One of the best, if not the best, strategies for coping with test anxiety is preparation. The following discussion is based, in part, on Lunenfeld and Lunenfeld (1992), Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1981), and Chickering and Schlossberg (1995).
Students who are amply prepared or over prepared for tests almost always perform better than unprepared students. Preparation helps to avoid or dispell anxiety that arises for several reasons: the student realizes he/she is inadequately prepared for the exam, the student has inappropriate expectations about his/her preparation for the exam, the student is overwhelmed by the amount of information to be learned, the student is unable to locate supplies needed for the exam, or the student is late to the test.
There are four facets of preparation. Substantive preparation involves learning the material to be covered by the test. Material preparation means gathering and organizing the supplies needed for the test. Physical preparation entails attention to nutritional and sleep requirements before a test. Mental preparation encompasses attitudes and motivation.
The most important point to be made here is that the process of learning the material to be covered by the test must occur well in advance in order to avoid anxiety. The best students begin exam preparation the first week of class or immediately following a prior exam. Minimally, one should begin preparing at least one week before the test, depending on the amount and level of difficulty of the material, and one should plan to review the material several times. This ensures that information is stored in long-term memory, where it is better protected from sudden memory loss triggered by anxiety or anticipation.
Vow not to cram the night before the test. Cramming everything into one or two nights of study accomplishes little more than storing limited information in short-term memory and heightening anxiety. Blanking out during a test, when everything one has studied is suddenly and irreversibly lost from memory, usually occurs because anxiety and anticipation knock information out of short-term memory. Only the best students can make cramming work to pass a test. Even so, they usually forget the information soon after the test and have to relearn information for comprehensive finals. Cramming is not advised for courses in one's major because the information must be retained for use in future classes or on the job.
To prepare effectively, one must complete all assignments and prepare all study materials well in advance so the night prior to test can be reserved for a light study session. In other words, be sure to complete all homeworks, labs, and readings in a timely manner. Schedule time to recopy, reorganize, and/or review lecture notes. Prepare study aids, such as flash cards, sample questions, study guides, and graphic organizers, and review them often in the weeks before the test.
If haven't read the assignments by few nights prior to the test, it's probably too late to start. It will just create more anxiety as you rush to read and you think about the other things you need to be studying. Of course, the best solution is preventative; schedule time to read weeks before the test and stick to the schedule. But if time runs out and you haven't intensively read the text (and the test covers text material), then just skim and survey the chapters to get the main ideas. Read the introductions and summaries for the chapters. Consider how the information relates to lecture material.
Specific test preparation strategies are discussed at length in the Test Preparation page. Use them in conjunction with the time management, organization, memory, and encoding and retrieval strategies described elsewhere in the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
Remember the bottom line. If you know you have effectively prepared for an exam, you are less likely to experience the severe and debilitating effects of test anxiety.
Be sure that all ancillary materials needed for the test have been gathered and organized the night before the exam. Having things in order gives you one less thing to worry about.
If notes or formula sheets are permitted, prepare and organize them well in advance. Be sure to have working pens or sharpened pencils. There is nothing more frustrating before an exam than trying to find a pencil sharpener! Check to make sure your calculator is working. If you borrow a calculator, be sure you know how to operate it. Buy blue books the day before the exam. Don't wait to get them on the way to class; the book store may be closed or sold out. Be sure to take a watch to the exam. Some instructors require that students bring their identification cards.
Set extra alarms or have a friend call you to make sure you arrive at the testing room in plenty of time. This is especially important for early morning tests. Arrive in enough time to find a seat away from distractions, to relax, and to review the main ideas. But don't arrive so early that it gives you time to panic.
Physical preparation is covered in the Health, Diet, Exercise and Sleep section.
Mental preparation is covered in the Self-Image, Motivation and Attitudes section.