Monday Master Class: Five Ways to Avoid Panicking on a Hard Test

In this post I will be talking about test anxiety which Cal Newport covers in his article “Monday Master Class: Five Ways to Avoid Panicking on a Hard Test” which can be found at

As Newport mentions, although test anxiety may not affect all students it is an important thing to address because those it does affect it can really hurt.  No matter how well you learn the material if you panic on a test you might not perform well.  As students, we focus so much on our preparation for an exam that it would be foolish to ignore ways we can ensure that preparation actually pays off.  In college you don’t get rewarded for just trying you have to perform on exams.  This is often helpful for students who pay attention to their techniques as they can achieve results with less time and effort.  However, even these students can overlook the importance of test taking.  In Geometry class when I was younger, I had a trouble because I panicked on exams and really had to work through my anxiety.  It was only that class but it was so overwhelming that despite knowing the material I just couldn’t perform well on the tests.

Our generation may actually already have the tools we need to address test anxiety.  Due to standardized testing, techniques to do better on tests have been drilled into our heads from an early age.  I feel some student just tended to ignore them but if you truly abide by rules of thumb liking only changing your answer if you’re absolutely sure I feel that you ultimately due better in the long run.

Many students also study up until the last minute before a test because they need to cram.  It is no wonder they panic during the test as their studying itself has been panicked.  Many students procrastinate until they feel they have no choice but to cram.  This will ultimately lead to a much more stressful college career and for that reason procrastination is addressed in other posts.  Perhaps just as important but often overlooked is that students don’t set goals when they study.  I feel it is crucial to have some sort of metric in which you measure where your studying “stopping point” is.  Successful students don’t just study as much as possible they study until they can do this and this then they are done.  Goals are a powerful tool and when I have done this I have had much more confidence going into my exams because I know I am prepared.  This helps reduce the anxiety that leads to panicking.

A key point Newport makes is that one’s goal on exam shouldn’t be to get a particular score but to get as many points as possible.  When I took AP Calculus in high school, I learned this firsthand.  I was not good at Calculus by any means but my teacher emphasized that the AP exam wasn’t about getting every question right it was just about getting as many points as you could.  You really had to pick your spots and know that it was curved so you didn’t have to be perfect.  Even if a test is not curved, you never know where you will stand at the end of the semester.  Sometimes you may be in between two grades and every last point will matter.  Having this mentality will ensure you don’t have any regrets come the end of the semester.

I think the key takeaway from all this is that test taking is a skill that requires techniques and strategies just as much as studying does.  It is a crucial part of one’s academic career that can’t be ignored.


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