Monday, December 26, 2011
Managing Anxiety is Important for Success!
As students, tests always seem to be waiting for us on the horizon. Never does much time pass between tests for various classes; as soon as one is finished the studying for one, three, or five more has started. They are unavoidable in any class and help students and teachers assess both the understanding of materials for the class and a variety of skills relevant to higher education and the real world work environment. These skills include the abilities to prepare a schedule for studying, to balance studying for different classes, to manage time effectively during a test by assessing knowledge learned and questions best left skipped, and to control the anxiety that comes with important events and deadlines. With a test as important as the SAT, all of these skills are challenged even more as many students find themselves studying without the familiar classroom resources and as the importance of getting a great score increases test anxiety.
This anxiety over the SAT was the subject of a recent CNN Schools of Thought blog debating the merits and challenges of getting extended time to take the SAT. The option is certainly a necessity for some students, it is a valuable tool for students with documented physical and mental disabilities, but a small percentage of students suffering from test anxiety have also qualified for a 50% or 100% increase in time for the SAT. While test anxiety is a real problem for many students, additional time may not be the answer for students seeking to perform well in college.
Managing anxiety is as important for success in college as it is in high school and on the SAT. For many college courses, tests become even more central to grades as the importance of homework grades declines. Being able to perform well on these tests means learning and practicing how to deal with the anxiety that comes from high-pressure situations. Thankfully, that learning process is started early in any student’s education; by the time the SAT rolls around during junior or senior year, students have had ample opportunities to practice taking tests in their classes.
It is important to realize that these tests are not there only to cause unnecessary stress for students or to provide an endpoint for the material of a course, but exist as an integral part of the learning process. Tests do not exist purely to assess how well a student has mastered information, but to reinforce that information and the skills that accompany these stressful situations. Tests help students learn; they create organizational patterns of information and provide an opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways used in recalling information. Properly preparing for a test reinforces good study habits in addition to the material covered on the test, and trying to harness test anxiety into productive testing energy is a skill which every test provides a new opportunity to hone.
The best method for reducing or controlling test anxiety is not to rely on extended time, but to practice managing that anxiety while taking tests. This practice can occur throughout high school during tests or in a prep class for the SAT. Practicing specifically for the SAT (or any other standardized test) helps create reasonable expectations for performance on the test by providing opportunities to take the full test under ideal conditions, the results of which can be compared and used to predict the score on the actual test. In addition, they provide a chance to get used to the time constraints of the test. Being able to accurately predict performance and manage time on the SAT are the best ways of reducing the anxiety that comes with a test of this importance. The best way to reduce test anxiety is to bring to every test in high school the preparation, focus, and intensity which you would use on the real SAT.