A 2010 study found that anywhere from 10% to 40% of students suffer from test anxiety. Considering that test anxiety can affect practically any student from kindergartners to PhD’s, and that there may be roughly 76 million total students in the US alone in 2021 (source) who will have to take tests, that’s millions of students suffering from significant anxiety even at the lowest estimates.
How, then, can students overcome their test anxiety?
This article is intended to answer that very question by compiling comments, tips, stories and advice from all kinds of students and educators. Here is the simple query we put out:
What advice can you share to students who are struggling with test anxiety? All comments welcome.
Of the 71 responses we received (I’ve published just a fraction of them here), many were from college staff, active students, tutors and more. I strongly recommend having a read through these! Not every suggestion may resonate with you, but I’m sure at least 1 or 2 points people have made will be easily actionable and have a significant effect on your anxiety levels before tests.
Also, for comments on dealing with anxiety in general (not just test anxiety), see our earlier piece on how to deal with anxiety.
I specialize in anxiety in my practice, and many of my clients are high school or college age students.
1. Uncover what you are telling yourself. Our thoughts cause our emotions. Therefore if thinking about or looking at a test creates feelings of anxiety, the first thing to do is to uncover exactly what thoughts are causing the anxiety. I have found that test anxiety is often caused by one of two thoughts, either I don't have time or I can't do it.
2. Thoroughly prepare. This combats the thought I can't do it. If you are 100% prepared when you go into the test, it is more difficult to say I can't do it.
3. When you get the test in hand, do not look at every question before you begin to answer. Instead look at one question at a time. Use a blank paper to cover the other questions if needed. This action cuts down on both thoughts that tend to create anxiety in test situations.
4. Mindfulness to let go of the thoughts causing the anxiety is the long term fix. If you can let go of the thoughts creating the anxiety, then the anxiety has less affect on you and your test taking.
--Kathryn Ely, Empowerly College Counseling
Test anxiety, regardless of intensity, can be readily addressed in individual therapy (often in only a few sessions). Therapy can help the student increase their self-esteem and learn strategies for changing their anxious thoughts (e.g., this test will be too difficult and I'm going to fail) into actionable plans (e.g., I know this test will be on three chapters of the textbook, so I will study one chapter each night by reviewing my notes and making flashcards for key terms. I may not get every test question correct, and that's okay, but I know I will be well-prepared if I follow this plan). What is more, therapy can also help the student learn new skills to help them manage their anxiety during testing, such as learning deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.
Individuals dealing with academic anxiety can also feel uncomfortable in social situations, such as in the classroom, which can make learning more difficult. This anxiety can cause the student to avoid asking the questions in class they need answered to better understand the material. Understandably, a poorer understanding of the material will intensify test anxiety. Taking advantage of professors' office hours can remove some of the pressure of needing to ask questions during class time and allow for a better understanding of what will be on the test, thus allowing the student to approach the test with more confidence.
--Dr. Adam P. Natoli, Ph.D., APNatoli.com
I think the anxiety comes from the fear of not meeting expectations (of parents, teachers, etc.) and our unfortunate tendency to compare ourselves to others (especially to siblings and close friends). The best way to overcome this is to really tell ourselves that doing badly or failing a test is not the end of the world. It just means there are things we haven't learned well enough yet and we're not perfect (no one is!). This is easier said than done, so this reassurance also has to come from educators and parents. The fact is, everyone fails at something, but we can still do better the next time and there will be other opportunities to get better results.
I know studies have shown that people tend to remember the answers to questions they did not get right the first time and often forget the questions they answered correctly - I believe it's called the Hypercorrection Effect. This means that students should do practice tests with their friends or classmates before they take actual tests. I know it worked for me and my school mates when I had to prepare for a 600-item national board examination. It worked for students whom I tested in my previous work in an international school. As with every other life skill, practice makes perfect, and overconfidence is the enemy. If you can't answer those questions during the practice test, I can almost guarantee you will remember them more and can easily answer them if they come up during the test.
--Deidree R. Dino, MSc, PGCM, Webster Vienna Private University
I also have quite a few tips that are geared more towards high stakes standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. Here are some of those that would be relevant to any type of test:
1. Breathe, just breathe. Take a few deep breaths before the start of the test. Breathe in deeply through your nose and count to 4. Hold your breath for 4. Exhale through your mouth for another count of 4.
2. Be aware of your body. We often hold stress by clenching our jaw or shrugging our shoulders. Be aware when you sit down for the test. If you are clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, release that tension. Are you shrugging your shoulders? Relax your shoulders and sit with good posture. That quick body check can help you get grounded where you are instead of letting your mind wander to the test ahead.
3. Skip questions that are difficult until you get your stride. Nothing can kill confidence like getting a question that you aren’t sure of as your first question. If you don’t know it, skip it and come back.. If the first reading passage looks particularly challenging (maybe you read the description and it’s from the 1800’s), skip it and come back to it after you have completed a passage that is easier for you. This way, you can get your confidence before tackling the more challenging questions.
1. Take care of yourself leading up to the test—eat well, get 8+ hours of sleep, exercise, etc. Your physical and mental health are closely tied together. When you know you have a big test coming up, be sure to get good sleep the week leading up to the test. Eat well the night before and the morning of the test. Do activities that help you relax like yoga, exercise, playing music, etc.
2. Take the night off. On a standardized test, you really are not going to change your score by any appreciable amount by cramming the night before. Take the night off to get a good night’s sleep and relax.
1. Don’t compare. One thing that causes a lot of stress is feeling like we aren’t measuring up to our peers. Don’t ask your friends about their scores. If you are feeling stressed, don’t even look up average scores at various colleges. Try to let go of everything you hear about how competitive getting into college can be. Just walk in ready to do YOUR personal best.
2. Maintain a positive mindset. As with above, try not to go down the spiral of talking to people that say how hard the test is or how miserable of a day it was. Nothing good comes from thinking about a painful a task will be. While it won’t be the most fun you’ve ever had on a Saturday, remind yourself that you are prepared and it will be over in 4 hours. You can handle anything for 4 hours, right? Save the commiserating with friends for after the test.
3. Be aware of your self-talk. When those negative thoughts start creeping in—you know the ones that say “I’m not able to do this”, “I’m bad at test-taking”, etc—hold them up to the light. Ask yourself, “Is it true? How do I know it is true? Has there been a time when it wasn’t true?” Very likely, you can come up with a time where that particular thought was not true. Focus on changing those thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. You have prepared and you are ready for this test.
4. Visualize your success. Along with positive self-talk, visualize your success. Picture yourself in the testing situation. What will it feel like to be confident that you know the answers to the questions? What will it be like to hit your goal score?
--Amanda Medders Paldao, Tri-Ed Tutoring
We recommend a wide range of modalities to combat test anxiety based on student symptoms - - mental, physical, emotional, etc. The following are a sample of tools to help students feel calm, focused, proactive, compassionate, and present. Results are fairly immediate, and they set the participants on a journey of self-care and personal discovery. Used in conjunction with progressive relaxation or other meditation techniques, any harried student can handle all the stresses coming their way.
The following are a few exercises that I do in my practice to help students. While most of my work is done with individuals, I have been offering these tools to groups through my company and through various organizations.
1) Heart Breathing
Breathe. Breathe Deep. .... Ahhhhh….
There are many approaches to help you reach a state of calm control. The following is an adaptation of Heart Math’s practices. It is an easy and powerful technique to help one experience emotional regulation and return to center. Students will feel more relaxed and in control, empowered and focused. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Heart Focus. Focus your attention on the area around your heart, the area in the center of your chest. If you prefer, the first couple of times you try it, place your hand over your heart and if it's helpful, your other hand on the belly for grounding and a kind of heart-body connection, and to help focus attention in the heart area.
Step 2: Heart Breathing. Breathe deeply but normally. You may feel as if your breath is coming in and going out through your heart area. Imagine it is. As you inhale, feel as if your breath is flowing in through the heart, and as you exhale, feel it leaving through this area. Breathe slowly and casually, a little deeper than normal. Continue breathing with ease until you find a natural inner rhythm that feels good to you. You may feel a shift here.
Step 3: Heart Feeling. As you maintain your heart focus and heart breathing, activate a positive feeling. Recall a positive feeling, a time when you felt good inside, and take a moment to re-experience the feeling. One of the easiest ways to generate a positive, heart-based feeling is to remember a special place you’ve been to or the love you feel for a close friend or family member or treasured pet. It can be anything. This is the most important step.
2) SOUND THERAPY – Many of us have a go-to song or music genre we beeline to when we have the feels. Music is a powerful way to gain access to desired states and to shed the ones we don’t want. Creating personal playlists are one way to identify and create your own experience – so what music makes you feel calm and empowered? We created an audio, Relax and Focus, that includes binaural beats and ocean waves. Students use when they want to feel more 'relaxed and focused.’ The sounds and ‘sound waves’ help to transport the listeners. We recommend that this track be used during study or while doing homework. When the mind wanders off, as it very well might, to return back to the wound of waves.
3) TAPPING or Emotional Freedom Technique/EFT
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) treats emotional distress by tapping on meridian points. It's also referred to as psychological acupressure. Along with tapping you engage in 'reframing' which is the ability to see one’s situation with a different perspective, and affirmation of being 'separate' from the trigger or pain point. It will help regulate the student’s emotion - - whether the student is nervous about the test’s importance, they feel insecure about certain topics, or simply don’t feel comfortable taking tests - - this technique can help.
Once the intensity of the test-anxiety is diffused, we recommend tapping once a day to check-in as well as when emotions are hooks that need to be cleared. If a student feels 'clear', they don't need to tap. But checking in with themselves is KEY.
--Bara Sapir, MA, CHt, CNLP, MBSR-T, City Test Prep
There are a number of tips I can give to students who are struggling with test anxiety, but the most effective means by far of reducing exam-induced anxiety is to do something calming right before you take the test. This can be 15 minutes of yoga, reading a chapter from a good novel, coloring a mandala or doodling, or just listening to a podcast. Do not try to cram material in those final 20-30 minutes right before the exam. Your brain will not retain any of that last second material, and you will only freak yourself out as you realize you haven't memorized every fact or concept. Instead, use that time to get your mind in a good place. Then carry that level of calm into the exam by repeating the affirmation I've got this. I'm ready, and I'm going to nail this test.
--John Ross, Test Prep Insight
The best-suggested way to overcome test anxiety is to keep the test in perspective. Many students ‘catastrophize’ exams—they build up the importance of their mark on the exam and worry extremely. It’s good to take grades seriously, but worrying too much can actually limit your ability to perform. You won’t be able to focus on the material because you are so fixated on not getting anything wrong.
Understanding that a test won’t make or crack a final grade can be a powerful way to manage exam anxiety. Sit down and remind yourself that it’s unrealistic to be perfect on every test or homework—what’s important is that he or she is putting his or her best effort into it.
--Maria Godwin, Best Reviews UK
I'm 25 years old and I graduated with my master's degree in 2019. I've been studying in 4 different educational institutions in 4 different countries. I have to say that the tests were held in very different ways so, every time it was a new struggle. I'm usually nervous and anxious when it comes to a test or exam. I may know the material and be confident in my knowledge, however, there's always something that scares me. As a result, I can forget some simple things, which eventually can affect my grade.
My experience told me I need to overcome any factors so, I started to look for solutions. I've read different articles, asked my colleagues how they are dealing with things, etc. I've tried many things. I came up with the following solutions:
Talk to someone who has the best knowledge of the subject matter. It allows you to get deeper into the subject, understand certain things from a different perspective, share your point of view, and remember the material. I never felt so confident in writing the answer to some test questions after discussing them with my colleagues.
Second, get a good sleep before the test. Don't rely on coffee, water, or food only. It gives you energy, but not the rest that you actually needed. If you don't sleep well, even meditation won't help you.
Third, create a routine that enhances your learning spirit. You can see that based on past tests. See what happened to annoy you on the test day before and try to avoid that on your next test. In other words, find the elements in your life that affects your learning habits and eliminate them.
--Cristina Moraru, MEDIA TRAINING LTD
I think the main reason for test anxiety is the lack of proper learning in a systematic way. In the exam days we fear about what will happen if I forget the things and can not write anything on my answer sheet! But what if you do not forget anything that you have read? Then there will be no fear, right? I am not joking. It's possible if you follow my advice.
Let's come to the point. You have to read the things and have to learn the concepts in a systematic manner. If you think that I will not read and will get good marks then it's not possible. We know practice makes a man perfect.
A diary or a calendar is required if you want to follow my advice. If you study a chapter today, you have to revise it tomorrow, 7 days after that and 30 days after that. That's all. You will remember the whole thing for lifetime. You will never forget this.
It's unbelievable, right? But it's true. Many students are following this rule and getting tremendous success in their fields. If you don't belief this, you can try this for one month and see the results! I belief you will definitely follow this routine thereafter.
--Nirmalya Maity, Sit Comfortably
Chronic anxiety was a big part of my life and I can honestly say that anxiety controlled me for a good 20 years. As a highly conscientious student and a perfectionist addict, I struggled with test anxiety a lot, especially at University.
I would often find myself going through a panic attack or an anxiety attack right before an exam even though I was well prepared and one of the top students.
I have worked hard since then to overcome my anxiety, which I successfully did through changes in lifestyle and mindset.
The best advice I can give to anyone struggling with test anxiety is as follows.
1.Do Your Best
Make sure you do your best to study as much as you can in the time given. If you are unprepared or if you're aware that you’ve not done your best, this is likely to result in guilt which is a big anxiety trigger.
2.Boost Physical Wellness
You need your physical strength during examination time, so make sure you eat healthily, exercise for at least 30 minutes daily, drink plenty of water, get some fresh air each day and sleep for 8 hours at night. As it happens these healthy habits are also a great way of managing anxiety and can help you reduce or even eliminate test anxiety. I wish that someone had told me this years ago.
Meal examples: Introduce oatmeal with fruit/berries and seeds in the morning and load up on vegetables and whole grains at lunchtime. These foods are some of the best anti-anxiety foods but they are also rich in complex carbohydrates which will give you a slow and stable release of energy helping you to stay fuller for longer and calmer.
Exercise examples: If you are not motivated to do any exercise, then make sure you at least go for a 30 minutes’ walk daily. Walking is one of the best anxiety relief tips - the fresh air and the movement can help you shake off some of that test anxiety buildup!
Sleep tip: Preferably go to bed by 22:00 hours. According to Ayurvedic medicine, our body rejuvenates from 10 pm to 2 am. Better sleep means less anxiety.
Avoid junk foods, sugary foods, processed meals, caffeine, and soda as these are some of the worst anxiety trigger foods.
3.Repeat Positive Affirmations
Stand in front of the mirror and repeat out loud as many times as you can
“I am doing my best every day, and I am successful”.
This is incredibly effective because test anxiety is coupled with negative thought patterns - such as “I can’t do this”, “I am not ready”, “I am not prepared”, and “I am going to fail” - which can cause anxiety or make it worse.
In order to feel less anxious, you need to work on replacing negative thoughts with more anti-anxiety phrases. Repeating positive affirmations is one of the most practical ways to do that.
--Sandra Glavan, Amosuir
Being an Optometrist I have taken my fair share of tests.
I used to struggle with anxiety when taking tests, especially in graaduate school.
What sparked my anxiety were the assumptions I made about the consequences of a lower than expected test score.
To fix this, I moved the 2 levers I could control.
First of all, I was making assumptions and predictions looking through the lens of fear.
Not knowing what the future holds but assuming a negative outcome.
Switching the lens to one of faith helped a ton!
Not knowing what the future holds but assuming a positive outcome.
This shift in perspective helped a ton!
I then bumped into a simple formula which was an eye opener for me, ER = E-P.
Emotional response = Expectations - Perception
This inspired me to pull the second lever I had control over which was my expectations.
Lowering my expectations paired with a change in perspective was my secret sauce to overcome my feelings of anxiety.
--Jay Cavanaugh, TheVibeMindset
I think students should be taking sufficient sleep because it is important to both their physical and mental health. Students can execute every sort of mental and physical health strategy to perfection, but if they are not getting enough sleep they will never do their best in exams. Proper sleep has a massive positive impact on an entire host of physical and mental aspects of a student's health, including emotion regulation, cognitive thinking, decision making, attention, memory, and it additionally performs a great role in protecting the immune system.
--Sylvia Manman Kang, Mira
My biggest piece of advice for students who are struggling with test anxiety is to study and take practice tests in an environment that is a similar to the test-taking environment as possible. For example, if you are taking classes from home this semester, and your household always tends to be on the louder side, get used to studying and taking practice tests under the same or similar circumstances so you are prepared to handle those distractions. This can help immensely with helping both your brain and your body get acclimated to the sights and sounds that you might come across as you’re taking the actual exam, so you will be able to stay completely focused on the exam in front of you!
Another ritual that I found to be helpful during my time in school was to establish a pre-test routine. The night before any test, I would go through all of the concepts on my study guide, run through the terms on my Quizlet/flashcards, drink plenty of water, and get a good night’s rest. The final part of my ritual was reminding myself that I have studied hard, and as long as I had adequately prepared myself, I have done the best that I can! This ritual will definitely look different for each student, but some other pre-test routine suggestions include a short meditation, cooking a healthy meal, or even exercising to release some endorphins.
--Ayden Berkey, Access Scholarships
One of the best ways to overcome test anxiety is to study well so that you will feel confident in your preparation for the test. It is best to begin preparing for a test several days in advance, rather than waiting until the night before to study. This will give you plenty of time to review all the material without feeling rushed. Creating a study schedule will help you stay organized. Strategies like making flashcards or taking practice tests will help you know what material you have mastered so that you can focus your review on the topics you need to study the most.
It also helps to make sure that you do everything you can to prepare your body for test day. It's important to make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before, and eat a good breakfast and drink plenty of water before the test. You might even consider bringing a water bottle to the test to make sure that you can stay hydrated. Many professional musicians say that eating a banana before performing helps them relax; the potassium in a banana may be helpful to ease nerves for test-takers too.
During the test, you can practice relaxation techniques to help you stay calm. At the beginning of the test, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine yourself doing well on the test. Imagine knowing the answers and completing the test with ease as your studying pays off. Then, as you feel anxiety returning during the test, take a moment to stop and take a deep breath to relax again. Consider completing all the easy questions first, and saving the most difficult problems for the end. This strategy will help you build confidence as you see how many easy problems you are able to complete. This confidence will help you as you tackle the most difficult questions at the end of the test.
--Sarah Miller, Homeschooling 4 Him
1) Believe you're in complete control. When you sit down for that test or you're preparing for that one final you just dread, you HAVE to internalize the notion that YOU ARE IN COMPLETE CONTROL. I know it sounds easier than done but you have to keep saying it out loud again and again until your brain actually believes it or becomes tricked enough to believe it. Now no matter how well or bad you study, when the test/final date comes, you know internally that you have actually done all that you can. And this leads me to my second point.
2) Do your best and leave the rest to the almighty. I remember I had this one math final and I was terrible at math. I complained to my dad about how this just isn't possible to succeed in and I might actually fail. Then he told me an anecdote about one of his college instructors who told him in the first class, I want you all to do your best and leave the rest to the almighty. This gives you a sense of comfort and helps you tackle your anxiety from a whole different perspective.
3) Don't be too concerned about others. Even if your test is relatively graded, worrying about what others are doing shouldn't affect what you're doing. I know it's easier said than done but you have to constantly tell yourself that the only person you should be competing against is yourself. Only attempt to outdo yourself in every scenario.
4) Focus on the long term. One test or a final will not determine your future. Even if it's a graduate admission test, even if you don't do well, it's not going to be the end of your life. If a single piece of paper, decided all of our lives, we all would have been screwed a long time ago.
--Scott Hasting, Betworth
As someone who has struggled with test anxiety myself, even as a graduate student, my best advice I can share with students struggling with test anxiety are:
1. Overcoming test anxiety starts with overcoming procrastination.
Students may experience more test anxiety if they are simply unprepared for the test.
Instead of waiting the day before to study for a big test, try to spread out your studying in small chunks of time about a week before the test.
I find that the Pomodoro Technique is a wonderful time management strategy for students who struggle with procrastination.
By using the Pomodoro Technique, you make the act of studying less daunting and highly focused.
By spreading out your studying more, you are allowing yourself to process your test material more thoroughly and deeper than someone who crams the night before.
2. When you receive the test, don't start reading the questions or problems. Instead, give yourself 2-5 minutes to write down everything you know.
The worst feeling, when taking a test, is that drawing a blank moment.
It's the feeling where everything you studied somehow slips out of your brain and you have a moment of panic.
Usually this drawing a blank moment happens when you are reading a question on a test.
So, instead of starting your test by reading the first question or problem, flip your paper over (granted that you can write on your test) and write down everything you know about the test materials.
You can write down formulas, steps for solving problems, important dates, definitions, examples that helped you remember a concept, etc.
Then once you have brain dumped all of your knowledge, you can start reading and answering problems or questions.
Then if you draw a blank in the middle of the test, you can flip your paper over and look at your reference guide you made yourself on the back of the test.
3. Don't get bogged down on questions you can't figure out at first.
If you come across a question that is giving you serious anxiety, don't waste your time on it.
The clock is always ticking down during a test and time is so valuable.
So rather than spend more minutes on a question you're panicked about, answer it or give it your best shot in two-minutes or less and then move on to other questions on the test.
It is better to answer all the questions on a test, than lose valuable points on questions you did not answer.
4. Try to cancel out any noises in the classroom.
When taking a test in college, I always found myself panicking when I heard other students walking up to the front of the class to turn in their test or hearing students zipping up their bags to leave class after the test.
If this happens to you, don't panic or feel bad that you are taking longer on the test than most.
Your teacher or professor is in charge of how long you are allowed to take the test, not the students who finished faster than you.
Try to tune out their noise and focus on your own exam.
If it helps, try asking your professor or teacher to announce how many minutes are left on the test every 30-minutes or so.
As simple as it sounds, breathing can be a great way to manage your test anxiety.
My test anxiety makes me shake and my heart race.
If I feel these physical symptoms of test anxiety, I pause for a few seconds and take a few deep breaths to calm my nerves.
You can even try boxed breathing, where you inhale for a few seconds, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale.
--Juliet Meiling, julietmeiling.com
Firstly, I would advise all students taking exams to be prepared and have a plan. I don’t mean a study plan -- that has either happened or not happened by the time you’re getting anxious about taking the actual test -- I mean a plan for the day of the exam. Know when you’ll get up, what you’ll have for breakfast (something that gives you energy but won’t make you tired or be hard to digest), how you’ll get to the test center or to school, and what the exam will look like.
If you can, track down old/practice exam papers. You should be able to ask your teacher or professor for these. Familiarise yourself with their layout, and the style the questions are asked in. Of course, writing practice essays or completing practice papers is wonderful, but if you find yourself short on time then at least get yourself comfortable with what the paper is likely to look like.
I can’t tell you how many students misread questions or write irrelevant answers because they’re panicking. Don’t be one of them! Plus, I’ve certainly opened an exam and just stared at it in shock for fifteen minutes before starting because it wasn’t what I expected!
This might sound silly, but I find self-talk or a mantra also helps. As you get close to the exam and when you’re in the exam itself you can tell yourself something like ‘I’ve done all the work, now I just need to write the answers’, or ‘there’s nothing I can do now except try my best’. Taking a moment to breath and talk yourself down can do wonders in an exam.
Finally, don’t do anything new or wild on exam day! I know I work for a coffee blog, but if you don’t normally drink coffee don’t have a double espresso before you sit a test. You’ll be anxious, feel sick, be unable to concentrate. The same goes for all sorts of coping devices or study aids. If you haven’t practiced it, don’t bring it in on test day!
--Lotte Mitchell Reford, Brew Smartly
First, come prepared- sounds cliché, but doing your part as a student by studying before an exam is a confidence booster, and that confidence will help you deal with anxiety knowing that you have the tools to ace the test, like a well prepared and well trained athlete you’re more than ready to earn that gold.
Second, eat and sleep well - being well rested, and having a full stomach are also those little things that you need to check on the list, because you need to energize not just your mind but your body as well.
Lastly, have a positive mindset. When you already followed the first 2 steps all you need to do is to believe in yourself, and be positive. Visualize success in your head, and make sure to reward yourself for doing the necessary steps to ace the test.
--Michelle Lachman, M.S., CCC-SLP, BetterSpeech
As a meditation teacher I have helped many students to relax their minds and to overcome anxiety by meditating. More than this, because meditation also offers significant cognitive improvements, I have also helped students to improve their grades by meditating.
Meditation is known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to produce feelings of calmness and to quell anxiety. The best meditations for this are basic breathing meditations such as Anapanasati (mindful breathing), which relaxes the mind. On top of this, students might also like to use meditation to help them focus on their studies. Research shows that Samatha meditation (meditating on an object with the intent of becoming one with it) can significantly improve concentration, which helps with studies.
In fact, because of the significant benefits that meditation offers students, many schools and colleges are starting to introduce mindfulness and meditation for their students.
--Paul Harrison, TheDailyMeditation.com
I recommend three simple steps to overcoming test anxiety (and as a bonus, these steps also help with social anxiety or anxiety before the big game or anxiety to meet your boyfriend’s parents. They also work if you aren’t even a student. I know because I use them all myself.)
Step 1 is to remember that anxiety is normal. Feeling anxious before a test DOES NOT mean something is wrong with you. In fact, it means your body and brain are working exactly in the way they are designed to work. Just remember that test anxiety is no different than any other kind of anxiety and anxiety is a normal physical reaction in your body and brain when your brain senses danger. It’s completely normal and is actually a really important reaction that has kept humans alive for centuries. The problem many humans have today is that we don’t face as many life-threatening dangers as we did when we were wandering through the jungles hunting for our next meal and hoping not to be eaten by a hungry lion. Sometimes our brain reacts to things in the modern world like it would have reacted to the hungry lion. When you are experiencing test anxiety, your brain senses danger and is reacting like that test is a hungry lion. All you have to do in step 1 is to notice that you are feeling anxious and to remind yourself that this is just the way your brain works.
Step 2 is simply to use the way your body and brain are designed to work to your advantage. Just like your brain is able to send signals to your entire body to say “You’re in danger!! Get ready to fight that hungry lion or run away or hide!” Your body actually has a feedback mechanism that can talk back to your anxious brain. When you take long deep breaths, your lungs can actually send a signal back to your brain to say, “Hey, we’re getting plenty of oxygen down here. It’s ok. No need to panic.” So step two is to simply do that. Take long slow deep breaths. Close your eyes if that helps. Slowly count as you breath. Count to 5 as you inhale. Count to 5 as you hold that inhale Count to 5 as you exhale. And count to 5 as you hold the exhale. Keep breathing, holding, and counting until your brain gets the message your lungs are sending. It doesn’t take long at all, just minutes.
And Step 3 is for bonus points. If all you can manage are the first two steps, that’s fine. Just do that. However if you want to take your test anxiety calm down practice to the next level, you can add in a mantra while you breathe. A mantra is just a short saying that you repeat over and over. My personal favorite mantra (because just like you, I feel anxious too) is “Right here, right now, I’m ok. Right here, right now, I am safe.” I like to repeat this because I know that my brain is confused and thinks that I am facing a hungry lion. When I repeat my mantra, I just calmly remind my brain that I’m just sitting in my desk. Failing a test might stink. It might even have serious consequences. But it isn’t a hungry lion. Many many have survived failing a test and you can too. It’s just a test. Right here, right now, you are ok.
--Dr. Tonya Crombie, Ph.D, Guidance for the Future
First, breaking down your thoughts and trying to figure out why you’re so anxious in the first place and then how to address incorrect or unproductive thoughts can help calm anxieties that are getting in the way of studying or taking tests.
Once you’ve been able to identify the thoughts that are leading to your anxiety, it should be easier to start to calm down. There are, however, some other strategies you can use to relax your body and further reduce any leftover tension. These include practicing various breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or drinking a very cold drink (the intense cold will help keep you focused and relaxed in the moment, as exposure to intense cold can be calming).
Beyond this, you can also:
- Start studying way in advance. That way, you have time to break the studying down into smaller amounts that feel more manageable and won’t stress you out unnecessarily. Don't activate your fight or flight reflex if you can help it! - Practice makes perfect. One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to practice putting yourself through anxiety-inducing situations. If test-taking makes you feel anxious, the best way to get over that anxiety is to practice taking tests. Luckily, there are plenty of practice tests out there for the SATs or other standardized tests. Try to set up your practice test as if it’s the real thing— adhere to time limits and other rules, and take the entire test at once. - Arrive early. Being late to a test leads to more anxiety. Being early gives you a time buffer in case anything unexpected happens on the way there, and also gives you a chance to scope out the best space for you to take the test (if you’re allowed to choose). Think about where in the room you’ll be most comfortable— for example, do you want to be able to look at the clock or not? Does being too close to the door distract you if people begin to leave? - Plan ahead. Look at sample questions. Think ahead of time about how you’ll approach each section of the test and the various types of questions you might see. Having a plan of attack helps you know how to get started on each question right away without needing to stress about potential approaches first. - Eyes on the road. Anxiety can be contagious, and sometimes talking to your friends who are stressed and nervous too can make your own anxiety even worse. It can be hard not to talk about upcoming standardized tests with so many people around you also thinking about them, but try to avoid talking to others about tests so you don’t make yourself even more anxious. - Be healthy. Taking care of your body will also help you learn and retain information better, and can work wonders in reducing your anxiety.. Make sure that you’re eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and moving around a little bit each day—even if it’s just for a short walk. It's good to take care of yourself all the time, but trying to stay healthy especially before important tests will help you be less anxious.
--Madeleine Karydes, Empowerly
1) Have a plan of attack: Plan going into your test how you will approach it - will you write down short-term formulas or ideas right when you receive the test? Will you review the test first thing once over to best plan how to plot out your time for each section? Go in with a plan and stick to it so that the panic doesn’t cripple your work product or mindset.
2) Remember the big picture: This is just ONE exam or test in your WHOLE experience as a student. Keep this in perspective and remember that this is only a small part of your entire educational experience and an even more minuscule part of your life. No one is going to ask you in future years how you did on a specific exam or test in school!
3) Bombing a test will not scar you forever. Learn from your mistakes and do better next time! Try to figure out where you went wrong (Did you run out of time? not study for certain parts enough? have a panic attack? etc.), and apply that knowledge gained for next time so you recover from this setback.
4) Avoid people who are alarmists. If you have classmates who panic and are completely stressed out themselves, their stress will rub off onto you. Block out the panic of others; don't let the fear expressed by others bring you down. Avoid these folks, especially leading up to the testing periods.
5) Have a positive mindset: if you have prepared to the best of your ability and learned the material as best you can, then you can succeed and do well on the test/exam. Positivity can make or break your mindset.
6) Take breathers when studying and sometimes even during the test. Studying can be mentally and physically exhausting, so do it in smaller more manageable chunks and build in study breaks or small rewards from yourself. Even during a test put down your pen, stretch, and look out the window and breathe, just to keep yourself calm and grounded while you work through your test or exam.
7) Wear a watch and time yourself - then you can keep track of your personal time passed and not crane your neck to locate a classroom clock.
8) Practice relaxation and visualization exercises — there are great aps such as “Calm” than can help you stay in a calmer state of mind when studying or prior to taking a test. Practicing medication and breathing techniques also help.
9) Join a study group: these can be a terrific supplement to lectures, notes and assignments as long as the people in your group are like-minded. Sometimes being in a study group for a subject that does not come easy to you can be excellent support; or, if it is a topic that you are more confident in, you can lead a discussion and build and reinforce your knowledge in that area.
--Cynthia C. Muchnick, M.A., parentcompassbook.com
As a mental health professional, I have encountered a number of patients who are suffering from test anxieties. This has a lot of causes such as fear of not being able to finish the test, not getting a good grade, not being able to control the outcome, and many more. Here are 2 tips to help you overcome test anxiety:
1. Develop relaxation techniques. You can do some relaxation techniques to control your worry when you are about to take a test. You can try any or all of the following tensing and differential relaxation method, palming method, and deep breathing method.
2. Create a routine. Try different things and determine a routine that works to lessen your stress level and would help you stay calm. If nothing works, seek a professional’s help.
--Chris Norris, Sleep Standards
1. Focus on Three Points of Contact in your Body: What I mean is, close your eyes for a few moments, take a big deep breath, and notice three different sensations going on in your physical body in this moment. This can be the sensation of your feet touching the floor, the sensation of your right elbow pressing against the desk, and the sensation of your glasses lightly touching the bridge of your nose. If you can focus on all three different points of contact at the same time, you will drop into your body and get present. What this means for test anxiety: if you’re in your body, in the present moment, you CAN’T be anxious, because your mind is no longer spinning, which is the cause of test anxiety in the first place.
2. Be Extra Prepared: Test anxiety runs amok when there are unknowns in the equation. However, if you’re prepared and know what to expect, you eliminate these “unknown.” For example, if you’re studying for the SAT, make sure you know how each section (Reading, Writing, No-Calculator Math, and Calculator Math) is organized and what type of questions it asks. Make sure you understand all the directions, how many questions, and the time limits in advance. Make sure you know the big picture of all the possible topics that might come up—this is especially helpful in the math and grammar sections. Once you understand the lay of the land, there’s just less to be anxious about.
3. Take Practice Tests: If you’re taking a standardized test, this means taking a mock test, timed, in as close to testing conditions as possible—before the real thing! In an ideal world, you’d take 3 to 4 mock tests in the 6 weeks leading up to the real test sitting. If you’re taking a test in school, you can mimic this same concept by giving yourself a set time (say, 45 minutes) to complete a page of practice questions. If you can create little “dress rehearsals” like this for yourself, a lot of the jitters will dissipate by the time you give your final performance.
4. Strike a Super Woman Pose: “Power poses” have risen to fame in recent years as a way to lower cortisol (stress hormone) and temporarily RAISE testosterone (which aids in decision making) in the body. It’s simple: stand with your feet at least shoulder’s width apart, put your hands firmly on your hips, and lift your chest/sternum a couple inches—and HOLD this for at least 2 minutes! You can do this before you sit down for the test as an instant mood boost.
--Kristina Semos, Ivy Lounge Test Prep
1. Study smarter.
Speaking about what you've learned actually helps you to recall it more. Adding movement while your speaking cements learning. When studying, read a small section of your notes out loud while you walk around. Say this information out loud several times without looking back at your notes. Then look at the next section of your notes and do the same thing, speaking and walking. Add the former section(s) you've learned and keep going. Don't wait until the very last minute to do this. Most students have forewarning about test dates; the day you know about an upcoming test, start going through your notes while speaking them aloud and moving. It will feel really odd, but it works wonders!
2. Look at your notes then get a good night’s sleep.
On the night before your test, glance through your notes quickly one time. Once you've glanced through your notes one time, turn out the lights and go to sleep. The brain is a marvel at processing things during sleep. If you don't sleep, though, you aren't letting your brain do its magic! So don't cram the night before, go to sleep!
3. Arrive early.
Slowing down will do away with a great deal of anxiety. Get everything together the night before and be ready to leave in plenty of time so you can arrive early and get comfortable.
4. Read through the test carefully prior to starting.
Make sure you know the directions before you actually start by reading through everything on the test. Many times errors are made because the student did not follow directions. Also glance through all the questions. It is amazing how many times the test developer accidentally gives the answer to some questions in the wording of other questions. Also, many ideas for essays can be found in the wording of questions.
5. Get started.
Frequently, test anxiety is created by looking at a lot of questions with blanks. After reading through the test, start answering the questions you are certain about. Circle the ones you may be unsure of so you can return to them after answering all the ones you definitely know.
6. Go with your instincts.
Pay attention to your first thought when reading the questions. More often than not, your first thought is the correct answer. Put that answer down and circle your answer so you can come back to check it; however, don't fret too long over the question when you're rechecking it. Try to defend to yourself why that answer was your first instinct instead of trying to talk yourself out of it.
7. Use the clock as your friend
Estimate how long each section will take and record that time by each section.Try to stay on task by glancing at the clock every now and then. If you are on one section longer than you planned, circle those answers and move on to other questions. It's better to miss a few answers than to get stuck on question and miss all the questions on the test.
8. Don't rush to turn in your test.
Never try to be the first one to turn the test in. The first one to submit their test paper doesn't mean they were the one who knew all the answers. When you finish your test, don't turn it in just yet. Sit in place for a while and relax your mind and body. Don't second guess anything, just relax.This relaxation time can frequently allow your brain to process everything and send you some signals about your success in relation to all the studying you did prior to your test. Then shortly before the test time is over, turn your work in. If an answer pops into your head after turning in your test, ask the test proctor if you can change an answer. If you can't, simply congratulate yourself on all the answers you did get correct.
--Jill White, Jill White Consulting
Latest posts by Katie Holmes (see all)
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