At this point in the semester you have likely had at least one assessment (Paper, Project, Presentation, or Exam), or you are about to have your first assessment for the semester. It is the hope that you have been using the time management strategies, learning strategies, and metacognitive strategies we have discuss up to this point. If you are feeling a little shaky on those topics, please return to those previous modules for a refresher! It’s ok, we’ll wait … No really, it’s ok to go back and remind yourself what we covered previously. This will be a metacognitive moment in itself.

…Ok, so you’re back. You did it, right? You feel refreshed and up to speed? Awesome! So in this module we will cover some strategies to support you in preparing for and learning from assessments that you have in college. If in the past your assessments have ben a source of frustration, anxiety, and/or stress – well this module will hopefully reframe that mindset and establish assessments as a moment to demonstrate all that you have gained, as well as a moment of reflection for you to gauge how you need to maintain or adjust your learning strategies to succeed in that respective course. Ready? Ok, let’s go!

Not to Worry

Assessments may not have been the most enjoyable experiences in your academic past. They may have been anxiety and stress producing. They may have generated feelings of disappointment and letdown. It may have been a combination of both of those (and maybe even other feelings), but in this module I want to share some strategies with you that I believe will help reframe that mindset and have you ready for the next assessments that you have.

In this module, I want to encourage you to go in with an open mind. You may have some preconceived notions of how you will approach your academics, and some of the strategies we discuss you may have never tried before, but come into it willing to give it a try. Assessments – Papers, Projects, Presentations, or Exams – don’t need to be daunting undertakings that are all consuming and leave you feeling drained. Rather, let’s view assessments in your courses as opportunities to demonstrate all that you have learned. Use these as moments to show how much you have gained from the hard work you have put in. Should an athlete shy away from a game, a match, or a race because of the pressure to perform? They have likely put in hours of hard work, practice, and preparation to get to this point. And they want to show their skills. And so can you!

So, how can you change your mindset of assessments to be like how athletes look at a game, a match, a race? In this module we will work through that approach.

Test Preparation Strategies

How one prepares for tests at UGA will often separate the A’s from B’s and C’s, etc. As you are in the process of becoming a professional learner in college, you must do more than simply practice recall, recitation, and self-testing in preparation for your tests and exams at the University of Georgia. Dense, detailed, and voluminous content will require a broad array of strategies for you to adequately categorize, recall, and interpret information for your professors. In most classes, you will be challenged to integrate, evaluate, apply, and explain what you’re learning to prove that you have mastered the content in each course. Practice solving test-like questions under test-like conditions is one of the best sets of strategies you can use in college to prepare for all kinds of tests and exams, but since your content, professors, and academic tests will vary, you must learn several different ways to implement these strategies.

 

(For more information, go to the Test Preparation page and explore the Strategies tab)

When enrolled in UNIV2800: Returning With Strength, you will also have access to the chapter reading on Test Preparation from Teach Yourself How to Learn. This will help to solidify some really effective and efficient test preparation strategies as we approach exams.

What About Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is very real. You may know this firsthand. Almost everyone gets a little nervous before a major exam, in the same way most people get slightly anxious meeting a new potential date or undertaking an unfamiliar activity. We second-guess whether we’re ready for this leap, if we prepared adequately, or if we should postpone this potentially awkward situation. And in most situations, testing included, that reasonable level of nervous anticipation can be a good thing—enhancing your focus and providing you with a bit of bravado to get you through a difficult time. Test anxiety, however, can cause us to doubt ourselves so severely that we underperform or overcompensate to the point that we do not do well on the exam. Don’t despair; you can still succeed if you suffer from test anxiety.

The first step is to understand what it is and what it is not, and then to practice some simple strategies to cope with your anxious feelings relative to test taking. Whatever you do, don’t use the label test anxiety to keep you from your dreams of completing your education and pursuing whatever career you have your eyes on.

Understanding Test Anxiety

If someone tries to tell you that test anxiety is all in your head, they’re sort of right. Our thinking is a key element of anxiety of any sort. On the other hand, test anxiety can manifest itself in other parts of our bodies as well. You may feel queasy or light-headed if you are experiencing test anxiety. Your palms may sweat, or you may become suddenly very hot or very cold for no apparent reason. At its worst, test anxiety can cause its sufferers to experience several unpleasant conditions including nausea, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. Some people may feel as though they may throw up, faint, or have a heart attack, none of which would make going into a testing situation a pleasant idea. You can learn more about symptoms of test anxiety from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America that conducts research on this topic.

Back to our minds for a minute. We think constantly, and if we have important events coming up, such as exams, but other significant events as well, we tend to think about them seemingly all the time. Almost as if we have a movie reel looping in our heads, we can anticipate everything that may happen during these events—both sensational results and catastrophic endings. What if you oversleep on the test day? What if you’re hit by a bus on the way to campus? What if you get stung by a mysterious insect and have to save the world on the very day of your exam?

How about the other way? You win the lottery! Your screenplay is accepted by a major publisher! You get a multimillion-dollar record deal! It could happen. Typically, though, life falls somewhere in between those two extremes, unless you live in an action movie. Our minds, however, (perhaps influenced by some of those action movies or spy novels we’ve seen and read) often gravitate to those black-and-white, all-or-nothing results. Hence, we can become very nervous when we think about taking an exam because if we do really poorly, we think, we may have to face consequences as dire as dropping out of school or never graduating. Usually, this isn’t going to happen, but we can literally make ourselves sick with anxiety if we dwell on those slight possibilities. You actually may encounter a few tests in your academic careers that are so important that you have to alter your other life plans temporarily, but truly, this is the exception, not the rule. Don’t let the most extreme and severe result take over your thoughts. Prepare well and do your best, see where you land, and then go from there.

Using Strategies to Manage Test Anxiety

You have to work hard to control test anxiety so it does not take an unhealthy hold on you every time you face a test situation, which for many of you will last well into your careers. One of the best ways to control test anxiety is to be prepared for the exam. You can control that part. You can also learn effective relaxation techniques including controlled breathing, visualization, and meditation. Some of these practices work well even in the moment: at your test site, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and smile—just bringing positive thoughts into your mind can help you meet the challenges of taking an exam without anxiety taking over.

The tests in the corporate world or in other career fields may not look exactly like the ones you encounter in college, but professionals of all sorts take tests routinely. Again, being prepared helps reduce or eliminate this anxiety in all these situations. Think of a presentation or an explanation you have provided well numerous times—you likely are not going to feel anxious about this same presentation if asked to provide it again. That’s because you are prepared and know what to expect. Try to replicate this feeling of preparation and confidence in your test-taking situations.

Many professions require participants to take frequent licensing exams to prove they are staying current in their rapidly changing work environments, including nursing, engineering, education, and architecture, as well as many other occupations. You have tools to take control of your thinking about tests. Better to face it head-on and let test anxiety know who’s in charge!

Studying and taking tests will always be a large part of college, so learning now to do these well can only help you be more successful. Experts provide us with many tools, techniques, and ideas to use when we determine how best to study, use our memories effectively, and prepare to take exams. You can help yourself by taking these guidelines seriously and tracking your progress. If one strategy works better for you in some classes and another is more suited to a different course, keep that in mind when you begin to study. Use all the resources available to you, and you’ll be well on your way to success in college.

This material is from College Success – an Openly Licensed textbook on how to succeed in college. Chapter 6.

Assessment Wrapper

Now that we have covered some strategies to help you prepare for your assessments – namely tests and exams, what should you do once you receive that assessment back? You may be eager to see the grade you received and that’s about it. For some students they see the high score and think, “Great! The hard work paid off”, and then immediately shove the assessment into their book bags and move on. For other students they see the shockingly low score and without hesitation shove the assessment into their book bags and move on. In either case, the extremely high or extremely low (and everything in between) you are encouraged to take a moment and look over that assessment to learn what went well and what areas need improvement. This is where the three-part Assessment Wrapper technique comes in.

For every assessment (that is every paper, project, presentation, and exam) you get back, please address the following three questions, as it will help you to develop better and better strategies to succeed in that respective course – by learning from that experience.

Question #1: How Did I Prepare?

Here you are to dissect your preparation strategies for that specific assessment. Ask yourself a bunch of questions that will allow you to thoroughly analyze how you prepared.

  • How did you study/prepare? Any special techniques or strategies used?
  • How much time did you spend studying/preparing for that assessment?
  • Did you study with a partner/group? If so, how did that go? Could it have been better? Were you prepared for those study sessions?
  • Where did you study? Were you at your place of residence or did you go to a designated study location?
  • Did you attend every class? Better yet – not just attend class, but were you engaged in the learning experience in class?
  • Did you attend office hours?
  • Did you do all of the homework (assigned or not)? Did you start your homework when it was assigned or did you wait to the last minute?
  • If you did the homework, how reliant were you on your class notes/textbook/study guide/etc.?
  • Did you seek out help from Peer Tutoring (if applicable)?

These are just a start, there are likely many more questions you could ask yourself to dissect out the learning experience from your preparation strategies for that respective assessment.

Question #2: How Did I Do?

Here you are to look through your assessment, very carefully, and evaluate your performance. This is looking beyond the score or grade on the front of the assessment. This part of the Assessment Wrapper is subdivided into three sections – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good

Looking through your assessment, what went well? What questions or sections did you get most, if not all, of the points assigned? For sections that you were not super confident on but got the right answer, know that – have clarity on why that was the correct answer for that respective question. In this part of the analysis we are wanting to have awareness of what went well so we can be sure to repeat those positive behaviors next time.

The Bad

This is where you look at the questions that you were close to getting, but came up short. For the multiple choice style question, you had narrowed it down to “B” or “C”, and after struggling on which was correct you went with “B”. Only to find out the answer was “C”. Well, that is important information to know moving forward. For the Essay Assessment, you are seeing where your argument was not as clearly stated as you thought, or the discussion points did not come together for a clear and strong take-home message. Let’s be aware of those close calls, so that we can modify and improve for the next assessment. It is not helping anyone by ignoring the problems that you did not get full credit on.

The Ugly

This is the hard section to look at, because it may be the section you didn’t finish or because you had no idea where to even begin. The “Ugly” is the section of the assessment where you didn’t get any points, or next to nothing, and that stings. But, it is good to know what content was covered in that section of the assessment, and how it was covered, so you can prepare for next time.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will help you in identifying how the whole assessment went, not just the highs or just the lows. Take a moment to complete this section, as it will be highly informative for your learning.

Finally, Question #3: What Will I Do Next Time?

You have now evaluated how you prepared and recognize how that preparation (or maybe lack thereof) led to a particular performance. This is all really great awareness for this next step in the Assessment Wrapper – identifying what you will do next time to improve your performance. If your preparation strategies were really thorough and ultimately led to a strong performance on that assessment, then let’s be sure to repeat that good preparation strategies. If in this analysis you realize that you started studying early, and you thoroughly addressed all the material, and you studied with a partner that helped provide clarity on some of the material you were a little lost on, then all of that is really great to be aware of moving forward – because you will want to be sure to repeat all of those things for the next assessment.

If however, looking over your preparation strategies and approach made it glaringly obvious where you did not put in as much effort as you could have, and that reinforced why your assessment performance was not where you wanted/needed it to be, well now you know what areas need to be changed. You recognize specific areas on the assessment that you could better prepare for on the next assessment. When looking through the feedback on your assessment you begin to identify simple mistakes that occurred because you felt rushed due to lack of time, well that is important to know! If time has been a factor on your assessments, then you should be sure to incorporate time as a preparation strategy for the next assessment. How do you do that? Well, you will want to time yourself on how long it take you to complete a practice problem. And then recognize how much time you were given for a comparable question on the exam. For example, if it takes you 30 minutes to complete a homework problem, but a simple problem on the exam you only have about 10 minutes to determine the answer, well that means you will need to work through several practice problems to get very comfortable with that material in order to answer that type of question in in the limited timeframe you are given. If for a paper you only gave yourself the night before the due date to write the 10-page essay, but after a thorough analysis of how you did you realize you would have done better if you had more time… then for the next essay you will want to start earlier and account for the time needed to develop a strong, well articulated essay.

How does that all sound? How are you feeling? I recognize this is a lot to take in and account for. Again, this may be an assessment strategy you have not tried before, but you are strongly encouraged to apply it now.

What Have You Learned?

Let’s put all of this to practice now. Go find an assessment you had in a previous semester. Yes, I’m serious… go find that exam, or paper, or project, or presentation and I want you to apply the Assessment Wrapper technique. Granted, depending on what previous assessment you find/dig up, it may be from several months ago. It may be from over a year ago. That’s ok! I want you to take a moment and look through that assessment and apply the three questions we just addressed in this module – How Did I Prepare? How Did I Do? What Will I Do Next Time?

When going through this evaluation of your previous performance, what have you learned? What is now glaringly obvious? What strategies did you use before that went well? What strategies did you use before do not go so well?

What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned you want to maintain? What have you learned you want to change regarding your assessment preparation strategies?

Next Steps for Improvement

We are now wrapping up the Assessment module, and up to this point we have covered a lot. Let’s recap all that we covered and see how these different puzzle pieces begin to connect to one another – assembling the picture of how you can succeed in your academics when you are deliberate and intentional with how you spend your time and how you approach your academic commitments.

You were encouraged to first recognize what step(s) may have led to your academic struggles. This was a moment for you to do some deep reflection and not shy away from those stumbled and missteps, but rather learn from them and call it out so you know how to avoid those stumbles this next time around. What was that process like for you? What did you discover? Was that particularly challenging to identify those things that got you to this point in your academic standing?

From there we discussed Good Time Management strategies. I proposed that you apply a Semester Calendar and a Weekly Calendar to have a better awareness of how you spend your time – regarding your academics, but also your non-academic commitments. The Semester Calendar was to let you see in one glance all the major assessments and deadlines you have over the course of the 16 week semester, as to avoid being surprised by an assessment you may not have realized was going to happen. Or, adequately prepare for those instances when you have multiple assessments in a short time period (i.e., 3 exams in a week). The Weekly Calendar was to let you identify what you are doing on a day-to-day basis, and ensuring you are accounting for all of your academic commitments, while also accounting for your personal, family/friends, and social commitments. I cautioned against only focusing on the academic commitments, because you can easily fall into the trap of neglecting your own needs and wants and can burn out halfway into the semester.

Once we established good time management skills, we then focused on effective learning strategies. We needed to first know when in the day and when in the week you had time for your academics, before we could address the how you were going to approach your academics. This module covered different study skills and approaches to your academics that are research supported, evidence based. Hopefully you have been incorporating these into your learning habits and are starting to see a positive change.

From there I encouraged you to take a step back from your academics and evaluate the process in which you are engaging in your learning. We called this Metacognition – where you are thinking about your learning and evaluating if the steps you are taking, the approach you have towards your academics are the most appropriate they should be for that respective material. Here you are taking inventory of your work and making sure you are being efficient with that time you are putting in.

Next we covered the importance of knowing your resources and areas of support. We discussed the importance of your Degree Completion Team and how they are here to support you throughout this whole process. How have you utilized these team members to ease your transition back into your academics? You should have had at least one meeting with the DCT at this point, so how did it go? Have you been working to implement the feedback and strategies they provided? Have you had a follow up with the DCT or at least one member of your DCT? How has that gone? Are you feeling like you are making strides in your return to UGA? Do you feel like you have a support system in place for this moment where you are Returning With Strength to the University?

And now we have addressed Assessment. The tips and strategies addressed in this module are to be supportive and clarifying. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about what has been covered, then take a moment to pause and give yourself some grace. Enacting all of this can be daunting, but we are going to do it slowly and effectively so that it sticks. The DCT is here to support you. This course is here to support you. In the next module we will address Self-Care and Wellness, as that is needed and will not only make you a better in your academics, but better at life.


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