Strategies for Preventing and Controlling Test Anxiety

  • Be prepared. A primary cause of test anxiety is not knowing the material. If you take efffective notes and review them regularly, this stressor should be greatly reduced if not eliminated. You should be confident going into your exam (but not overconfident).
  • Practice! One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to take practice tests. To overcome test-taking anxiety, practice test-taking in a test-like environment, like a study room in the library. Practice staying calm, relaxed and confident. 
  • Avoid negative thoughts. Your own negative thoughts—“I’ll never pass this exam” or “I can’t figure this out, I must be really stupid!”—may move you into a spiraling stress cycle that in itself causes enough anxiety to block your best efforts. When you feel you are brewing a storm of negative thoughts, stop what you are doing and clear your mind. Allow yourself to daydream a little; visualize yourself in pleasant surroundings with good friends. Don’t go back to work until you feel the tension release. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath and say to yourself “STOP!” and then proceed with clearing your mind. Once your mind is clear, repeat a reasonable affirmation to yourself—“I know this stuff”—before continuing your work.
  • Visualize success. Picture what it will feel like to get that A. Translate that vision into specific, reasonable goals and work toward each individual goal. Take one step at a time and reward yourself for each goal you complete.
  • It’s all about you! Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to other students in the class, especially during the exam. Keep focused on your own work and your own plan. Exams are not a race, so it doesn’t matter who turns in their paper first. A thought like “Kristen is already done, she must have aced it, I wish I had her skills” is counterproductive and will only cause additional anxiety.
  • Have a plan and follow it. As soon as you know that an exam is coming, you can develop a plan for studying. Don’t wait to cram for an exam at the last minute; the pressure you put on yourself and the late night will cause more anxiety, and you won’t learn or retain much.
  • Chill! You perform best when you are relaxed, so learn some relaxation exercises you can use during an exam. Before you begin your work, take a moment to listen to your body. Which muscles are tense? Move them slowly to relax them. Tense them and relax them. Exhale, then continue to exhale for a few more seconds until you feel that your lungs are empty. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your ribcage expand as you do. This will help oxygenate your blood and reenergize your mind.
  • Come early and prepared. Come to the exam with everything you need like your pencils, erasers, calculator, etc. Arrive to class early so you aren’t worried about time. Try to avoid the pre-exam chatter of your classmates, as this may contribute to your anxiety. Instead, pick your favorite chair and focus on relaxing.
  • Health and wellness cannot be overstated as factors in test anxiety. Studying and preparing for exams can be easier when you take care of your mental and physical health. The following are a few tips for better health, better focus, and better grades:
    • Try mini-meditation to reduce stress and improve focus. Breathe in deeply, count to five, and exhale slowly. Watch your lower abdomen expand and deflate. Repeat five times.
    • Get sleep! Although some students may stay up until 4 A.M. studying, it’s not a healthy habit and is usually counter-productive. Your mind is more efficient when you get enough quality sleep, so make sure to schedule enough time for rest. If you practice a good study schedule, there is no need for all-night cramming. Stick to your study plan, review for about an hour, and get a good night’s sleep.
    • Eat well.  Have a healthy meal before your exam. Avoid energy drinks that will give you a temporary energy spurt, followed by a crash.  Stay hydrated.
    • Don’t try to be perfect. You’ll alleviate a lot of anxiety by learning that just “doing your best” is something to be proud of—it doesn’t have to be perfect.
    • Reach out for help. If you feel you need assistance with your mental or physical health, talk to a counselor or visit a doctor.

The above test anxiety material is licensed CC BY-SA and was adopted and revised from previously shared Creative Commons licensed material.