The California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET exams, are taken by thousands of credential candidates every year. Many embark on a CSET test prep program, but one component that is often missing from their CSET test prep plan is an effective strategy for dealing with test anxiety.
Whether you are a prospective elementary school teacher taking the CSET Multiple Subjects exam or a single subject credential candidate planning to teach high school, passing the CSET is critical to your career. The stakes are quite high, and you want to perform well on the test, so it's completely natural to feel nervous on exam day, or even during the days of test preparation leading up to the exam.
The problem is that excess anxiety can actually impair your performance. According to a study performed at the College of Charleston, test-takers with higher levels of test anxiety performed worse than those with lower levels of anxiety, at least on certain types of assessments.
Test anxiety can rob us of our focus and fill our minds with distracting thoughts, and this seems to interfere most with our ability to perform complex tasks. An anxious test-taker may be able to answer the question "What is 2+2?" just as easily as a calm test-taker, but may not be able to answer a more in-depth question that requires careful attention and greater mental calculation. Unfortunately for anxious test takers, the questions on the CSET tend to be more of the complex variety. That is why it is important to have your anxiety under control on test day.
The good news is test-anxiety is something you have the ability to manage, and managing it effectively can have a huge benefit. Below are three good strategies for dealing with CSET test-anxiety.
Technique #1: Be Prepared
It's no secret that the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. A good CSET test prep program, be it a prep class, private tutor, or online preparation program, should teach you the content and strategies you need to pass, and knowing you are truly ready for the test will usually bolster your confidence greatly and help to assuage test anxiety. But your CSET test preparation shouldn't stop there. You should also prepare for the environment in which you'll take the test, and the potential stressors you will encounter there.
A professional football team, for example, doesn't practice solely by running drills. The team will usually also engage in scrimmages in which they can practice playing in an environment that is more like the one that will be encountered in the actual game. This allows them to prepare for challenges like managing the clock and reacting to tough opponents. As part of your CSET test prep, you should do the same thing. When you take a CSET practice test, take it under conditions that closely replicate those you'll face on the real exam. If you plan to take three subtests in one sitting, practice taking all three subtests in one sitting, so you will be ready for the effects that fatigue may have on your performance. Set a timer and take your CSET practice test in the same amount of time you'll have on the real exam, so you can get used to working at an appropriate pace. If you're planning to take the computer-based test, take your practice test on a computer, so you're familiar with the feel of reading questions onscreen instead of on paper. The more variables you can get used to in practice, the less those factors will distract or intimidate you when you face them in the game, and that means less anxiety. On test day, you'll be able to say to yourself: "I don't need to worry about this; I've already done it before."
Technique #2: Get Rid of Excess Energy
Fear is part of our natural defense mechanism; it causes a surge of adrenaline that readies our body and mind to take protective action. We're suddenly filled with the energy we need to sprint away or to fight off an attacker, and these reactions stem from ancient times, when our ancestors often faced true physical threats like being attacked by wild animals or a neighboring tribe. But the fear one may feel when taking the CSET requires little, if any, physical response. So we're left with clammy hands, a racing heart, and jittery nerves that serve to do little more than distract us from the task at hand.
One great way to calm yourself and release some of this excess energy is exercise. If you wake up feeling nervous on CSET test day, start the morning by taking a walk, a jog, or a swim. Work off a little bit of that excess energy, and in the process, you may release some endorphins that will allow you to enter the testing facility not only feeling calmer, but also feeling happier and more confident. Don't push yourself to the point of exhaustion though-you want to save some of your energy for the test.
You may also wish to practice some other physical techniques for deactivating your sympathetic nervous system (the part of your autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the "fight-or-flight response"). Such techniques may include taking slow, deep breaths from the bottom of your stomach or contracting and releasing each of your major muscle groups until you feel the tension start to dissipate.
Technique #3: Turn Negative Energy into Positive Energy
So you've taken a great CSET test prep program and learned everything you need to pass your particular exam. You've also released some of your excess physical energy through using the techniques described above. And yet, as you approach your testing location, you still feel a bit of anxiety coming on. Congratulations, you are a normal human being.
Some amount of anxiety is to be expected. Your body is releasing the energy it needs to prepare for a challenge. You may not be able to get rid of that energy entirely, and in fact, you may not want to. A little bit of extra energy may be exactly what you need to perform at your peak. But don't let that energy take the form of nervousness, fear, or self doubt. Instead, let it take the form of excitement. Excitement about taking the CSET? Yes, absolutely. You've put many long, hard hours into your CSET test prep; it's time to show off what you know and show this test who is boss. As you drive to your testing location, sing along with your favorite song-loudly. Give yourself a mental high-five for all the hard work you've put in, and for having the guts to pursue a career that truly makes a difference.
And smile. You don't really need a reason, but here's one anyway: you're about to pass the CSET.
Robert Duncan has over six years of experience as a CSET prep class instructor and private tutor, and is currently Program Director of Teachers Test Prep, Inc., which offers CSET test prep classes at colleges and other locations throughout California, as well as private tutoring and online prep programs for both the CSET Multiple Subjects and CSET Single Subject exams.
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