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The first and most important step is to understand and truly believe that tests do not measure how smart you are. The only thing they measure is your ability to answer questions in a subject area. They do not predict whether you will be able to do a job nor do they predict how well you will be able to do your job. It’s just questions and answers. I’ll say it again…tests do not measure how smart you are.
The use of standardized testing is widely debated and while I will not get into all of that here, I will say that it is a necessary evil. If you want to get through school you will have to pass standardized tests. If you want a certification of any kind you will have to pass a standardized test. And regardless of the debate of their effectiveness at measuring a person’s true knowledge, you do have to admit that there does need to be a way to attempt to objectively measure aptitude among a large group of people in a time-efficient way.
If you can wrap your head around this idea it will help you to not take it personally. Often, when we are faced with the fear of “failure” we talk ourselves out of success before we even start. If you have not done well on tests in the past, stop judging yourself for it! Take it easy on yourself and come to terms with the fact that tests do not measure how smart you are. Take to heart that they are just a necessary evil.
We all have different ways of learning. Personally, I am a hands-on learner. I really have no idea what’s going on until I dig in and actually start doing things. However, we don’t usually get to participate until we can pass the test! So in all actuality, I have passed many tests with flying colors having essentially no idea what I was doing. A large part of the reason for this is that I don’t take it very seriously. I don’t take it personally. I just know that all I have to do is answer a percentage of questions correctly. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.
There’s no reason to be overly nervous or drive yourself into a frenzy over these tests. And in fact, if you do, you will severely limit the effectiveness of all the work you put into the venture. There is a fine line between putting forth the necessary effort and driving yourself mad. Yes, of course you will put in some time studying, and you will make this a priority, and you should go into it with the intention of doing well. But leave it there. Your life does not depend on it, your worthiness does not depend on it, and most of all, you are far more valuable and talented than any test can determine.
Psychological factors are among the top reasons for students failing exams. Fear and anxiety are absolutely detrimental to your chances of success so you should be mindful of finding a way to reduce your anxiety. That is why I say, getting your mind right is the most important part of preparing for an exam. Once you realize that your self-esteem does not need to be tied to a test you will be able to approach it with a clear mind and put all of your work to good use. That is the key. Maximize the effectiveness of your studies and/or hours upon hours of listening to lectures and doing homework assignments.
I know, I know. Easier said than done, right? How do you just all the sudden “not care”? Well, you may not be able to do that right away, but you can work at it and one of the easiest ways is through meditation. If you are not familiar with how to meditate I can tell you…you do not need to wear any weird clothes or do any pretzelly-like poses in order to reap the benefits of meditation. All you need is a quiet, comfortable space and maybe a monotonous noise like a clock ticking to help distract you.
All you do is sit in a quiet comfortable space (preferably sitting upright so you don’t fall asleep), get in a comfortable position and close your eyes. If you’ve never meditated before you will likely be flooded with random thoughts and find it difficult at first to focus but that’s ok. You don’t need to “work hard” at this. It’s quite the opposite. I recommend trying to focus on your breathing because if you can do it that way, then you can get a little mini meditation session in anywhere, anytime you find yourself needing to calm down… like at your desk right before your exam.
Sit with your eyes closed and just listen to yourself breathe. You don’t need to breathe in any particular way or put any effort into breathing any different than normal. Just listen to your breathing in and out. Thoughts will come and when they do, it’s ok. Just focus back on your breathing and let the thoughts come and go as they will. Don’t try to “not think” a thought, but be aware and divert your focus back to your breathing as much as possible. At first, try for a small amount of time. Maybe 5 minutes or so. If you find yourself getting frustrated then stop, and try again another time. Or, if your breathing is not enough to focus on, you can use a ticking clock or something like that. You can pull up 12 hours of a ticking clock on YouTube if you don’t have one readily available.
As you practice more you will be able to have longer periods of “no thought”. You will start to notice a release of tension as you give your brain a break. Meditation helps you to be aware of yourself and you will likely start to realize how much you let your mind run away with you sometimes! Our brains are constantly going, going, going. By becoming more aware of yourself and what’s going on in that nonstop brain you can stop destructive thought patterns earlier in the process, which in turn help you to stay calm, cool, and collected.
It doesn’t take long to be able to slow down your thinking with very little effort. A little practice every day goes a long way. Before you know it, you will be able to sit for your exam, secretly have a mini-meditation session, quiet your mind, release anxiety, and take that exam like a rock star!