In my capacity as Learning Specialist in the Counseling Center, I frequently see students who suffer from some form of test anxiety. I draw an analogy for them that equates an exam with the opening night of a performance and ask them, "How would you prepare if you were in a stage production?" Of course, they say they would rehearse frequently, reading their lines repeatedly until they knew them flawlessly, and attend a "dress" rehearsal. Test-taking, I explain, is similar to preparing for a part in theater, in that:
* it IS a "performance" that will be evaluated
* it does carry many of the same anxieties (fear of forgetting or failing)
* and, therefore, like a stage production, rehearsal is the best form of preparation
When I teach reading and study skills, I employ the rehearsal strategy in getting the students to prepare for the midterm and final exam. I ask them to create their own exams with separate answer sheets. They are allowed to include anything they think may appear on the exam within certain guidelines, such as type and number of questions. To encourage them to come up with challenging questions and avoid taking the "easy way out", I award the students anywhere between 0 and 10 points based on the general quality of their exam. These points are then added to their ACTUAL midterm or final exam score.
When they bring their exams to class, they exchange exams with a classmate. They are allowed to use their books, as needed, during this rehearsal. When finished, they check their answers against the prepared answer sheet, and if there is any dispute over a correct answer, I settle the argument. Once they determine which questions they have missed, they are told to record those questions and answers in their notebook; those questions are their weak areas and obviously require further study.
Preparing for exams in this manner accomplishes several goals:
1. In creating their own questions and answers, the students are actually studying; they are reviewing the material and being forced to discriminate between what they think is, or is not, important.
2. Knowing they will be rewarded for thoughtful questions encourages students to include inferential items, rather than simple rote ones and alleviates test anxiety with a point "cushion".
3. In taking a classmate's exam, the student is getting yet another slant on what might be considered vital information.
4. In being allowed to use their books during "rehearsal", they are practicing how to research a puzzling question or how to substantiate their answer.
5. In recording questions they could not answer, they are zeroing in on items that need more time and effort.
Are not these all the behaviors we WANT to elicit from our students as they prepare for our exams?
My experience with this method has been that students who are given the opportunity for an adequate rehearsal usually end up studying more importantly than if left to their own devices. Consequently, they suffer less test anxiety and usually obtain higher test scores than those students who miss the rehearsal.