There’s more to taking tests than cramming your head with knowledge. How you approach the test, and even who’s watching, can make all the difference.
1. There’s more to life than tests
Remind yourself that you’re not solely defined by how you do in this test, there is so much more to you than this. Research has shown* that if students take time before they sit the test to think about all the many things which make them who they are, they’ll perform better. If you’re chatting to someone before they take a test, focus positively on their other talents, relationships and good memories, and you’ll help boost their confidence more than if you just tell them they’re good at the test subject.
Did you know that being aware of negative stereotypes other people have about you can make you perform badly, even even though you don’t agree with the stereotype? This is because a part of your brain is distracted, rather than focused on the task in hand. “If I fail, all the boys in my class will say it proves girls can’t do maths”. So when you’re reminding yourself that there’s more to life than tests, avoid focusing on negative stereotypes or things which pigeon-hole you.
3. Put that in writing
If you’re really worried before a test, try writing all your worries down on paper. You should find it helps to lessen them. It’s as if putting information on paper puts it away from your mind, so you can focus your brain resources on the problem itself. Studies show that people do better solving maths problems which are written vertically rather than horizontally, because the vertical format helps with spatial problem solving. It’s also much easier to solve anagrams when you write the letters in a grid (that’s my excuse for not solving more of the onscreen anagrams in my favourite quiz show Pointless!)
4. Don’t over-think
If you’re taking a test in an exam hall, the exam invigilators will do their best to keep distractions to a minimum. With any test or activity which uses working memory, you need to concentrate. Noises, worries, doubts and doing other tasks at the same time, get in the way, so try to minimise them. It’s different with practical skills. You can probably remember making mistakes at something you’ve done a million times before, because someone is watching you. If you play sport, particularly one which involves hitting a ball, you’ll have had those days when it’s like you’re a complete novice. Sports skills, and other highly practised motor skills, run largely outside working-memory, they suffer if you concentrate on them too much. The secret is to think about something else. Personally, when I’m playing table-tennis matches, I sing a catchy football chant in my head – it works for me!
Does your partner come to watch if you’re playing a sporting fixture, or performing in public? You might think it’s bound to be a good thing if your spouse comes to support you, but think again, especially if you’re female. Sian Beilock shows how a man in a healthy relationship benefits from having his partner there giving social support. But if you’re a woman, even if your relationship is a good one, you may experience more stress when your partner is present. This might be because your partner isn’t being properly supportive, or because you aren’t good at receiving the support. Either way, as I’m in the same table-tennis team as my husband, I have a new excuse for any losses this season, and he has none!
* References are to Choke by Sian Beilock. I also like Matthew Syed’s book on a similar theme, Bounce.
Anne Borrowdale is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk