Practice 7 Test Taking Strategies Before the Test To Ease Anxiety

“Test taking is a learned skill,” explained Chris Richards, site coordinator at Seeds West. “It’s very different than subject knowledge or intelligence. It’s a way of thinking that needs to be learned. And like any skill, it can only be learned with practice and patience.” Without this skill, Test Taking Anxiety can cripple even the most prepared student.

Test Taking Anxiety is a form of anxiety that negatively affects a student’s performance on an exam. It is very real, and very common. Anxiety can spoil weeks —or even months— of studying.

There are three kinds of symptoms* and any combination of the three may happen:

  1. Behavioral/Cognitive – difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts, self-handicapping behavior (avoidance, creating distractions on cell phone, etc.), tapping feet, clicking pens
  2. Emotional – feelings of anger, fear, helplessness, lowered self esteem
  3. Physical– headache, nausea, shortness of breath, rapid pulse

“We don’t want to find out a student has severe test anxiety when they sign up to take the official GED®,” said Kara Krawiec, site coordinator at Seeds East. “We want to start talking about strategies earlier in the education process so that they can be confident for the real thing.”

Richards and Krawiec shared the following tips that students start using now: on classwork, mastery quizzes, and practice tests.

1) Eliminate the Surprises.

Knowing what to expect is half the battle. The length of the test, the types of questions, and the tools that will be available are all important to know beforehand. Most HSE tests are computerized, so practice with technology-enhanced questions will also be important.

For the official test, it’s important to know where you’re going. “Studies have shown that students often perform better when they are comfortable in the testing center,” Richards said. “Visiting the testing center prior the test is helpful because you can determine how long it takes to get there, you see the building, and you’ll know where to go.”

2) Always Read the Questions Carefully, BEFORE Reading the Answers.

3) Master the Tools You Can Use

  • Official Calculator: “I see students use the calculators on their phones in class, but this is a waste of time,” Richards explained. “The official calculator of the high school equivalency test is the TI-30XS Multiview. The functions are very specific, and time is limited during the test. Learning on the spot isn’t a good option.” To become comfortable with the TI-30XS, you should use it in class.
  • Whiteboards: The GED allows the use of whiteboards, but space is limited and no erasers are allowed. Use whiteboards in class to practice.
  • Formula Sheet: Formula sheets are available for much of the math exam. Understanding how the formula works becomes more important when the formula is provided.
  • Keys and Legends: Some students are unfamiliar with these ways of displaying information. Look at all labels, tables, titles because important information is included.

4) Get Comfortable With the Clock

  • Practice With a Clock: Time reading passages or give yourself a time limit for solving word problems. Not only will this help you learn how long it takes to complete various types of questions, it will also clearly show you have improved.
  • Skip What You Don’t Know & Return: On the actual exam, some students rush through, making more mistakes due to rushing than they do due to actually running out of time. If you don’t understand the question, don’t know how to get the answer, or none of the choices seem correct, skip it. Just remember to come back to it later.

5) Eliminate the Extra Info and Jargon

  • Extra Information: Test makers distract students by including extra information, especially in math word problems. Circle, underline, or make note of what is important and cross out the rest.
    April ordered a $5.99 pizza with 2 extra toppings. There were 3 pieces of pepperoni on each slice. If she paid $9.19 total, how much did each extra topping cost?
  • Unknown Words and Industry Jargon: When you are unfamiliar with jargon of a specific discipline, it can be overwhelming. Rather than let the words be a barrier, cut through them.
    • Clues: Use context clues to find the meaning of the words. Use synonyms, antonyms, or any details that help explain.
    • Relevance: Sometimes, the unknown word isn’t relevant to the question and can be replaced with a word that you DO know.  April ordered a $5.99 Gobbletygook with 2 extra Gookywooks. If she paid $9.19, how much did each extra Gookywooks cost? Gobbletygook = pizza and Gookywooks = toppings

6) Practice Multiple Choice Strategies

  • Eliminate the obvious incorrect answers to narrow the options.
  • Be wary of extremes (use of the words always, never, only)
  • If it’s a math problem, try estimating the answer. Which choice is closest?
  • Answer the question without reading any of the answers. Pick before you peek so you aren’t distracted by answers that sound like they could be correct.
  • Try plugging in every answer and eliminate the ones that don’t make sense.
  • Eliminate answers that include info from the passage but don’t fit the question.
  • Trust your gut. Research suggests there’s some value to trusting your instincts but only if you’ve tried all other strategies to answer the question.

7) Questions and Long Reading Passages

Should you read the question first, or the passage first? In general:

  • Read the question first if the passage is one paragraph or shorter and the reader will need to answer questions about specific lines in the passage.
  • Read the passage first if it is longer than a paragraph and the reader will need to infer or identify key elements such as tone.

Once you’ve mastered the subject matter, practiced test taking strategies, and have signed up for the official test, Seeds staffers offered a few more strategies for success.

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before. Being well rested actual combats anxiety and stress. Plus, cramming the night before will actually HURT your memory.
  • Eat a solid breakfast, nothing too sugary or you will “crash” halfway through the test.
  • Give yourself extra time to get to the test center so you aren’t rushed, don’t have to worry about traffic, or late transportation.
  • Focus on yourself, not the other students in the room.
  • Take deep, slow breaths. Focusing on your breathing will help you tune out other distractions.

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Is Test Taking Anxiety more common in children than adults?

Test Taking Anxiety is common among adults, just as it is among K-12 students. Many adults experience nervousness, stress, or anxiety when facing tests for certifications or assessments for licensure that are significant for job advancement. The pressure to perform well and concerns about the consequences failure may have on job security  contribute to the anxiety.

How do I know if it’s typical nervousness before a taking a test or full-blown Test Taking Anxiety and what steps can I take to address it? 

Typical nervousness may include feelings of apprehension or butterflies in the stomach, while Test Taking Anxiety has more intense symptoms such as racing thoughts, physical discomfort, or avoidance behaviors. In short, it’s much more severe.

Beyond the strategies mentioned, what 7 additional resources or support systems are available for individuals dealing with Test Taking Anxiety in preparation for standardized tests like the GED®?

Resources for dealing with Test Taking Anxiety vary depending on your comfort level and individual needs. Talk to your doctor to see if these suggestions are right for you.

  1. Therapy and Counseling – Counselors can work with you to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and build confidence.
  2. Self-Help Books and Workbooks 
  3. Online Resources and Support Groups
  4. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
  5. Educational Workshops 
  6. Professional Development Programs designed to manage anxiety related to job certification or job-related assessments.
  7. Medication as prescribed by a healthcare professional

This is an adaptation of a blog originally posted in 2018