How to Study for a Test on a Literary Work

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I have a summer reading test in a week. I always get nervous on them and I end up failing. How can I get over getting so nervous?

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Hello! There are hundreds of ways to address text anxiety, so I would encourage you to keep trying different approaches until you find one that works for you. 

1. Preparation: What kind of test is this? Knowing the format of a test lets you understand what information and skills are valuable for the test. Studying for a multiple choice test is very different from studying for an in-class essay. Email or stop in to see your teacher and find out what sort of test you are taking. It may be helpful to explain that you have test anxiety for him/her to understand why you are there.

2. Preparation: What do I know about the book? This is a summer reading test, which I assume is on a book you had to read over the summer. To prepare, go through your knowledge of the book. Here are some sample questions you can ask yourself to review key information: 

  • Who are the protagonists (main characters)? What are their relationships with each other? 
  • Who are the antagonists (main villains)? What makes these people/this person a villain? 
  • Where does this story take place? When does it take place? 
  • What is the main conflict of the story? What sort of struggle is the protagonist up against, or what sort of task does he/she have to accomplish? 
  • Can you identify any main ideas or concepts that this book seems to be about (example: friendship, growing up, forgiveness, accepting difference)? 
  • Is there any sort of phrase or object that appears again and again in the book? If so, why does it keep reappearing? What makes it important? 

3. Preparation: Getting ready to take the test Avoid the urge to put off studying until the last possible minute. If you are the kind of person who likes talking to others, find a study buddy from class who you can talk to about the book. If you need silence to concentrate, make up some flashcards and flip through them. The night before the test, make sure that you assign yourself studying time: you get half an hour, and then you have another half hour to decompress before you go to bed. Remember - actually go to bed. Exhaustion makes anxiety 100x worse. 

4. Taking the Test Try to arrive early to the test site, and make sure ahead of time that you have everything you will need: pencil, eraser, scrap paper, water, a snack, stress ball - whatever floats your boat! While you are there, take your time. Read each question carefully and take time to think about your response. Many students read quickly and don't even answer the question that the test is asking - they answer a question that they think the test is asking. Don't make that mistake!

5. After the Test Meet with your teacher! Ask for feedback on your performance and for advice on future tests. A little proactive conversation goes a long way to ensuring your next test will be better and less stressful. 

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These are some strategies to reduce test anxiety.

Without knowing what kind of test it is, I cannot give you specific studying strategies for this last week, but I can give you some strategies for reducing your nervousness.  What you are suffering from is called test anxiety, and it is perfectly normal.  A lot of people have it.

The reason I mentioned studying first is because being well-prepared does often help.  Being confident is one part, but not the only part, of the strategy.  Make sure that you know what type of test it is if possible. For example, is it an essay test, or a multiple choice test?  This is because visualizing the test will help you be less nervous, and also help you know what to prepare for properly.

Here are some other important techniques you can use:

  1.        Make sure you have done the assignment.  Usually if there is a summer reading test, there is some kind of assignment to go with it.  If you know you have read the book thoroughly and completed all of the work, you will be less stressed.
  2.        Practice stress relief.  This sounds funny, I know, but on the days up to the test, you do not want to be working yourself up.  You want to be spending some of this time doing whatever relaxes you, such as sports or reading a book, or maybe taking a bike ride.  This is even more important the day before the test. Do not spend the day before something you are really nervous about just agonizing over it.  Do something to get your mind off of it.  Do not “cram” the night or day before, or the day of, a test.  Studies show it is ineffective and just makes you nervous.  Do something that relaxes you instead.
  3.        Use positive visualization.  We are really good at negative visualization. We can imagine ourselves failing tests, tripping in front of people, or having the person we just asked to the dance say, “No.”  We have to work a little harder on positive visualization.  When you have test anxiety, or any other kind of anxiety, you can banish it with the technique of positive visualization.  Imagine yourself with the A in your hand (or whatever grade you want).  It may seem silly, but imagine yourself with the result you want, instead of focusing on the negative, and your brain stops focusing on fear.
  4.        Time yourself.  On the day of the test, bring a watch or sit where you can see the clock.  Make sure you know what time the class ends and how long you have.  That way you won’t get into a situation where you will run out of time.  If that test has a certain number of questions, divide the time by the number of questions and that’s how much time, approximately, you have to spend on each question.  Take some time to go back and check your work, but try not to second guess yourself.  This way you won’t be nervous about running out of time.  If it’s an essay test, give yourself about ten minutes left before time’s up to proofread your work.  That way you will be less nervous about making a mistake.
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