Taking tests are some of the most stressful events of the college experience
Why worrying about your test just makes it worse
Ways to relax and take the best test of your life
Taking tests, exams, and quizzes are some of the most stressful events of a person’s college experience.
Most of the time, tests and exams carry more weight toward the successful outcome of graduating from college than anything else.
As a result of this importance, we frequently find ourselves getting stressed about quizzes, tests, and exams. We perceive it as an enormous threat the impact of possibly doing poorly.
Why We Perceive Tests as a Threat
Remember that the definition of stress is the body’s response to a perceived threat. The consequences of doing poorly are very threatening–at least we think they are.
Remember also, that when we feel threatened, the body’s fight-or-flight response turns on to help us escape from or fight something that could cause physical harm. The only problem is there is nothing that will physically harm us if we don’t do well on the test. But your body doesn’t realize you aren’t in physical danger, so it responds as if you were.
“The dumbest thing we can do, if we want to do well on a test, is to worry about it. Alternatively, the best thing we can do in order to do well on the test is to be as relaxed as possible.”
When we perceived stress, our higher order thinking tends to shut down. In other words, our ability to remember, process, and analyze important cognitive information is dramatically reduced when the stress response is activated. As stress goes up, the cognitive ability goes down.
Alternatively, the best thing we can do in order to do well on the test is to be as relaxed as possible. That’s easier said than done, you might be thinking. So here are some steps that will help you do better on your tests, and get yourself into a more relaxed state as you prepare for and take tests.
How to Prepare
First, it is vital that you prepare. This may seem obvious, but preparing means more than cramming as much information into your brain the night before the test or right before you go where you’re taking the test. Research on test preparation suggests that we are able to remember more if we study things on several occasions and then sleep on it.
Speaking of sleep, it is important that we feel rested when we take tests. When we are drowsy, our ability to recall important information decreases. It’s better to study earlier in the evening and then get a good night’s sleep than staying up all night trying to cram more information into your brain.
Exercise Your Body and Eat Well
Along with sleep, our minds work best when we follow the guidance that should be common knowledge to most of us: as frequently as possible, eat well and get an appropriate amount of regular exercise. There is some evidence suggesting that protein is brain food. In other words, if you want to maintain clear thinking, prior to the exam, eat a meal or two that is primarily protein. Most importantly, do not go into a test having recently eaten a really large meal.
Do Something Relaxing
One of the most valuable activities you can do just prior to taking a test is to do something that profoundly takes you out of the stress response. Fortunately, the activities and tools found on this website are specifically designed to do just that. Try this breathing exercise on the day of the test to reduce anxiety and nervousness.
When the mind and body are deeply relaxed, that is, not in the fight or flight mode, the mind moves into an optimum state for clear thinking. A deeply relaxed mind is the kind of one you want to have prior to and during the test.
Finally, while you take the test, stay mindful. Keep your mind focused entirely on the question at hand. If the answer doesn’t immediately come to you, stay focused on the here and now. Don’t let your mind bring up thoughts of what might happen because you don’t know the answer–The bad outcomes. This will activate the stress response again.
Instead, when you don’t directly know the answer, skip to the next question. Later on, come back to the question and watch for the answer to pop into your mind. If it doesn’t this time, again, let go, and move on to other questions on the test.
If you come back to the question and still have no idea, give it your best guess. It is really important that you don’t let your mind bring up thoughts of bad outcomes–don’t bring up worst case scenarios of how bad things will be because you might miss a few points.
Missing answers to a question won’t result in devastating consequences. Things usually work out. Trust that this is how it will be for you, especially consequences, where you will encounter physical harm. Consider how many tests you have taken, and how many tests others have taken. And realize things usually turn out okay for us. So relax and enjoy your opportunity to work your mental muscles.
When I was fourteen years old, I went to California with a group of kids my age. We went to Santa Monica Beach to see the ocean. None of us had been there before so this was a real treat for us. When we got there, we decided to try bodysurfing. We saw others doing it and it looked fun and much less difficult than regular surfing. Soon we learned how it was done and found ourselves out in the water preparing for the waves to come our way.
When a large wave approached, I started swimming as hard as I could, hoping to time it perfectly. I found myself riding the wave in toward the shore. Suddenly, the wave pulled me down, headfirst into the sand under the water. (more…)
Eight ways to live a meaningful and purposeful life
Many philosophies have similar agendas, but have different names
A simple life boils down to a few simple ideas
Life really is quite simple: Focus on the moments; learn from our past, and do things today that will benefit our future.
So, I ask you: What are you doing this very moment to honor these three things? Do you feel like you can focus on each moment, being present and mindful? Have you allowed yourself to heal and grow from your past (even from just a minute ago)? And, are you actively preparing yourself to have a better tomorrow?
Life really is that simple.
If life is so simple, why do we tend to make it so complicated? … As I was contemplating this, I was reminded of some basic philosophies and behaviors that can bring us back to simplicity (if we choose it).
In my training to become a yoga instructor, we spent an entire weekend discussing Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, which describes eight ways that we can live a meaningful and purposeful life (1) – including mindfulness, meditation, nonviolent thought/behavior, surrender to God, and others.
Similar teachings were brought to the forefront of my mind as I was re-reading a book on stress relief (2). I was reminded of Levels of Responding, including acceptance and gratitude (2, pg. 52); meditation; and exercise. It became more apparent that the ways to have a simple (and enjoyable/meaningful) life are being taught within many different names.
I have ready a decent number of books, and I used to get so confused as I would read one type of philosophy and then another – thinking they were all saying something completely different.
However, I am beginning to understand that many of the same things just have different names. Love is love even if you call it acceptance, nonviolence, allowance, or forgiveness. I was making it more complicated than it actually is.
As we strive to find meaning, purpose, and peace in this life remember, it all boils down to these simple ideas: living in the moment (mindfulness, gratitude, meditation), letting go of the past (nonviolence, surrender), and doing things now that will benefit our future (exercise, yoga, spirituality).
It really is that simple. Let’s try to keep it that way.
One technique that can change your relationships in a positive way
Seek first to understand
Knowing how and when to use validation
One night a few years ago, I was in a deep sleep when I began to feel the presence of someone else very close to my face. I opened my eyes to find my six year old daughter staring at me from about three inches away. Startled and a bit freaked out, I jumped up to find she had apparently been there for a while, wondering if she should wake me.
“Mommy, I had a bad dream.” I took a deep breath and asked her what it was about. “There was a monster in my closet.”
From here, I did exactly the wrong thing as you will soon see. I said,
“Erica, you know there isn’t a monster in your closet.”
To this she replied, “But Mommy, he was so big.” Her voice began to shake.
Now for my even bigger mistake – I said, “Let’s go see. I’ll show you there is no monster in there.”
Erica wouldn’t budge. “But Mommy, he was so big and he had big teeth!” She began to sob. “His claws were coming at me.” She was getting more upset by the second and I knew that if I didn’t think quickly, neither one of us would be getting any more sleep that night. Then it came to me, something I had discussed in a class recently, and I gave it a try.
“Erica, that sounds so scary.” She stopped crying and looked at me. “It was.” I kept going. “It must be awful to be so frightened. Those kinds of dreams give me yucky feelings inside.” She settled a bit. “It was scary Mommy.”
We kept talking for a bit and then the miracle happened. We went back in her room, we checked the closet, I tucked her into bed, and she went right to sleep. How in the world did we go from near hysteria to a solid slumber in such a short time?
I validated her feelings.
Now, I am not a fan of many listening techniques because they seem so insincere and cheesy. I mean really, if you want to irritate me, start repeating everything I say. When people do that with me, I find myself leaving the conversation both mentally and physically.
But this “technique” is different because it forces people to really listen, to really understand. At the same time it also frees the listener because there is no obligation to solve, agree, judge, or fix anything. All you need to do is show them you understand how they feel.
When someone comes to you with a problem, they want you to understand how they feel. When Erica came to tell me her problem, the first thing I did was to tell her there wasn’t a problem. “There are no monsters in the closet.” When I did this, I did the opposite of validating her feelings. I told her there was no reason to be scared, so her feelings were not valid.
Faced with this rejection, the natural response for anyone is to defend how they feel. Erica, even at six years old, did just that. “But Mommy, he was so big and he had big teeth!” She was defending her feelings. There was a reason to be scared.
The next mistake I made was to try and solve her problem. “I’ll show you there are no monsters.”
This usually makes things worse.
People who are sharing their problems rarely want you to solve them.
They probably already know the answer. What they want you to do is understand how this problem makes them feel.
Finally, when I got it right, I did just that. “Erica, that sounds so scary.” I did not solve the problem. I also did not judge her or agree with her. I just figure out how she was feeling. The more that happened, the better she felt.
Situations Change When People Know You Care
I have had numerous students tell me that when they have tried this type of communication, they have had great results. One student, we’ll call her Lori, was a substitute teacher. One day before substituting, the other teachers warned her about a certain girl who would misbehave during class.
The girl did misbehave terribly all day. Finally out of desperation, Lori started the class on an assignment and took her outside in the hall. She said the girl was ready for a fight. She knew she was going to be punished.
Instead of scolding her, Lori said something like, “It can sure be frustrating to come to school and have to do things you don’t want to do.” This caught the girl’s attention. Lori went on to identify what she thought were the young lady’s feelings. “I can see that you have been bothered by something today. You seem angry.”
The girl listened to Lori. Here was someone who actually cared about her feelings. Lori offered a listening ear and after a few moments of silence, the little girl opened up. Her parents were going through a divorce and she thought it was her fault. She had no one to talk to at home, no one to understand how guilty she felt, and no one who knew how lonely she was.
Lori didn’t tell her the divorce wasn’t her fault, (although we know it wasn’t). That would be telling her she didn’t need to feel the way she felt. She didn’t try to solve the problem by telling her what to do or how to feel. She didn’t DO anything, except listen to how she was feeling.
After about 20 minutes, this little girl was a completely different person. She had been validated. Lori didn’t have to agree, judge, or solve the problem. She just took the time to really listen to her. From that moment on, that little lady not only didn’t misbehave, she was the best student in the class.
Sometimes, it is hard for me to really understand others. It is easier to be more concerned with explaining my own position, than to take the time to figure out why someone else feels the way they do. I will tell you though, that when I remember to do this, my relationships with others are much better and I am more helpful and sincere. The following poem sums this up nicely. I wish I knew who wrote it.
Could You Just Listen? When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do – just hear me. Advice is cheap: you can get both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper. And I can do for myself; I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless. When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But, when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can stop trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them. Perhaps that is why prayer works for some people – because God doesn’t interrupt you with advice or a quick fix. God listens, and then lets you come to your own conclusion. So, please listen and just hear me. And, if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you. -Anonymous
I want this website to be a path marker for you – to help you along the path to a stress free life
I love to bike, hike, and run in the hills and mountains of northern and southern Utah.
I love the workout of going up.
I love the thrill and speed of coming down.
Best of all, I love the views I get when I reach the tops of the trails.
I particularly enjoy one trail that happens to be located only a few short minutes from where I live. Within minutes from home, I can find myself on a path where it immediately feels like no city exists anywhere nearby. I disappear into undeveloped terrain.
As I ride, walk, or run along this trail, I head to the top that is only about 3 miles up the hill. However, it is a rise in elevation of about 1000 feet. It is a terrific workout by bike or on foot.
Even more wonderful is the adventure I get each time I travel up the hill. The journey is varied and changing.
On occasion, it winds through forests; other parts are more like the desert. A brief bit of the trail near the top even feels very tropical. I also travel through a couple streams when the snow is still melting from high up the mountain during the spring and early summer. Most of the path is an eager reminder that I live in the Rocky Mountains – lots of rocks of all shapes and sizes.
At the top of this trek I always come upon the most magnificent scenery, the most beautiful rocks, and the air that is so clean and fresh. It is a place that is peaceful and serene.
When I first began hiking and biking this trail, I would find myself getting lost. There are many side trails that lead to places other than the top of the hill. Sometimes they lead to other sidetracked trails, winding here and there sometimes even coming to dead ends where dense forest makes the path impossible to continue. When I take these side paths, I inevitably find myself doubling back to the original trail toward the top.
One of the items that I noticed along this wonderful trail was stacked rocks. At first, I wasn’t sure why they were there, but it soon became clear that they had been placed by previous hikers to show that I am on the right path. They were trail markers telling me to continue along this specific trail if I wanted to reach the top. When the trail came to a fork, a quick look up either trail would show me the one with the stacked rocks. That was the fork to take.
Someone has gone before me, has found the best trails, and has placed the stacked stones intermittently along the way so when I come along, I don’t have to guess which way to go. I simply enjoy the thrill and magnificence of the journey to the top. When I’m not sure I’m headed to the top, I look down, I see the stacked stones, and I trust that I am still on the right path.
That is what we hope this website will be for you, a trail marker, something that will help keep you on the right path of less stress, and optimum levels of health and wellness.