Several times a week I have a conversation that goes something like this:
Parent: My kid studies; I think; I see them studying. Then they take the test and they do poorly. It’s like they don’t retain what they have studied. They see the test, get nervous, and forget. Maybe they have test anxiety.
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that has physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms. Children who are experiencing nausea, shortness of breath, fainting, headaches, extreme fear, and/or difficulty concentrating before or during tests could have test anxiety. However, most of us are experiencing something much more common. Passing anxiety is a normal emotion that all of us feel from time to time. In fact this stress may just be a sign that your student could use some help studying effectively.
Many students look at notes or the textbook the night before the test for a few hours and call this studying. Then they go into the test, maybe see something different than they are expecting, feel a bit nervous and forget what they looked at the night before. This is completely normal! In fact, there is a scientific reason for it. When you take in information by looking at it once, like in the scenario above, you store it in your short-term memory. Our short-term memories have limited capacities, (about seven pieces of information), and do not respond well under stress. For this reason, short-term memory is not very effective in testing situations. As soon as we feel the stress of the testing environment, we lose the information we have learned.
Instead, the goal of studying should be to get information into our long-term memory, as long-term memory is not impacted by stressful situations and has an unlimited capacity. Here’s how:
- Timing- Start studying in advance of the test. In fact, start studying the first day you receive the material. After taking notes in class, come home, read over the notes and make notecards. Each day, try to study this new material for 15 minutes by quizzing yourself, doing an activity or game to practice recalling the concepts or doing something new with the material like making it into a diagram or watching a short video. Keep practicing until you get the next set of notes.
- Variety- Study in many different ways, and do not always study terms or concepts in the same order. The more you do, the more you will remember. People in general remember about 90 percent of what they do and only 20 percent of what they hear. We tend to remember the first and last things that we have learned, so switch it up. Varying the order will help you remember more.
- Stay Focused- Limit distractions by silencing cell phones and placing them out of sight. Then study with a goal in mind. Set a task to complete (learn 15 new terms), in a certain amount of time (30 minutes), and a way to know that you are finished (as indicated by a 90% or above on a practice quiz). Reward yourself with a break when you have met this goal.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.