Overcoming Test Anxiety

Ten Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety in which fear of failure contributes to symptoms that interfere with your ability to perform well in an exam situation.

If you suffer from test anxiety, there are a number of coping strategies that you can employ. Below are ten tips to help you cope.


Prepare Well

Preparing for exams can help reduce test anxiety.
Prepare well to reduce test anxiety. Getty / E+ / franckreporter

First, make sure that you are adequately prepared. Cramming for a test or exam will only increase anxiety, so give yourself enough time to learn material well.

  • ask friends who study regularly for advice
  • join a study group
  • read books about study skills
  • find a study skills tutor

Finally, learn all you can about the test or exam in advance. Knowing the types of questions and whether they are multiple choice or essay can help ensure that there will be no last-minute surprises.


Watch Self-Talk

Talking badly to yourself can worsen test anxiety.
Negative self-talk makes test anxiety worse. Getty / Jamie Grill

When performance suffers because of test anxiety, it can be easy to fall into a downward spiral of negative thinking. Watch what you are telling yourself and replace any negative thoughts with positive ones.

Consider how rational your thoughts are and whether there are better things you could say to yourself.

Thoughts such as the following are not helpful: 

I should have studied more.

I must be stupid.

I have to do well, everything is on the line. 

Tell yourself, "STOP" and come up with alternatives: 

I am prepared for this test. 

I am smart enough to do well.

Even if I don't do well, it's not the end of the world.


Visualize Success

Success can be visualized to reduce test anxiety.
Visualize success before taking a test. Getty / Blend Images / JGI Jamie Grill

Elite athletes visualize themselves succeeding in competition. You can do the same to overcome test anxiety.

While studying, imagine yourself feeling confident and clearheaded in the exam. Visualizing yourself doing well on the test can help you to make it happen in real life.


Relaxation Strategies

Use deep breathing for self-help.
Deep breathing is a self-help strategy. Getty / Cultura / Sean Malyon

Make use of relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and guided imagery. Use these strategies in the weeks leading up to a test, and during the testing situation as needed.


Stay Healthy

Exercise such as yoga may reduce anxiety.
Yoga can help to reduce anxiety. Getty / Hero Images

When faced with multiple tests or exams, you might start to neglect your physical health. Don't fall into this trap!

Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are all important components of a lifestyle that will keep stress at a minimum.

The day of a test, be sure to eat an adequate breakfast and avoid excess caffeine as this will only contribute to anxiety.


Arrive Early

Be early for your exam to reduce anxiety.
Arrive early to reduce test anxiety. Getty / E+ / Michael Crinke

Nothing will heighten anxiety like the feeling of rushing to get to a test. Arrive at least 10 minutes early. If waiting for the test to begin makes you nervous, bring a magazine or other diversion along to keep your mind occupied. Avoid people who are anxious before a test.


Focus During the Test

Maintain focus during a test.
Reduce test anxiety by asking a question. Getty / OJO Images / Wealan Pollard

During the test, do everything you can to maintain focus. If you find yourself becoming anxious, stop and regroup. Sharpen your pencil, ask a question or focus on taking deep breaths.

Remember to take your time but check your watch to pace yourself. Before starting the test, do a quick review and read directions twice. Start with the easiest questions first.


Accept a Little Anxiety

Accept that you will have some test anxiety.
Some text anxiety is normal. Getty / E+ / azsoslumakarna

Recognize that a little bit of anxiety before a test is a good thing. If you did not feel nervous at all, you might not be motivated to do your best. It is only when anxiety becomes unmanageable that it is a problem.


Expect Setbacks

Don't let test anxiety stop you from pursuing your goals.
Sometimes test anxiety will get the better of you. Getty / The Image Bank / Peter Cade

If you have a bad experience and get a grade that's lower than you were expecting, realize that there will always be roadblocks along the way. Plan for a better experience next time and know that one bad test result does not mean that you can't improve in the future.


Reward Yourself

Reward yourself for facing your test anxiety.
Use a reward as motivation to complete a test. Getty / Halfdark

Plan a reward for yourself after the test. Take some time to relax and clear your mind. Do not dwell on mistakes you may have made or worry about how you did. Whenever possible, give yourself a break before starting to study for another test.

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Article Sources

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Test Anxiety.

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