Reducing Test Anxiety

Learn to be an effective learner

  • Careful preparation can minimize anxiety. Procrastination often leads to increased anxiety. Take some time to learn effective study skills early in your college career, but give yourself permission to ask for help with study skills at any point. The Student Academic Support Center (located in the lower level of Preus Library) is a good resource.
  • Avoid cramming, which is an ineffective way to study. Getting a good night’s sleep and adequate nutrition are often a better use of your time.
  • Utilize self-testing to review for a test. Generate questions from your texts and notes.
  • Learn to be an active learner, learn for comprehension rather than to take a test. 
  • Focus on key words, concepts, and examples; make charts and outlines to organize the information in your notes and texts.
  • Study effectively, with regular breaks and repetition. Find a place for study where distractions will be minimized.
  • Caffeine, lack of sleep, and junk food do not contribute to learning or to anxiety management.

The day of the test

  • Think realistically about the test and your preparation. It is not a reflection of who you are, and generally will not make or break you.  If you did not prepare well, decide to do the best you can. If you prepared carefully, affirm yourself for your work.
  • Eat in a healthy way.
  • Relax in the time right before the test. This is generally more helpful than cramming. Take some time to be sure you have everything you need for the test.
  • Arrive at the classroom soon enough to choose a seat, but save your spot and leave to relax, stretch, and calm yourself; entering again no more than 5 minutes before the test. 
  • Avoid classmates who frighten, stress, or scare you before the test.
  • Bring a distraction with you, such as a magazine or a newspaper.
  • Focus on what you must do rather than on your fear.
  • See your anxiety as a reminder not to panic, but to focus on the task at hand.
  • Use intentional relaxation techniques to minimize tension and anxiety.

During the test

  • Listen carefully to instructions. 
  • Review the overall test to orient yourself, and plan how to manage your time.
  • Read all the instructions carefully, watching for small but important words such as “or”, “”and”, “choose two”, etc.
  • Observe the point value of the questions to help organize your time.
  • Complete the questions in an order that feels most comfortable to you.
  • Remind yourself to relax. If you are stuck, move to another question.
  • If the test is hard for you, it is likely hard for others. Remind yourself of this.
  • Focus on the test rather than on your fear. 
  • Check for incomplete work or careless errors before turning the test in.

Additional tips

  • Ask the professor for clarification if necessary.
  • Don’t focus on others during the exam, focus on the exam.
  • Keep breathing, as deeply and calmly as possible.
  • Take a moment to tense and relax your muscles, then go back to the test.
  • Break your pencil lead, and go sharpen it, or go get a drink or to the restroom if you need to move around.
  • Close your eyes and talk to yourself as you would to your best friend in this situation.

If you feel overwhelmed

  • Pause, take some cleansing breaths, tighten and release some muscles and take a moment to relax your body.
  • Expect your fear to rise some as you address the test; remind yourself this is normal.
  • Work to talk yourself out of the incapacitating parts of your fear. Remind yourself it is simply anxiety, others are experiencing it, it is not the end of the world and you can get through the exam.
  • Repeat your coping strategies until you can go back to the exam.

After the test

  • Analyze what went well and what you could have done better.
  • Keep track of the coping strategies that worked well, and continue to practice them.
  • Make a plan for preparing for your next test by including what you learned about test taking from this experience.