Are You A Good Test Taker?

Are you one of those people who starts to sweat and hyperventilate just thinking about taking a test? Do you leave the testing room knowing you choked, and that you could have aced that test? You are not alone. Test taking anxiety is a real disorder, and millions of people experience it every time they prepare for a test. As a matter of fact, everyone undergoes some form of test anxiety, but some are more pronounced than others. The symptoms can range from sweaty palms to full blown panic attacks, and memory loss.

Why do some people react so violently to the idea of taking a test? To put it into one word — STRESS. The pressure could come from parents, bosses, or even the person putting pressure on him or her. The symptoms can come out physically, like through sweating or butterflies in the stomach. They also can come out mentally, and manifest themselves through headaches, memory loss or panic attacks.

What would cause such an extreme reaction to test taking? In a word, pressure, either put on by others (like parents) or whether the person puts it on themselves, performance anxiety or test anxiety, as the condition is called, is caused by stress and can come out in physical or mental symptoms — such as butterflies in the stomach, pounding heartbeat or headaches. When it gets to a point where you freeze up or zone out, then you have a problem!

Many children will come home from school with poor test scores, and when parents ask them why they say they don’t know, which angers the parent. Teachers tell parents the child is just not applying him or herself, and this makes the child even more stressed out because they know they understand the material. The child may be suffering from test anxiety.

I have a friend, Sally, who is an extremely smart woman. She once confided in me that she couldn’t take a test if there was any grade involved, or it was important for a job. She told me she could pass a test with flying colors if there was nothing at stake, but when there was a grade involved, or a job she wanted, she would freeze up and forget everything she knew. “Everything just flies out of mind while taking the test,” she says, “even though I was fully prepared and knew the material backwards and forward before going in.”

Perfectionists are the most vulnerable to test anxiety. They put so much pressure on themselves to be the best that the stress blocks the memory. Ironically, this pressure is what stops them from achieving their best. Stress is the biggest drainer of memory.

There are other reasons for test anxiety, such as being unprepared, or not understanding the material in the first place. Not getting enough sleep the night before, or not eating a nutritious breakfast also can contribute.

There are several techniques to help improve memory before taking a test. The more relaxed and prepared you are the better you will do. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get Help! If you don’t understand the material ask someone who does to help you. Consult with memory experts or take some memory training courses to help you re-learn how to remember and develop good study habits.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter – it won’t help. The better you know the material the easier it is to remember, and the more confident you will feel. You can’t learn in one night what you should have been learning all along. If you don’t understand the subject matter, ask your teacher to explain — or get a tutor. In addition, if you stayed up all night studying you didn’t get the proper rest, so your brain will not be rested enough to hold everything in. Your brain stores memory while you sleep, so it’s best to study and then sleep right away to remember more.
  • Practice Time Management. Develop good study habits, and learn to improve your study skills. Get organized — put together your room so it is laid out best for you to work. Don’t procrastinate about studying just before a big test.
  • Turn off all distractions. That means the television, radio, cell phone, etc. You may think you can study better with music in the background, but your brain has to do double duty by trying to listen to the background noises while trying to concentrate and absorb what you are learning.
  • Sleep 6-8 hours — no more. Studies show people who got enough rest – at least 6-8 hours prior to taking a test, are three times more likely to do better than those who didn’t.
  • Don’t stuff yourself with sugar beforehand. Food fuels the body, and the mind, so eat a good meal full of protein and no added sugar.   Sugar gives you a quick rush, but has a quick decline as well, so you may start off quick from the gate, but your finish leads a lot to be desired. A spike in sugar levels at the beginning of the test will lead to a plummet toward the middle and you need to have sugar levels even throughout the entire test.
  • Go in with a positive attitude — You can do it!  Don’t dwell on what can happen if you don’t pass, concentrate on how great it will be when the test is over and you did. Negative energy brings negative results. Also, don’t worry about your anxiety; it just makes you more stressed.

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at


Increase Concentration And Recall – Extinguish Test Anxiety:

Study Guides and Strategies website — Overcoming test anxiety:

Teens Health (from Nemours) — Test Anxiety:

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