Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making the Grade: 5 Test Taking Survival Tips

We are approaching the end of another school year. (Yay!) Boo has a countdown going, and I'm dreaming of easy mornings and not making school lunches. But before we get to the end of the year, many of our kids will be facing final exams and cumulative tests, to ensure they've actually retained the information they've been taught. And that can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety.

When I was in school, I didn't experience as much test anxiety as some of my friends, but I was decidedly a lot less than calm. I didn't review each day's notes each night, but I did start studying a couple of days before each exam, and I took notes as I studied. I found that helped things stick. Of course, you would still find me sitting (or pacing) outside the exam room, cramming final bits of information in. I couldn't stop looking at my books until I actually had to leave them and enter the room - just in case I'd catch something I had missed.

I am really glad those days are over. 

Boo hasn't yet gotten to the stage where tests are super stressful, but he will. And I wonder how he'll handle it. Especially with multiple choice tests. He is a very rigid, black & white thinker, and very detail oriented. I can see him looking at the answers and deciding, because of the wording, that at least two are correct, when that wasn't actually the intent. I predict a lot of frustration on his part! Something to work on.

If you or your kids experience anxiety or stress around test-taking, have a look at these 5 test taking survival tips from Dr. Sanam Hafeez. Dr. Hafeez is an NYC-based licensed clinical neuropsychologist, a teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services. 



1. Study a bit at a time instead of cramming. One of the first steps in feeling confident in test taking is really knowing the material. “Anxiety of any form comes from fear of the future. In this case, it’s fear of not being prepared for the exam. There’s a fear of failure. Allow ample time to fully process the material and at your pace. Understand how you or your child best interprets the information. Some people need to visualize concepts and internalize them so they are relatable,” explains Dr. Hafeez who specializes in evaluating college students with disabilities and advocates for accommodations in college and workplace standardized tests.

2. Make it fun! Dr. Hafeez recommends getting creative and doing whatever it takes for the material to resonate with you. Inventing stories that include the concepts you are learning may help. Playing trivia games with a study group and creating an upbeat, fun learning atmosphere is a great way to remember key points more easily. “Some students make up rap songs, another might draw a picture or diagram, others associate concepts to colors. The key is really understanding what makes a concept stick in your mind. Most people really learn when they process the material, applying it to themselves,” she explains.

3. Do some mental interval training. Use an alarm and go through material for 30 minutes. Then when the alarm goes off, review the material and write out which key points will most likely be a test question. “This helps the mind focus on the end goal which is being able to anticipate and answer test questions correctly. It helps people to learn in chunks and really retain information that is necessary, causing them to focus and drill down to what’s really important,” says Dr. Hafeez.

4. Get physical. “You want to remain focused with blood flowing. Studying while lying down or hunching over a desk for hours on end will cause sluggishness, drowsiness, boredom and impairs retention,” cautions Dr. Hafeez. A learning technique that works for many is to study while standing. Get a dry erase board or easel with paper. Read aloud then at the end of each page write down possible test questions with answers on the board. Snap a picture of the board and make a slideshow of all the possible test questions you can review again later.

5. Eat well and rest well. It is common for people to be so nervous before an exam that they tense up and lose their appetite. They may even lie awake going through all they learned in their minds. To prevent this be sure to have healthy snacks and drinks within reach. Opt for water or iced green tea and avoid soda. Processed high carb, high fat foods, and sugary high caffeinated drinks will give you a boost at first but then you’ll feel filled up and lethargic. Chopped apples and peanut butter, soups, and veggies with hummus are easy on the stomach and are brain boosting foods.

“If unable to sleep, lay down, breathe and listen to music, read or watch something unrelated to the exam. You want to wind down your mind and rid any anxious thoughts that may lead to insomnia. Ending the study time an hour or two before bed will give the mind time to switch off from studies and settle down for sleep,” recommends Dr. Hafeez.

“The key to making the grade is to really listen to yourself and get to understand how you or your child learns. Once that is identified, information is absorbed easily and fits like a puzzle piece in the mind,” encourages Dr. Hafeez.


About the Doctor:
Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is a NYC based licensed clinical neuropsychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center in Manhattan and Queens. 

Dr. Hafeez masterfully applies her years of experience connecting psychological implications to address some of today’s common issues such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc.). In addition, Dr. Hafeez works with individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. Dr. Hafeez often shares her credible expertise to various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz.


Connect with her via twitter @comprehendMind or www.comprehendthemind.com 

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