How to Overcome 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. Before a test, anyone can feel a bit anxious.

If you experience serious test anxiety, you may have physical symptoms such as a headache, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and light-headedness. You could even have a panic attack, during which you may feel like it's hard to breathe or you may think you're having a heart attack. 

Feelings of anger, fear, and helplessness are other symptoms of test anxiety, as are thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others. If you experience test anxiety, there are a number of coping strategies that you can employ. Below are 10 tips to help you cope.


Prepare Well

Preparing for exams can help reduce test anxiety.

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Ensuring that you are well-prepared for a test can put your mind at ease and help get rid of the anxiety you may feel when test day arrives.

Cramming for a test or exam will only increase your anxiety.

Instead, follow this routine to give yourself the best chance at learning all the material well:

  • Ask friends who study regularly for advice.
  • Find a study skills tutor.
  • Join a study group.
  • Read books about study skills.

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.

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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.

Don't Tell Yourself
  • "I should have studied more."

  • "I must be stupid."

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

Do Tell Yourself
  • "I am prepared for this test." 

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

  • "I am smart enough to do well."


Visualize Success

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 make it happen in real life.


Use Relaxation Strategies

Use deep breathing for self-help.

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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.

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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. On 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.

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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 along a magazine or other diversion to keep your mind occupied. Avoid interacting with people who are anxious before a test.


Focus During the Test

Taking a Test

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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.

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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 becomes a problem.


Expect Setbacks

Don't let test anxiety stop you from pursuing your goals.

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If you have a bad experience and get a grade that's lower than you were expecting, remind yourself 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

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Plan a reward for yourself after the test. Take some time to relax and clear your mind. Don't 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.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zwettler C, Reiss N, Rohrmann S, Warnecke I, Luka-Kausgrill U, Van Dick R. The relation between social identity and test anxiety in university students. Health Psychol Open. 2018;5(2):2055102918785415. doi:10.1177/2055102918785415

  2. Von der Embse N, Jester D, Roy D, Post J. Test anxiety effects, predictors, and correlates: A 30-year meta-analytic review. J Affect Disord. 2018;227:483-493. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2017.11.048

Additional Reading
  • Test Anxiety. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.