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Testing Testing under pressure!

  1. Sep 18, 2009 #1
    I usually get pretty nervous before tests / quizzes and I am a rather slow test taker. I suppose I could be optimistic and just say I am very thorough. I usually use as much time is allowed, and if there is no time limit I am usually one of the last to leave.

    If possible I like to go through the test and making some notes of the problems that gave me trouble or passed over. Then I will go back and do those problems, and when I am all finished I try to go through the exam once more just to double check all my answers.

    Well some of my classes this semester have some pretty restrictive time limits. And earlier this week one of my teachers started handing out the quiz 9 minutes before class ended. by the time I got my quiz there was 8 minutes left to complete it. I hardly had enough time to finish all the problems and I was in a mad rush / didn't get to review any of my solutions. Well when class ended I wasn't the only one still working but the teacher said we had to turn it in as it was. After our class is over, a different class begins right away.

    I got the quiz back today and I made a B- on it. This teacher specifically seems to always wait till the end of the class to give out the quizzes. We have only had 1 test, and she gave us like 30 minutes to do it. I felt extremely rushed on that one also but my grade was better.

    This post isn't to rant or anything like that. But the point of this post is I know there isn't really anything I can do about the teacher or the class. The teachers know the material better than me and are a better judge of how much time to provide so I should be able to finish in the allotted time.

    Has anyone else here struggled with this? Do you know of any ways to work better under time pressure?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2009 #2
    I feel the same way, I have a borderline obsessive compulsion with thinking about the worst case scenarios. Whenever I'm put on the spot I freak out; in a test situation, my mind would go blank for a while before I can actually think of anything. So while I can usually handle tests, the time limit always kills me
  4. Sep 21, 2009 #3


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    Time limits in exams were always a source of frustration for me. The time-pressure can end up favouring the students who have a fast, superficial understanding of material, rather than those who are, as you say, more thorough.

    This is where test-taking strategies can really help you improve.

    The biggest tip I have is to be aware of how much time you have and budget it accordingly. If you find yourself stuck on one problem, skip it and come back to it so that you can spend your time answering the questions you know rather than struggling with what you don't. Try to cover the easiest parts first. This will build up your confidence and give you some "mental momentum."

    Another trick is to learn how to get to the point quickly with short answers. Many elemetary teachers will teach students to repeat questions in the answer, which unfortunately can stick with students later in their careers when it's no longer needed. Use point form.
  5. Sep 21, 2009 #4
    I too have always struggled with timed tests. One problem I found I had was that, especially on hard tests, when I got to a problem I knew how to do I would spend more time than I needed checking/double checking my solution was perfect, rather than saving that time to work on the harder problems. I think my subconscious liked spending time on a problem it knew I would be successful on, and it wanted to avoid the harder problems that would be less enjoyable and have a higher probability of failure. I have had to force myself to trust myself enough not to obsessively check my solutions to the easy problems.
  6. Sep 22, 2009 #5
    I have always wondered - what part of real life is modeled by a 3 hour test taken without reference materials?

    Yeah, like I am going to have to solve some difficult multiple integral with no computer help in less than 25 minutes or the world will end...

    Bah. I can understand that it is a simple way to check a student's comprehension of the material. However, it doesn't check equally well for all students. Why not give as much time as needed?
  7. Sep 23, 2009 #6


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    Well, I teach medical, dental and nursing students. They really do need to be able to recall what they've learned under time pressures in life or death situations when they don't have time to head to a library for reference materials.

    The reality is that most employers expect a certain amount of work accomplished in a certain amount of time. Every piece of information that you can quickly recall and use without having to look it up and spend time thinking it through saves them money and keeps your job.

    As for test-taking strategies, one thing that can help is to do practice tests under exam conditions and get used to having to finish the exam in the allotted time.

    The other thing to do is to go through all the questions as quickly as possible, focusing on quantity, not quality, the first time through. Your chances are better if you complete the exam and might have a few wrong answers because you went too quickly and made a careless mistake than if you still have a lot of questions not even attempted because you spent too much time on the questions at the beginning. As you go through them, if you didn't know an answer quickly and had to guess or got stuck on one, put a star next to the question and keep going on to the next. After you've gone over each question once and have something answered for each, THEN go back and revisit the questions you have stars on, spend a little more time on each thinking it through a bit more. If you get through that process and still have time, then go over the questions you didn't star and just double check for the careless mistakes.

    I tend to think that students who need more than the allotted time to take an exam (usually they are written with plenty of excess time in mind) just doesn't know the material that well and is still trying to learn it on exam day. In every course I've taught, the students who linger until the very end, and ESPECIALLY the ones who never leave if there's no end time, usually perform very poorly on the exams (I was a TA for a professor who gave untimed exams, and I will NEVER give an untimed exam after that experience, unless it's for someone with a disability that requires that compensation).

    So, aside from test-taking strategies, I'd look further into your study strategies. As I was explaining to students over this past weekend when they were in the lab studying for a lab practical, they didn't just need to know the material well enough to think it through slowly, they needed to understand it and know it so well that they've done all that thinking during their studying and can recall terms and write them down in under a minute for each question (1 minute per station). If they know the answer, 1 min is an interminably long amount of time to stand around waiting for the next station. If they don't know the answers, letting them stare at a structure all day won't help. My good students have a tendency to hand in exams with a lot of doodles all over them that they draw while standing around bored waiting for the next question.
  8. Sep 24, 2009 #7
    I would also give the same advice as Moonbear. I would add that you should make sure that once you understand an assignment question about the core course material, you shouldn't take more than few seconds to come up with an answer. If you are taking like few minutes then you should review the material more.
  9. Sep 24, 2009 #8
    I also struggle with this quite a bit. I have finally come to the conclusion that I just need to do 2 things:

    1) Perform the work (primarily problem-solving) more quickly.
    2) Have confidence in my answers so I don't second-guess and waste time.

    So, my approach this semester is this: While I'm doing my homework, I spend 15 minutes per problem... period. I attempt to read, comprehend, structure and solve the problem within this time. If I can't do it, then I just stop, leave plenty of space, and move on. I try to think of it as a sign that I don't know the material well enough to solve it within the time parameters demanded by the major, so I should go get help. Then I go ask some dumb questions until I fully grasp the concept and hopefully it'll take me a few minutes less next time.

    I'm hoping that this approach will help me speed up things to where I can be receiving primarily A's on my exams instead of B+'s, since my lower grades are primarily a function of time.

    Hope that helps. I don't think there's any way out of it other than preparation and hard work.
  10. Sep 24, 2009 #9
    Yes, I agree that there are many subjects where needing reference material is going to be a serious problem. I still don't believe that a lot of mathematics is in that category, though.

    Much of biology, medicine, anthropology, etc. are knowledge-based sciences. Math and physics tend to be computation-based sciences. Obviously, if you don't have the basic knowledge, you can't even start the computation. However, speed of computation is very different than speed of knowledge recall.
  11. Sep 25, 2009 #10
    Okay well thanks for the replies so far.
    Today we had a test in the same class and i took some of the advice given in this thread and things went a lot better. First i tried to relax my nerves and not panic. That's one of the biggest problems. So before i went into class i just tried to remain calm etc. I don't know, i'll admit i was still nervous but i just told myself that at this point there is no good being nervous because i prepared the best i could and whether i am ready 100% or not being nervous doesn't do any good.
    Well during the test i tried to trust my answers more and not second-guess myself. There were a few sections that were giving me more trouble so i just skipped them. When i got to the end i had more confidence and was able to go back and complete them. During the test i was worried about the time but without making a big deal of it i tried to be conscious of the amount of time i had left and how much more i had to do on the test. If you spend a lot of time doing this i think it could become very counter-productive, but i just tried to be aware of what time it was so that i wouldn't be sent into a panic when i heard the teacher's "10 minutes left!" or "5 minutes left!"
    When i had completed the test all the way through i was then able to use the rest of the time available to go back through all the questions and double-check them. When i turned my test in there were still quite a few people working.
    I haven't got my grade yet but i think i did a lot better on this test than the quiz.
  12. Sep 25, 2009 #11


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    You've obviously never taken a physiology course; since the nursing students don't have any math requirements, I'm struggling to find a physiology text that covers the topics in a sufficiently advanced level to be useful without requiring calculus to solve problems or understand the text.

    And, as my anatomy students found out, they need to do more than recall memorized information to pass my exams. They need to be able to apply it.

    The only difference between exams with more computational questions and other exams is that you generally get fewer questions if you need to work out long solutions. My graduate level statistics courses only had 5 problems on them and 3 hours to solve them. If you knew the material forward and backward, you could finish in about an hour. If you still needed to look up some information, you usually needed the full three hours. They were open book exams, which answers the question about needing to memorize everything. Once you've gotten past the basic courses where you need to really get fundamental concepts jammed into your head in a way that sticks, you start to get to classes that are open-book...and the exams greatly increase in difficulty.
  13. Sep 25, 2009 #12


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    That's great news...congrats! I hope you feel great now :smile:.
  14. Sep 25, 2009 #13
    I don't mean to be argumentative. I think essentially that timed exams are the best method we have come up with, but they still have many problems for testing different kinds of knowledge. Learning how to test well is a skill in itself that is useful in our academic world. However, it may or may not have real-life application.

    Big Smile :-)

    I have an undergraduate degree in Physiology from Oxford.
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