Jan. 28, 2021

Knowing Yourself; Knowing the Test

By Mrs. Ari Tavakoulnia

Have you ever heard some people say, “I am a bad test taker”? How about you? Are you one of those people? If your answer is “Yes”, let us take the first step improving your testing skills by stopping labeling yourself as a bad test taker and start doing something about it! 

Believe it or not, Scientists have not yet discovered any gene for the bad test taking!  However, based on the data collected by the researchers, the majority of the students who believe they are bad test takers, experience “test anxiety” which results in the fight or flight mechanism! Please do not get me wrong! The fight and flight response to anxiety or fear is an important and necessary emotional and physical reaction that protect us from harmful situations. However, for some people this mechanism gets activated in wrong situations where no real dangers are present such as during the test taking!

So, let’s find out about the Science behind this mechanism. The cortex is the largest part of the brain which is responsible for many higher-order brain functions including memory and thoughts. When students experience anxiety/fear while taking tests, they will have difficulties recalling the information and may end up not doing well on the test because anxiety weakens the connections between the amygdala (the processing section of our emotional responses) and the prefrontal cortex. 

At the same time, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol will produce that increase the blood flow to the muscles, heart, and lungs. This is when the anxiety level goes up and the test taker may feel some physical discomfort such as stomach pain, nausea, headache, heart pounding and hand- sweating! 

With that being said, what do think should be done about this test anxiety? Should these feelings be ignored and let the fear/ anxiety take over the mind and the body or take steps to overcome this destructive feeling once and for all? We all know so well that working toward becoming a better test taker, requires more effort than just learning about  Test Taking Strategies ! The most important step you need to take to improve your testing skills is getting to know yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses and especially your challenges and I promise It will likely result in having a better testing outcome!

Various studies have found that we are born with certain level of ability or intelligence (heritability of IQ). However, based on the learning theory Growth mindset” developed by Dr Carol Dweck, we can improve and nurture this ability through hard work, effort, and some attitude adjustment! Having a growth mindset is the key to your success and the greatest enemy of the test anxiety! Put yourself in charge of your life and do not allow the anxiety or any other negative thoughts dictates your life since your future depends on your decisions you make in life!

In order to master the art of test taking, let’s focus on the following:

  • Test taking is not all about having the knowledge of the test materials. In order to do well on the test, you need to familiarize yourself with the test structure. It is important that you attend CALPAC bootcamps to make yourself familiar with the testing tools as well as the contents that you will need to master for taking the state exam.
  • Find out when you are scheduled to take your exam and make a study plan. Start by reviewing the materials expected to master and then put your knowledge to practice by taking practice tests. Make sure to mark the questions you answered incorrectly or struggled on, make notes, and go back to them in a few days and review the concepts. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and as you get closer to the test day, change your weaknesses to your strength.  
  • A good night sleep and good meals are essential and make a difference on the result of your test! Did you know that your brain at rest will consumes 20% of your daily calories, while a working brain can increase its calorie load by a factor of ten? It means that as you take your 3- hour exam, your brain can burn more calories than most sport matches! So, eat a healthy breakfast and make sure to pack a snack! Never, ever take an exam on an empty stomach!
  • Adjust your attitude toward test taking.  As you are getting ready to take your test, instead of saying that you have to take this test, tell yourself that taking this test is a good opportunity for you to measure your knowledge so you can recognize the areas of your strengths and weaknesses and work toward a better outcome. At the same time, have confidence, stay optimistic, do your best and hope for the best! Do not be a perfectionist! Of course, when you have prepared for the test, you expect a good outcome. But if the result does not satisfy you, do not get discouraged. Find out what you can do next time to improve your score!
  • It is normal that as you go through the test questions, you may have to respond to some challenging questions that you may not know the correct answers to them. Be ready to recognize the initial signs of entering the fight or flight mode. When you find yourself entering that mood (frustration, heart pounding and …), you must immediately take some actions. You can ask permission to take a short break so you can leave the room to get this feeling under control or just simply push your chair back, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think about something relaxing or something that makes you happy. When you feel the tension goes away, tell yourself that you will come back and work on these questions at the end. By doing this, you have stopped the excessive production of Adrenaline and cortisol hormones and have avoided test anxiety and physical discomfort as a result of it!

 Stay focused, enthusiastic and relax! Tell yourself “I CAN DO THIS”! 👍