Mary Brizzolara offers tips for overcoming test-takers...

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

February 28, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Mary Brizzolara offers tips for overcoming test-takers' fear

Few words strike as much fear in a student as these: POP QUIZ!

Remember the pounding heart, sweaty palms and nervous stomach?

Mary S. Brizzolara does. A psychology professor at Towson State University, she has watched many smart, prepared people freeze during exam time. She and psychologist Christina Harnett have written about the problem -- and their solutions -- in their new book, "Fear of Flunking."

Called a success guide for students, it offers survival tips to the test-impaired.

And there are plenty around. During nearly 30 years of teaching, Dr. Brizzolara has coached many through the perceived trauma -- doling out tissues and comfort when students panicked during finals.

She suggests that students learn relaxation techniques, positive self talk" and imagery. "If someone is relaxed and has an image of success, they'll do better," says Dr. Brizzolara, who goes sailing near her Pasadena home to unwind.

The book has been so successful that several schools, including Towson State and the University of Delaware, have begun using it in courses and counseling.

She has even tried the techniques herself. In 1964, she was a new teacher afraid of public speaking. By reading, taking copious notes and learning to relax, she overcame her anxiety.

"But at first," she recalls, "I thought I'd never make it through the semester."

Look around Bobbie McKinney's apartment, and one thought comes to mind: Mary Pat Clarke slept here.

Not only has the City Council president stayed over (and said thanks with a "slumber party" citation), but Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has stopped by for Ms. McKinney's advice too.

It all comes under her informal title as mother, baby-sitter, crusader and friend to Lexington Terrace, the public housing complex she has called home for 34 years. ("Don't call it the projects," she says. "That really offends me. . . . We have dignity.")

She first became involved in the community 20 years ago after organizing bus trips and social events for children. While the area's run-down conditions have garnered much attention lately, McKinney says she has been fighting these battles all her adult life. She has been instrumental in getting such improvements as a neighborhood recreation center, paint for the stairwells and even holiday decorations.

"Housing [Authority] says I'm a pain in the neck. But I just believe they can do better," says Ms. McKinney, 40, who has two sons.

As for her own plans, Ms. McKinney, who is not working now, says she would like to get a job and buy a home. She dreams of parlaying her community involvement into politics, running for City Council one day.

But she's aware that not everyone is sympathetic to her plight. She says, "I know people say, 'Why doesn't she get off her lazy butt and get to work?' I have a purpose: It's to make sure people in low-income housing don't get shortchanged."

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