Stress and Finals: Tips for Success

Tips to Prepare (study):

Reduce test taking anxiety. Anxiety is excessive worry about doing well on a test. Excessive anxiety can be an obstacle to peak performance. It can cause difficulty with retrieving information from long-term memory and poor planning in addressing the demands of a particular test, such as prioritization and planning. Here are a few tips to reduce anxiety:


Don’t cram. Be well prepared by spacing your study over a few days or weeks. Don’t wait until the night before.


Get enough sleep. Turn off the cell phone and all electronics by 9:30. Minimize light sources. If you are not getting at least 8 hours of sleep, the extra time studying rarely pays off. Remember: 1 hour of study with 8 hours sleep is about the same as 2-3 hours of study with 6 or less hours of sleep. When you are too tired, it takes more than twice as long to learn things. Most students need more than 8-10 hours of sleep to perform optimally.


Maintain a positive attitude. Look forward to “showing what you know” rather than worrying about how the test will affect what your parents might do or your college entrance requirements. Mountain bikers pay attention to the path on a steep downhill, not to avoiding the rocks. Use the same frame of mind when taking a test. Be in the moment, not in the future or the past.


When studying in the evening, do not watch television after you have studied. The brain remembers the last activities before sleep, and you don’t want to remember Snookey’s baby’s name rather than Shakespeare’s characters right now.


Study the way that works the best for you, either in a small group or alone. Turn off the phone and the email while you study. It takes time to get back into the groove of studying when you socialize.


Get the big picture first, and then the small details. When you are studying, pay particular attention to bold-faced or italicized print and the section headings. Memorizing the chapter and section headings helps give you the overall goal of the course. Use text cues like pictures, end of the chapter questions, vocabulary hints, formulas and text boxes.


Take advantage of the extra flex periods if they happen. Go in after school or before school. Ask questions in class about what you don’t understand. Ask the teacher about the format of the test and what you can bring to help you. The more you know about the format and the teacher’s style of test-giving, the better you will do. Will the test cover the whole semester? Just the last few weeks? Listen to the teacher and ask questions.


Maintain routines for exercise and nutrition. Don’t forget to work out and to eat well. By all means, wake up early enough to have a nutritious breakfast the day of the test.


Show up early and have all of your materials ready, like extra pencils, calculator, and allowed notes.


If you get nervous, take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on the aspects of the class and assignments that you have enjoyed the most.


Tips for Taking the Test:


1. Read the directions slowly and carefully. If you don’t understand the directions, ask the teacher to explain them to you.


2. Skim through the test so that you have a good idea of how to pace yourself. Do the simple questions first to build up your confidence. If you don’t know a question skip it for the time being and come back to it later. Remember you don’t have to answer every question right to do well on the test.


3. Make time to check your answers.


4. Don’t worry about how fast other people are finishing. Just concentrate on your own test.


Know the format:


For essay questions: as you read the question, underline important words such as “describe,” “compare,” “analyze,” etc. These tell you what to do. Come up with your thesis statement first, and create an outline before answering. Be sure to use supporting arguments and counter arguments in your outline. Then begin writing.


Multiple choice: read the question while covering the answers. Try to answer the question without looking at the answers. Then look at the answers to see if there is a match between one of the choices and yours. Cross out the  answers you know are not true. Try to find one reason why one of the remaining answers could be right. Be suspicious of choices that are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. (See True and False.)


Matching questions: read the directions. Look at one list, and then the others. Match the ones you know. Guess on the remaining.


True and false: you have a 50-50 chance of getting these questions right. Answer the ones you know. Then decide on the others by looking for clue words that can trick you. Clue words are statements taken to the extreme of right or wrong. Statements beginning with “all,” “never,” “always,” “only,” etc. are often not the right answer. More moderate words like “often,” “almost always,” “usually,” “frequently,” and “rarely,” are less extreme and more frequently correct.


Jim Hanson

Lincoln High School Psychologist