Many students struggle with exam conditions: The glare of bright lights, the sound of clicking pens and shuffling of paper and feet do well to distract even the most prepared student. All students might have issues with distraction; however, certain types of disorders, such as attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), can compound problems for individuals trying to adjust to exam conditions. Parents and teachers are becoming more aware of these concerns.
The University of Kansas lists guidelines for instruction accommodation: Change of location for students who need special equipment, accessibility (for wheel chair bound students), a place for students who test better when they can move and make noise, well-lit areas for students with impaired vision, and special conditions for students who need frequent breaks.
While some test-takers with disabilities and disorders need special accommodation to help them complete tests, most students struggle with exam conditions for simple reasons.
• Lack of sleep can increase anxiety, making people more prone to distraction. Just the idea of having to take an exam, or staying up late to study for the exam, can interrupt sleep. In an article entitled, Coping with Excessive Sleepiness: 10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss, author Camille Peri tells us, “Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down.” She explains that lack of sleep impairs our cognitive processes, such as critical thinking and problem solving -all things crucial during an exam.
• Low blood sugar: When students forget to eat, or lose their appetite due to anxiety before an exam, their blood sugar levels can drop. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can cause headaches, rapid heartbeat, blurred (or double) vision, nervousness, numbness or tingling in the skin, irritability, tiredness and unclear thinking.
• Environmental distractions: Loud sounds, bright/low lights, uncomfortable chairs, hot/cold, uncomfortable clothing, are all things that can affect one’s performance on a test.
Students who are aware that they will be taking a test should be conscientious of environmental factors and prepare early. Preventative measures taken beforehand will increase a positive outcome. Students should attempt to sleep well the night before, have a small snack beforehand, and assess factors that might distract them such as noise, lights, or temperature. Loose fitting and comfortable clothing should be worn, as well as a removable light sweater or jacket in case they become cold. Earplugs (or headphones, if allowed) can reduce sound distractions. Tinted reading or prescription glasses can help if bright lights are an issue. For those needing special accommodation, a simple talk with the instructor between student and/or parents, might be warranted.