Test Anxiety: What To Do When You Struggle With Multiple Choice Tests

Test Anxiety - I Suck At Multiple-ChoiceThis week we welcome back 3L guest writer Shirlene Armstrong to talk about her struggles with multiple choice exams.

I have always considered myself to be an excellent student. I have always loved school and learning. I would get excited for the start of the new school year: the fresh pencils, the crisp notebooks, and the thrill of what new adventure would come my way. However, the thing that I always hated about school was multiple-choice exams. Simply put, I suck at multiple-choice questions. Unfortunately, multiple-choice questions are a part of every student’s life, especially law students. And since I am a 3L and in my last semester of law school (haha, stressed??), I am going to be dealing with the worst and most important multiple-choice exam of my life: the bar exam.

Test Anxiety

Exams, tests, quizzes…. It doesn’t matter what the form, test anxiety is a real phenomenon associated with these concepts. Students feel stressed and overwhelmed about an upcoming exam and begin to have a physical reaction, along with feelings of fear and dread. You may worry that you will fail or that the questions will be too difficult or you studied for the wrong test. Test anxiety comes in numerous shapes and sizes and affects people in different ways. Also, some people experience no test anxiety. 

Why Multiple-Choice Exams Are My Enemy

Personally, I did not realize that I had any form of test anxiety until I got further into school. I began to notice that I would be particularly stressed and worried when I had a test that was all or mostly multiple-choice, regardless of what the subject matter was.* (*besides math, because there is always only one answer). I hated multiple-choice questions with a passion. This was strange because I have always loved school and paid attention in class. I would know the material and understand the class, but I would struggle with multiple-choice exams. As an adult and law student who has answered more multiple-choice questions than I can count, I now have a better understanding of why this is the case. When presented with a question with choices, I would typically get it down to two answers. Then, I would hold a little oral argument in my head regarding the two answers, and ultimately come to a decision. But then I would start thinking of more arguments of why the other answer was better and second-guessed myself. By the time the exam was done, I would either be rushing to finish or was exhausted or mentally drained.

Standardized Tests

Can we have a real talk here? Who actually likes standardized tests? If you do, kudos to you, I sincerely respect you for enjoying something that is so anxiety-ridden and stressful. Personally, standardized tests and I have known each other for a long time, but we have never been close. If you think about it, this makes sense. I only get test-anxiety with multiple-choice exams and standardized test typically are mostly multiple choice. As law students, you have seen your share of standardized exams: the ACT or SAT, potentially the GRE, the LSAT, the MPRE, and of course, the bar exam. Unfortunately, standardized tests are here to stay, regardless of how much they stress you out. 

Combating This Anxiety

Okay, so I’ve gone on and on about how terrible multiple-choice questions are and how much I hate standardized tests, but what should you do if you are experiencing test anxiety? Since test anxiety can form in numerous ways, coping with this anxiety also comes in a variety of forms. For me, I combat my multiple-choice anxiety by overloading myself with multiple-choice practice questions. I also will circle the ones I am on the fence about, finish the rest of the exam, and go back to the questions where I couldn’t make an initial decision. I also will not allow myself to change any answer unless I truly think it is the wrong answer. Although there are specific things you can do to combat your specific test anxiety, there are general coping methods as well. Make sure to get enough sleep before the test and eat proper meals. You should also try to pace yourself when studying and try not to cram the night before. And remember, you can always rely on your support systems or see a professional if your anxiety is interfering with your life or success. 

Multiple-Choice (Or Any Test) Does Not Have to Be Your Downfall

Exams are tough, especially if you have test anxiety. However, preparing and taking exams is as important as going to class. Exams are a necessary evil for law students. You have to take them because your grade likely depends on your final and you will have to face a huge, crucial exam for your legal career following graduation. Regardless of where you are at in your law school career, you are probably still equally stressed out and worried about succeeding. Take a deep breath, figure out what works best for you, and work hard; you will do great on exams and won’t let the anxiety get the best of you!


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About Shirlene Armstrong

Shirlene Armstrong is a first-generation student in her last year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. At Wayne, Shirlene has been involved with numerous organizations and clubs, including mock trial, LexisNexis, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Journal of Law and Society. Shirlene enjoys mentoring others and sharing what she has learned on her legal journey and continues to work hard in accomplishing her dreams.

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