In my experience, students who fear tests frequently are those who are quite concientious and care a great deal about their grades. They often fear that they haven't covered all their bases and one weakness will do them in. Frequently this fear is groundless, a kind of free-floating anxiety. Also fearful are students who have had bad experiences in the past and relive them, like a flashback, every time a test paper is placed in front of them. Also feeding the fear of test taking is not understanding how to take a test; a good test taker employs many skills he or she is probably unaware of even using.
In terms of giving tests in class, I have used an approach for several years in teaching English and lit classes that works well. I give open-note tests and explain the procedure at the beginning of the year.
Students are encouraged to take notes in class and on their own. Any notes they have taken in their class notebook can be used while taking a test, but they cannot use handouts or material they have downloaded from the Internet. If they want to take notes over handouts and other resource material, they may, but all the notes in their notebooks must be in note form, material they have processed themselves, in their own handwriting.
The results have been pretty impressive. Knowing they can use their notes reduces test anxiety instantly. Their notebook becomes their safety net, but this is not the most important aspect of this approach. Learning goes up and discipline problems decrease dramatically in class because students focus and listen. (Can't take notes without listening!) Many of them "beef up" their notes outside of class, which means they are learning that much more. Taking notes becomes important to them because there's a meaningful reward in it--the notes become a way for them to control to some extent success or failure on the test.
Before test day, I always remind them to review their notes and know where the information is in their notes so that they don't spend a lot of time leafing through their notebooks looking for it. Of course, when they do this, they are also reviewing the material itself.
I've made some interesting observations while giving these open-note tests. Early in the year, they use their notebooks a lot while testing, but as the year proceeds, they depend on them less and less. I'm sure this approach wouldn't work for every test in every class, but it has worked in my classes with great results, not just in higher test scores but in learning and understanding the material.
Exam phobia essay
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Exam phobia essay
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