10 Tips and Strategies to Reduce Test Anxiety

Regardless of age or level of education, if you are a student, you know the feeling of test anxiety. As you sit at your desk, preparing to face your next test, your palms go sweaty, your heart races, and you notice a knot in your stomach.

These are the tell-tale signs of test anxiety and are the cause of many a wrong answer and sabotaged test score. Test anxiety when unchecked and unmanaged can cause damage to students’ health as well as their GPA.

Studies have shown a correlation between test anxiety and student grades​. The more afraid you are of exam day, the more likely it'll negatively affect your grades.

Who should read this?

We've written this for the student in high school/college, university or anyone sitting any sort of test or exam. Test anxiety can range from as small as a group-testing game to as big as a driving exam or even bigger.

We all feel the pressure when there's a test around the corner. The best way to deal with it is by preparing your best for the big exam or test day. 

Understanding Text anxiety

Nervousness before a test is definitely normal, but when that agitation becomes debilitating anxiety, it becomes a problem.

When test anxiety symptoms take over, students can find themselves consumed by racing thoughts, nauseous feelings and an inability to focus or concentrate. These are not good habits for students to start.

Test anxiety can affect students of all levels, whether they are taking a quiz, an AP test, the ACT or even upper-level exams like the LSAT, GMAT or MCAT.

While it's not possible to rid yourself of anxiety completely, it is important to learn how to manage it. When test anxiety is at its worst, it has the power to turn months of studying into a blank mind that results in low test scores.

Instead of letting test anxiety control your academic life, do your best to focus on how to change your test-taking process and how to reign in all your fears and anxiety. 

Tips for Fighting Test Anxiety and Test Anxiety Treatment

The primary cause of test anxiety has been attributed to a fear of failure, inadequate preparation time and a history of poor test taking experience. As you prepare for your next exam, take some time to explore ways you can control your stress and test taking anxiety.

test anxiety

1. Prepare as Much as Possible

Obviously, you will need to study before any exam. However, feeling that you are well prepared will significantly lower your test anxiety as you face your next exam.

As a confident test taker, you can better combat the fear of failure. Preparing should always involve reviewing old quizzes, notes and the like. It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with the style of the exam you are taking.

By taking pre-tests tailored for your exam, you can give yourself a boost that you would never have if you were only encountering this test for the first time.

When focusing on the preparation part of your test taking, you may want to consider finding a tutor and/or study group. With a tutor, you will have a professional available to help you one-on-one with your tough questions or concepts that you may not understand.

Similarly, studying with a group can help to encourage you as you head towards test day. Studying with like-minded people can help abate your fears and help you to feel more confident and comfortable with the material as well.

You should also use different memorization techniques to make it easier on that brain thing.​

Summary

  • Good preparations can lower test anxiety
  • It takes time to test yourself on the various topics a test or exam may cover
  • Take notes yourself and always be quizzing yourself!
  • Study with like-minded people
  • Optional - find a tutor
  • Use mnemonic devices (memorization techniques)

2. Sleep Well

You should really focus on getting a good night’s rest the night before your exam, as well as the nights leading up to it. Being well rested during your test will make it easier for you to stay focused and to have enough stamina to get through the day.

Staying up all night to cram is never a good idea, as you likely will never remember the information the next morning. Additionally, the nervous and frantic energy that comes with cramming and little sleep will dramatically effect your test taking performance.

If you find that you need more time to study, try your best to alter your schedule so that you can wake up earlier in the day. This will allow you to have a fuller day, more energy and a consistent sleep schedule that will help get your through the big exam day.

Summary

  • If you can, get a good nights sleep before the exam or test
  • Cramming can only take you so far
  • Lack of sleep could affect test anxiety
  • Adjust your schedule 2-3 weeks before the date of your exam to allow your body to fit in the time frame of the exam 

3. Energize Yourself

Caffeine is often considered a student’s best friend, but this isn’t the energy that we are referring to. Be sure to eat a well-balanced breakfast the day of the test.

With the right foods, you will have enough protein and energy to get through the day. You will want to have snacks on hand as well to keep you going during the long test day.

While you are still in preparation mode for test taking, you should focus on maintaining a healthy diet in general. Try to stay away from sugary foods as they can affect your brain performance and can make it harder for you to retain information.

Similarly, it is common to crash after eating a lot of sugar or drinking a lot of caffeine. Eating healthily regularly will keep your mind and lifestyle balanced, which will only help you on the big day.

Summary

  • Maintain a healthy diet up to your exam or test date
  • Have a hearty breakfast with proteins and fiber on exam/test date
  • Make sure to have snacks
  • Don't eat sugary foods before a test or exam

4. Arrive at the Testing Site Early

Just like with cramming, rushing around will only make your anxiety worse. It never hurts to be over-prepared, so you may want to map out a route to the testing site, so you know just how long it will take to get there.

Be sure to have everything packed from the day before, so you will be all ready to go when your alarm rings.

Having all the little details planned out ahead of time will make you more confident and will allow your day to go that much smoother. You will want to do everything in your power to arrive at the testing site as calm and collected as possible.

Make sure your breakfast is easy to prepare, your transportation is certain, your clothes are ready, and you are comfortable and well rested enough to spend most of the day taking a test.

Summary

  • Map out how long it takes for you to move around your testing site
  • Have everything prepared a day early
  • Ensure you have external things ready like food, transportation, clothes and how much rest you need between tests or exams

5. Foster a Positive Mentality

While others may think it silly to take trinkets, charms or active “totems” with them on the day of the test, it may actually help to bring down your test anxiety.

If a particular picture, stuffed animal or the like always seems to put a smile on your face, it is a great idea to have it with you during the test day. Items like these have the power to boost your morale and overall mindset, which will help you fare better during your test.

You may also want to be your own cheerleader as you prepare to take your exam. Speaking to yourself positively is a proven way to instill confidence in oneself. Try saying mantras like “You can do this” or “You know this, you got this!”. Phrases like this, though said by yourself, are a definite way to calm nerves and pump you up for exam time.

If you would like to bring family or friends in on this as well, don’t hesitate. Ask a trusted loved one for encouragement as you prepare to take your test. Knowing that you have a team of people behind you will be a source of strength during your exam.

Summary

  • Have your lucky charms with you
  • Hype yourself up with mantras
  • Have a team to back you (extra motivation)

6. Read Instructions Carefully

We all have a tendency to want to get through things as efficiently and quickly as possible. This may be true during a test but doing this is a terrible idea.

You never want to cost yourself potential points for failing to read all the instructions carefully. Never assume you know what the graders are looking for on a test before reading through each question and section carefully.

There is nothing worse than spending precious test taking time answering a question you thought was asking one thing, but was actually asking another. As you go through the test, be sure to double and triple check your answers. Often times, people will say that they thought they chose a particular answer but in reality actually wanted something else.

Summary

  • Take your time to read the questions carefully
  • When you have time, recheck your answers

7. Don’t Wait to Start the Test

Usually, the actual moment that test anxiety takes over is when a student gets to the first question. Many students fail to dive in after reading the instructions as they start to become paralyzed with fear.

Don’t wait! Go right into the questions, even if you are nervous. If you happen to find the first few questions too stressful to answer, skip ahead to some easier questions and go back when you are feeling more confident.

Be sure, however, that you have enough time to go back to these more difficult questions. Taking a test in a limited amount of time is all about having a strategy.

Go quickly through questions you will ace and have a plan to take care of the longer form questions. As you work to complete your test, it helps to know how many questions you have left and how long it may take to answer them.

This will help to ensure that you do not run out of time as you finish your test. Having a right balance is key; never rush through the test, but don’t labor so long on a single question that you end up having to rush through the rest just to finish.

Summary

  • When anxiety rises, breathe and find topics you know well
  • First off, cover questions you know
  • Within the limited time, answer as many questions as you can then double check your answers near the end

8. Stay Focused on Yourself

Another surefire way to increase your anxiety on test day is to watch other people as they take their tests. It can cause you to panic thinking everyone else is doing better on the exam than you are, which can lead to severe test anxiety.

Instead of looking around the room as you take your test, focus on your own pace and stay grounded in the positive fact that you will complete your exam.

The other students may very well be guessing and working to finish in time. The only person you can account for is yourself, so be sure to understand this as you fill out your exam.

Summary

  • Thinking about other people can lead to higher anxiety
  • Focus on yourself before and during the test or exam, not other people
  • Concentrate on your own exam by reading the questions and answering them as best as you can

9. Keep an Eye on the Time

Try your best to make it through the exam with enough time to review the harder questions. One of the worst test taking scenarios to find yourself in is noticing you have a few minutes left and that half of the test is incomplete.

This is where those practice exams are crucial. Being able to pace yourself through your tests will really help make sure that you make it through all the questions and that you answer each to the best of your ability.

Some students find it helpful to look through the entire test at the beginning of the exam, so that they have an idea of what is easier and what may be more complicated. This will help you mentally split up the test into easier to manage parts as you work to beat the clock.

If you find that the time is almost up and you still have unanswered questions, never leave any blank. Always try to have an answer for something so that even if you are unsure, you have a chance to score points.

By some miracle you're so prepared you finish everything​ way before the time, stay to double check, triple check and quadruple check all the questions and your answers.

Summary

  • Keep an eye on the time
  • Look through the entire exam paper first to see what you can answer
  • NEVER leave a blank answer
  • If you do finish the test or exam within the amount of time, don't leave. Go back and double/triple/quadruple check to see if you answered all questions correctly.

10. Practice Breathing Techniques

Meditative techniques are helpful during a test and in the preparation period. You should focus on breathing techniques. Additionally, breathing slowly and deeply and slow down a racing heart or mind during studying and especially while you are taking your exam.

Your anxiety will significantly subside when you turn your focus to your breathing and will dramatically improve your stress levels and response to anxiety.

Anxiety and stress are a normal part of life or all students. Knowing how to manage these stressors will really separate the students that do well from the stress-ridden students that are weighed down by their fears.

As you work to get a handle on all of this, remember that it’s really all about what’s in your head. Do your best to prepare, study right and keep your mind focused and positive as your test approaches. Staying confident and calm during your exam will ensure you are in the best position to do well on your test.

Summary

  • When anxiety rises, take deep breaths. Breathe out slowly
  • Everyone has test anxiety
  • It's all about the preparation work. The more prepared you are, the more confident you'll be, the faster test anxiety will disappear.
Sarah A