Time Management and Written Assessments

Time management will be something I need to work on for my next assessment. This should be easy, I mean Wikihow has a step-by-step guide on how to manage time during tests. As I read through each step, I’m thinking “well duh! Everyone knows that!”. It was recommended to budget time for each question, skim through the entire test to know what to expect, and leave time at the end to review answers. This was easy, and in fact I already know all this. Then why couldn’t I finish the exam on time?

I had studied so hard for “Round 2” of the RB109 written assessment. Got my “scripts” memorized, and my automatic responses ready! On the first couple questions, I’m on a roll! I’m answering with precision and my language is clear. Then during the next few questions, I realize my “automatic” responses are not going to work. They are asking specific questions on new code snippets I had never seen before. This caught me off guard and forced me to reorganize my brain. I actually had to think about each question, process it, and provide a thoughtful response that ANSWERS THE QUESTION! My script no longer worked, nor did my automatic responses.

I read each question carefully and crafted my answers accordingly. Only this time what I thought was going to take 5 minutes to answer a question, has taken 15 minutes! The next several questions, I’m panicking, spitting out answers quickly while sweating, and my fingers shaking. Then I go back over and read my jumbled mess of answers and start correcting, reformatting, moving phrases around. Then realize I had just wasted a full half hour doing this. Now, there is one hour left, and I’m only halfway through the exam. At this point, I give up. Fingers are typing while my brain has left the building and I’m thinking, “well, what’s the harm in taking this exam a third time?”. After I mentally gave up, I was not putting any more effort into managing my time. Anxiety and “fight or flight” mode already kicked in.

After doing everything I could to prepare for the exam re-take, and knowing how to manage my time during an exam, what happened? In an article from Verywellmind, and seeing several scholarly publications on this very topic: test anxiety is a truly an incapacitating disorder. The symptoms I experienced during the exam fit in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) criteria for generalized anxiety disorders:
- The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. (In my case, the event is the exam)
- The worry is experienced as very challenging to control.
- The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms: edginess or restlessness, tiring easily (halfway through the exam, I mentally and physically shut down)

Additionally, physical symptoms of panic occur such as rapid heartbeat, nausea and clouded thinking.

I’ve got a lot riding on this. I am physically and mentally burned out in my current career as a primary care nurse practitioner. I have two young kids that still require a lot of my attention and energy. This is my 4th career change since my husband and I have been together — and he has explicitly said “This has to be the last!!”. He has been pulling the wagon for a long time now, and it’s now my turn. I’ve got so much invested in this, that I’m putting immense pressure on myself.

My original broad research on time management during exams was helpful, but in terms of my own performance and going forward, I should focus more on specific techniques:

  1. Don’t waste time formatting and reformatting answers. Save this until the end, after I’ve completed every single exam question.
  2. Strategize time to maximize ppm. (Points Per Minute) If I’m stuck on a question, and know I’ve gotten 4/5 on the answer I have so far, then move on to the next one. Because in the end, a 0/5 hurts the final grade much more than a 4/5.
  3. Exam drills! Pick several new problems (but are related to the exam material), and time myself answering them. I only did this once before the assessment, with problems that were already familiar to me. What I need to do is have another student pick problems for me (new ones), and then time myself while completing them. If I already know the problems, it won’t be helpful.

For the anxiety, it won’t hurt to take a two minute break during the exam to close my eyes and do slow focused breathing. The traditional treatment options for an anxiety/panic disorder are not an option for me, (ie: anxiety medication) as my mind needs to be sharp and I must be able to think quickly during the exam. The best strategy I can think of for improving exam performance anxiety would be “exposure therapy”. This works for people who have fear of flying, fear of public speaking, etc. The more assessments I take, the less I’ll fear them, and lower the chances of being controlled by my anxiety or having a panic attack during the exam. LS has plenty of them, and in addition to mastering computer programming, I’ll become a master at overcoming exam anxiety!

Aspiring Software Engineer - former Nurse Practitioner - former Illustrator

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