than that, it will just eventually go away, it did for me.
  4. Nov 1, 2005 #3
    Yep, it sounds like you over studied. The day of the exam is not the time to be studying. I have had test anxiety a couple of times and what I found to help is very similar to "what". YOU MUST START STUDYING FOR THE EXAM EARLY! You will not learn anything craming for an exam- retention of the material will not occur. Everything I am going to tell you rests on the advice I give all my students, start studying for the exam a week or so before it. Do little bits everyday. This helps with retention of the material. The day of the exam:
    Get a very good nights sleep. Leave yourself plenty of time to fall asleep and don't think about studying right before going to bed. Have a good breakfast. Relax in the morning after breakfast. Do something you like to do- read a novel- do anything to get relaxed. Until the exam, just don't get stressed out. Leave yourself plenty of time for travel and get to the exam a little early and find a seat that you are comfortable in. Once you get the exam, read all the problems then start doing the ones you know how to do. As a professor of mine would say "Get the points." Once it is done, breath a sigh of relief. Nothing can be done about the exam once it is over so don't worry about it.
    All this will help you be relaxed during the exam and after.
    Good luck in the future,
  5. Nov 1, 2005 #4
    I will second this. My teacher always told us to do the problems you know you can complete with ease so you have something down on paper. Then, if you're stuck on a harder problem you don't begin to panic over having nothing completed.
  6. Nov 1, 2005 #5
    As others have said, start on easier problem to build confidence and work your way towards more difficult ones. Professor will usually assign more points to problems that you definitely should know how to do and less points to difficult ones where only a few people can figure out the solution.

    Personally, my biggest problem is not reading questions correctly. I lost a lot of points on an exam (last week) due to misinterpretation. The worst part is I know how to do it! argh.. Last year I failed an exam due to improper time management. I tried to work on all of the problems and get partial credit for all of them, but I didn't get anywhere. I think it's better to get some completely right than try to write few incoherent answers hoping for partial credit. I think this is especially true when you're not sure how to approach any of the problems. Spend time and focus on one or two instead of jumping back and forth between problems hoping something will come up (usually doesn't for me).
  7. Nov 1, 2005 #6

    Math Is Hard

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    What was different about this test than the other ones you've taken? You're obviously very smart and have always performed well. Why did this one throw you? There seems to be a lot more pressure associated with this test than ones you have done before.

    The last comment you made makes me think that you've got some anxiety about going into the upper division classes. Is it just moving to the next level that's stressing you out? For some people who are perfectionists by nature, it can be hard to move on to a place where they might not be perfect at first.

    But, heck - you probably did better than you thought. Any scores posted yet?
  8. Nov 2, 2005 #7
    I knew that cramming during the last minute was bad, but I thought that if you've studied for a week for an exam and then reviewing notes before the exam was perfectly okay. I try not to review everything I studied for before the test, but maybe that's bad too.

    In general, I think part of my problem is that when going into the midterm, I don't know what to expect in terms of questions and grading style. Only afterwards do I get a good idea of what I should strive for, allowing better grades on finals. This has always been the case for me, especially for my Physics classes, which is not a good.

    Thank you for the helpful advice. I am actually going to follow your advice for my Math midterm on Friday. And as for Physics I have finals coming up in about four weeks. I guess I can start studying for that now, since the exams count for about 50% of my grade.
  9. Nov 2, 2005 #8
    So true. I should stop trying to answer every problem and focus on the ones that I do know. For my last exam, I think I panicked too much, and my mind went blank. I was looking around my classroom, and people were busily writing their exam, which made me even more nervous.

    I do the same for tests. I just skim over numbers in the problem and look at the diagram if there are any to figure out the problem. I guess it's because during the test, I have to make sure I complete every problem as quickly as possible because I only have 50 minutes to finish the exam.
  10. Nov 2, 2005 #9
    You're right. Maybe I am nervous about moving up to upper division classes. On numerous occassions, I hear people saying that upper div physics is hard and also comments about how physics ruined their lives. I try not to get discouraged by this because I know that the subject might be different for everybody. Also, I have to have above a 3.5 GPA for my upper div classes in order to keep my scholarship, so that's a burden too. I really want to do well in my classes, but my anxiety is keeping me from performing my best.

    Referring to another thread on this forum, I also tend to get discouraged by a single person who has no problem scoring like 90% on the test when the average of the class is like a 30%. Sometimes, it makes me feel dumb if I've scored exceptionally lower than the highest score. I think to myself, why couldn't I have done better? I attend lecture everyday, take notes and do my homework, but I suck at midterms.

    The grades are not posted yet, but I am not sure if I want to know what I got because I know I could've done better.

    In any case, I might as well move on. There's always tomorrow.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2005
  11. Nov 2, 2005 #10
    *Breaks out into song* TOOOMOOROW Tomorrow... (:
  12. Nov 2, 2005 #11
    ... and today is no better than yesterday...:frown:
  13. Nov 12, 2005 #12
    I know what you mean I have the same problem. I am in my first year of university and I've always had really bad test anxiety but this year its even worse. My first few midterms I literally felt physically sick before the tests and that made it really hard to write them. It was really frustrating because I had studied really hard for them and knew that I knew everything. I ended up getting B's on them, which is ok but not nearly what I wanted. For the next ones I still felt sick but I did my best to calm down and ended up getting A's. I think half the battle is knowing what your professor expects in their exams, and the style of the exams themselves. I need to have a 3.7 GPA to get into the program I want and the stress is killing me, it gets to the point where I don't know what to do anymore. People can tell you to calm down all they want but if you really can't it doesn't help much. I guess all I can say is think of it this way, you've written your first set of exams, now you know what your prof is expecting of you for the next set!
  14. Nov 12, 2005 #13
    Don't you guys ever get so relaxed just before the exam that you can't focus properly? On my end of year exam I got so stressed out that just before the exam I relaxed myself to the point where my brain wouldn't work to it's full potential.
  15. Nov 22, 2005 #14
    laminatedevildoll: In response to those people getting 90% on the exam, while the class averages 30%.

    Maybe they've...
    • had the class before (repeating it).
    • had the professor before.
    • run accross old tests from the professor (that are similar)
    • just better test takers than you. Some people seriously can just look at a problem and understand 'what the professor intended to ask' in the first place. (I swear some people can just decipher the problem into what the professor was thinking when they sat down and wrote the problem, and not get caught up in over analyzing it).
    • some other reason... screw them. Just do as best as you can. Or simply ask them how they did so well on their tests.

    Also as far as your anxiety. I wish I had more time to discuss this, but i have to jet. But, I'll try to quickly tell you what helped for me.

    If you have a lecture hall test. Find a good seat. I was getting not-so-good grades on my first exams in an intro physics course. I just felt clausterphobic, and like people were just to close. Like I could see their pencils. I would typically sit somewhere in the middle of the auditorium seating. So now when I have a test, I try to get there a little bit early, and I'll jet into the room and go to the very top of the auditorium and pick a corner. This way I'll only have one person next to me. Sometimes I'll even move my chair really close to the other persons, then push their chair down a bit. So when they sit down they will be kind of close. Then when the test starts I move my chair all the way back... and boom. Instant space!

    shizer... I have to go. Good luck man. Try to figure out WHY these things are happening to you. (this might sound really lame but...) Treat it like a physics/math problem. I'm sure you can 'solve' your problem. Just figure out how... if you keep doing the same thing everytime, it will go nowhere. It's all about angles of attack sometimes.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2005
  16. Feb 9, 2006 #15
    Well, it's been a while since I wrote in this thread, but I ended up getting a B for the first quarter of CM. Now, I have the second part of CM this quarter, and I have to say that I threw up before the midterm today. I was feeling so nervous. I don't know why I was feeling worse than before. The pressure for me to do better than last quarter was stessing me out. I studied really hard for this midterm, and when I finally sat to take it today, I felt like all those hours I spent time studying weren't really worth it. I froze for at least ten mins before I started to actually think about the problem. I managed to complete some parts of the test, but I am pretty sure I screwed it up this time too. Thinking about certain people who might score very high on the test just added to my depression afterwards. My whole mood revolves around my midterm scores. Maybe, I will never be smart enough.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2006
  17. Feb 16, 2006 #16
    that sucks. I know how you feel. I have bad experiances during almost every test. Luckily I have managed some techniques to help. these don't completely cure it because I still freeze up. but they do help.

    breathing deeply before the test and during it if you start feeling anxious

    skip problems immediatly if I start feeling overwhelmed. If it gets real bad, flip through the pages and just start reading phrases until you get to something you know so well that you just click back on.

    full nights sleep, healthy eating and staying hydrated

    sometimes I come in at the very last second when the tests are being passed out, so I get right into the test without waiting around during the first ten minutes

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2006
  18. Feb 16, 2006 #17


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    This may seem like an odd approach but I rarely, if ever, studied FOR an exam. I studied the subject and material by familiarizing myself with the concepts before they were covered in class and being fully engaged in the lectures, problem solving and discussions. I tried to understand concepts deeply and pushed ideas to their limits.

    Above all, I never gave a second thought to grades but, in the end, they were a nice bonus after really learning something! :)
  19. Feb 16, 2006 #18
    I feel like no matter how hard I study for classes like E&M, in the end, I still keep on getting low points on tests. This discourages me alot, but I try to think positive and try harder. But, I cannot feel upset over my scores when I hear someone has done 5 times better than me on the exam. Most of the time, it makes me feel inferior.

    Hopefully, I will follow everyones advice for the finals that are in a month.
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