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Test taking anxiety/problems

  1. Dec 7, 2011 #1
    I just got out of my modern physics final exam and am pretty positive I completely bombed it. This will at least give me a C, or even worse a D in the course. Of course I don't know what I got on the exam, but I know it wasn't passing.

    I am very disappointed in myself at the moment, but I will try to explain. For some reason my brain completely messes up when I'm taking tests. I don't feel as if my test grades are necessarily a reflection of what I know, because just yesterday I was explaining concepts to people related to the test, and when they showed up again I just messed everything up. Everything went wrong. I messed up on simple calc 1 math techniques to solve problems, I misread problems, and I even just realized that the momentum in the zero momentum frame...is just that, zero. I feel like I am the perfect example of someone who makes all the stupid mistakes that you never would normally. I don't think I can stand to work this hard for mediocre/bad grades anymore.

    Has anyone dealt with this problem? I don't necessarily feel nervous going into the test, I actually feel really focused and want to really solve some problems. I never have eureka moments like I do when solving homework problems. My mind just isn't in the same place. Its not even a time constraint problem. We had 3 hours and that was definitely enough time to do it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2011 #2
    write up challenging example problems for yourself, or take the from the back of the book. go sit in your class room and give yourself 3 hrs to complete them under test taking conditions.

    if you do this enough, you might get used to these conditions, and not panic when you take a test.
  4. Dec 7, 2011 #3
    I can only related to your feelings when I feel as though I am unprepared. Perhaps you need to practice more, and hence familiarize yourself with the concepts.
  5. Dec 7, 2011 #4


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    I know exactly how you feel. I have the same problem - it's something I have always struggled with. It's not that I experience an unusual amount of anxiety. Rather, it's precisely what you said - my mind gets stuck in a strange place.

    I'll tell you what did not work for me: trying to convince myself to relax, and that "how I do on this one exam doesn't really matter in the long run." That sort of thinking did me no good at all.

    What works best for me is working lots and lots of problems. Endless, endless problems.

    Structure gives me a bit of comfort, too. After every lecture, I summarize what the prof was trying to say. Then, to prepare for a test, I go over the lecture summaries and try to reconstruct an outline of the course.

    As I go over my outline and review all the problems I've solved, I tell myself: I *know* this stuff.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  6. Dec 7, 2011 #5
    I quit 4 different fields and chose careers based on my severity of performance anxiety. I ended up finding 1 medication (clonazepam) that worked and allowed me to finish a professional degree. Unfortunately, I became dependent on it, abused it, had major cognitive/memory problems (eventually) and had to take a year of absence from work. I've been using Lexapro, now for almost 2 years and so far it seems to lessen most of the anxiety except if I have an oral exam. The time constraint (I'm naturally very slow an inattentive) and the noises and people around the whole exam situation is way too stressful. I would do better if I had headphones (to block out distractions) but they're not allowed.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  7. Dec 7, 2011 #6


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    You're not alone.

    I certainly had my share of test anxiety. To an extent, I think a lot of it came from pressure I placed on myself. The good news is that I've managed to get myself through all the academic hoops and on to a rewarding an enjoyable career.

    Here are some tips that helped me, in no particular order.
    1. Exercise. You don't have to overdo it, but don't neglect it either. It's a great tool for clearing your head when you're studying. It also allows you to concentrate more - both when studying and during an exam.

    2. Sleep. Figure out whan an adequate amount of sleep is for you and work on getting that on a regular basis. Avoid relying on caffeine.

    3. Eat right. This means different things to different people, but particularly as a student it's easy to get into the fast-food habit. Avoid the high-fat foods that make you lethargic. Eat the foods that aren't so processed, lots of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meat, that kind of thing. Avoid big sugar spikes. (Although, I personally think it's important to allow yourself treats one in a while). As a 3b I would also say that it's important to stay hydrated.

    These first three points are rather obvious, but so much so that it becomes easy to overlook them. The point is to keep yourself healthy and alert and able to focus, both when studying and when testing.

    4. Learn how you learn. Unfortunately the best method I have for figuring this out is trial and error. Some people find lectures are wonderful and absorb material like a sponge. Others see them as a big waste of time and would rather read everything from a textbook.

    5. Practice. Practice. Practice. And pay attention to feedback. Check your work. When you get an answer wrong, figure out where you went wrong and understand what you needed to do to make it right.

    6. Learn to be psychic - sort of. A personal observation I've make about people who do well on tests is that they seem to be better able to predict what questions will be on exams. They don't predict the exact questions, of course. But they're able to break down what material has been covered and figure out what types of questions are most probable.

    7. Spend some time honing your testing skills. This includes tactics like reading through the entire exam before answering any of the questions and making sure that you understand precisely what is being asked for in each of them. For oral exams this includes practicing answering questions out loud, even if you're by yourself.

    8. What helped me take the pressure off was having "something else." I was never just a physics student. I volunteered. I had a number of jobs. I was involved in sports. A lot of internal pressure simply came from, on some psychological level, tying my self-worth to my academic performance. When I had something else going on the side, something that I was proud of, it helped because I wasn't 'just' a physics student. I don't know if this will work for everyone, but I thought it might also be worth mentioning.
  8. Dec 8, 2011 #7
    You are definitely not alone in this, I was about to make a thread about this but then I saw your post.

    A week ago I just had a test on physics and math, I barely passed it and it's truly disappointing how bad I did considering that I studied and prepared for it. When I look back to my papers it just gets worst, I kept thinking how stupid I must be for being missing silly questions.

    In my mind, I kept contemplating that maybe, my aptitude isn't enough to do physics. But then I'd always remind myself that this is the only thing I can see myself doing in the future, so I still keep trying and hope that I'd somehow get out of it. This cycle has repeated for a while now.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2011
  9. Dec 8, 2011 #8
    Thanks for the responses everyone.

    I really don't know what I am going to do yet. I might try to go see a counselor or something after exams to see if I can do anything about this. I still have all my other exams to go.

    I think another problem I have, which isn't so much involved with test taking, is that I get a self destructive attitude when I can't immediately figure something out. Maybe its because I am surrounded by physics majors all the time, who seem to think they are the most superior intellectually compared to other majors. When I can't figure it out, I think "come on, this stuff is basically trivial, why can't you see how to solve the problem? You did just yesterday." Then I even start to think "You just aren't cut out for physics." And of course, once you get in this mindset its all over. It's not that I don't know this stuff, its just so depressing that for some reason my brain just literally quit on me yesterday, and I missed so much absolutely simple stuff. Lisab I think you are correct, telling yourself to calm down doesn't really work for me either. I usually find that my neck gets tense during the test, and I sweat more than usual.

    There's really nothing I can do about it for right now. I am trying to accept now that I will get at least a C in a course now, which is horrific sounding since I have such a perfectionist attitude. Like I said, I will probably ask my parents about this and see if I can either talk to someone professional about this.

    On a side note, I think timing yourself to do homework problems may be a good idea. Thx.
  10. Dec 8, 2011 #9
    I used to have test anxiety but most of it was fueled from being the kid that came straight from the ghetto then thrown into a for real school. My first ever Calc test in college was pretty difficult and I didn't do good at all.. D-. I felt well prepared but completely blanked during the test. I knew that my entire scholarship (a full ride) was on the line if I didn't turn this around right now.

    I thought to myself that the tests are really just the professor trying to outsmart me and I hate being outsmarted. So I had a different motive to do good, to beat the professor. The anxiety went away immediately and I thought of it as a competition. During the tests, instead of thinking "I can't make another mistake" I thought "I'm gonna show this stupid (swear words) what I can do and make he/she look like a fool."

    In that class I absolutely beasted the next two tests then the final and got an A in the class. The next semester that professor saw me and asked me what I did to turn my grade around that much. I told him straight up "I got angry" in complete seriousness. I think he thought I was a little crazy and I might be but it's the only thing that made me survive that first year. Being the thuggy black kid in a school full of mostly rich white people definitely made me have a chip on my shoulder. You just have to figure out what works for you.

    I wish you luck because I know it's difficult.
  11. Dec 8, 2011 #10
    This is me everyday. I get through it by making fun of myself and laughing about it
  12. Dec 9, 2011 #11


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    The suggestions in this thread by Choppy and lisab have been extremely effective for me, and I've struggled with this for as long as I can remember. Heed their advice and you'll be fine.
  13. Dec 10, 2011 #12
    Your professor is a complete fool when it comes to being an educator if he thinks that he can accurately evaluate you as a student in a time-pressured environment. Complain to the administration, or find a better school that doesn't do that.

    As was suggested, you could train your brain to answer problems accurately under the clock by just sitting there for hours on end giving yourself timed problem sets. But seriously, it's a completely useless skill outside of the classroom, and you'll never need it again in the future. I would suggest not wasting your time on it. Stop caring about your grades, just take whatever you get. You seem like a smart guy based on your writing, so put your brain to use on real work instead :-)
  14. Dec 10, 2011 #13
    thats only true to an extent...You need to atleast keep a B average for any employer to take you seriously.
  15. Dec 10, 2011 #14


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    There were times when I felt I had completely bombed on exams. Turns out that the engineering courses were designed to scrub out non-performers, and grades were eventually scaled to reflect one's performance WRT to the the entire class. After back-to-back bronchitis and mono that cost me 3 weeks of class attendance I was dreading my chem final (especially since the labs could not be made up after the fact). I thought I had bombed big-time, but ended up with a solid B for that semester (inorganic chem II).

    So take heart nlsherrill. It might not be all that bad.

    best regards.
  16. Dec 10, 2011 #15


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    Who made up that rule? If you are a decent person, a hard worker, and attentive to the needs of your prospective employer, you are in!
  17. Dec 10, 2011 #16
    Why would an employer take you with a 2.0 versus someone else with a 3.0?
  18. Dec 10, 2011 #17
    I wouldn't want to work for an employer who looked at nothing but GPAs to make hiring decisions.

    I dropped out of college myself, and I spent a few years building up a portfolio software work to show off at interviews instead. I'm now the same age as your average college grad, and I've beat out or at least been co-hired with the 4.0 GPA types on multiple occasions.
  19. Dec 10, 2011 #18
    I think there are far more factors than GPA alone. In fact, it seems to me that many employers don't even look at GPA at all (Anecdotal evidence and from reading posts on these forums). A student with a solid project could potentially gain more favor than a B-student with no extra-curriculars.
  20. Dec 10, 2011 #19


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    Personal experience: I switched out of Chemical Engineering because my Honors adviser was so persuasive.

    A few years later, I got hired as a process chemist at a new pulp mill, beating out a newly-graduated Chemical Engineer for that job. He and I are still good friends, though that decision stung a bit. He got the next opening about a year later, but it was a pain in the butt for him to have gotten through 4 years of engineering school only to have a guy with a year of core Eng courses, some materials sciences and some liberal arts take that job.

    It's not all about the numbers.
  21. Dec 10, 2011 #20
    So here's an update.

    First of all, I took my classical mechanics 2 exam Friday and I think performed as best as I possibly could. I could think just fine, and whatever I couldn't figure out was more based on me not understanding something I should have from the semester. So all in all, fair test and I gave it my all with no test-induced-dementia effects.

    Also, I emailed my modern physics prof about my performance. I stated that I don't know what happened I just completely blanked out and couldn't think of anything. He graded my final and said he wasn't sure what I was talking about, because I scored somewhere between my lowest midterm and might highest, which is in between a 71 and 89. All I can say is, is that I am thrilled I didn't bomb it. He must have curved so much, because there were multiple questions(out of 20 or so) that I was certain I got wrong. I was literally thinking I got like a 30 on it and that would bring my grade down to a D and I would have to retake the course! How embarrassing that would have been...

    When I got home after what I thought was the worst academic disaster ever, I tried to think of why that happened to me. My only guess is that my diet may have had something to do with this. I had been drinking excessive amounts of coffee/soda in order to study long periods. Also, I was eating a lot of fast food because that was quick and could let me take a 15 minute break or so from studying to go get food. The morning of the test, I didnt have nearly as much coffee that I had had the previous days leading up to the exam. Could this seriously have affected me this much? This is my best guess, because Wednesday after the modern exam I thought about this, and didn't have any caffeine at all from then to my classical mechanics exam and I felt just fine(just couldn't study quite as long).
  22. Apr 23, 2012 #21
    When I get exams back and look at some of the answers, I can't even comprehend why I would put down the things I did. It's like I become a different person during the exam and all common sense goes out the window.

    Lots of advice has already been given ITT so I'm mostly just venting. :mad:
  23. Apr 24, 2012 #22


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    I know exactly what you're saying, and I experience it myself. I expect to be thrown curveballs during a test, so I get all "creative" with my solutions :mad:.
  24. Apr 24, 2012 #23
    This post contributes nothing to the tread, at least nothing to helping you with your problem.

    How do you like modern physics? I'm taking that and mathematical physics next semester.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2012
  25. Apr 27, 2012 #24
    Modern physics was very cool. I ended up with a C+ in the class unfortunately. Its the only C I have ever gotten in math or physics in college so it was hard to accept. I realize why I got the grade though. I didn't put the effort in and neglected the class compared to other harder classes, so my understanding was not really that great.

    The course is basically SR, intro quantum, and some stat mech at the end. I found SR to be the most conceptually difficult to understand/solve problems. The quantum really didn't seem that bad, but its baby quantum. I think I am going to get an A in spacetime physics(a class I'm taking this semester) and I will work very hard for an A in quantum 1 and 2. Hopefully if I can get these grades, grad schools can look past the fact that I fumbled in modern physics to see I understand the central topics at a more advanced level so the C+ won't hurt me as much..
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