Raise your hand if exams make you anxious . Here are some tips to help you tame your anxiety to get through quizzes, tests and exams.
What is test anxiety?
It’s totally normal to feel nervous about upcoming tests. However, if you experience overwhelming or debilitating anxiety or stress before, during or after a test, it may be linked to test anxiety.
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that can be triggered by high expectations, previous test outcomes, fear of failure, pressure to perform or perfectionism. This type of anxiety can be particularly problematic if it impacts your ability to study, make it to class for an exam or answer test questions.
Test anxiety most commonly appears as a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that can interfere with your concentration or ability to perform well on tests. ’s also important to keep in mind that the intensity of these feelings or symptoms can vary from person to person.
Here are some ways you may experience test anxiety:
Ways to manage anxiety before a test
If you experience test anxiety, preparing in advance can help ease your symptoms. Here are some ways to get ready for potentially stressful exams.
Get a head start
Start studying for your exams as early as possible. Test anxiety can be exacerbated when we feel underprepared or don’t know what to expect during a test. Set yourself up for success by reaching out to your instructors with questions, creating study guides, reviewing presentations and class notes and practicing previous homework problems well in advance.
It can be easy to find yourself trapped in a downward spiral of negative self-talk, especially if you’re feeling anxious or spend too much time ruminating on past results. When this happens, try to catch yourself in the moment. Take a deep breath and practice replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones. Here are some examples:
Put yourself first
High anxiety can sometimes cause people to forget about other important things in life, like self-care, relationships, eating and rest. As you prepare for your exams, try to make a schedule that includes ample time to study, eat, take a break, spend time with friends and take care of yourself. This can help you avoid getting burnt out or feeling completely drained when it comes time to sit down for your test.
Using calming techniques before and during exams can help you curb anxiety in the moment. Here are two exercises you can try:
This technique can help you slow your breathing and heart rate to ease anxiety.
Start by closing your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Gently inhale through your nose, counting to four.
Breathe out slowly, exhaling all of your air while counting to four again.
Repeat this process as many times as you need to calm down.
As you start to feel better, open your eyes and return to your study session or exam.
45-second body scan
This technique can help you stay present and calm racing thoughts.
Close your eyes and tune in to the sensations of your body.
Start at the bottoms of your feet, feeling the weight of your feet against your shoes.
Slowly move up your body by feeling the sensations of your legs, hips, back, abdomen, shoulders, neck, arms, hands and head.
When you’re done with your body scan, take a deep breath and return to your study session or exam.
Pack your bag the night before
If your exam requires a test booklet, calculator, pencils, pens or other supplies, be sure to pack them in your backpack or bag the night before your exam. It can be helpful to create a checklist of all the items you need, especially if you have more than one exam. In the morning, double check your bag and add any items you may have forgotten. It is also a good idea to pack a water bottle and snacks.
Get there early
Running late can increase anxiety before you even make it to your classroom. Instead of leaving at your usual time, set your alarm 10 or 15 minutes earlier, so you can make it to the exam room with plenty of time to spare. If you are getting up earlier than usual, be sure to get a good night’s sleep before exam day. Arriving early to your exam will allow you time to practice your calming techniques and get your materials ready. Plus, it can be a great opportunity to review your notes one last time before your test starts.
Ways to manage anxiety during a test
When you feel anxious during an exam, it can be hard to separate yourself from your worries and emotions. Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety and recenter yourself during a stressful test.
While it can be tempting to look at others around you, it can also increase your anxiety if you notice that you’re not as far into your exam or that you’ve spent more time on a question than your classmates. Instead, try to focus on the exam in front of you. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and it doesn’t matter what others are doing.
Set a timeline
If you struggle with time management, try to set time intervals for yourself. For instance, it can be helpful to think about how long your exam is and how many questions you’ll need to answer. This can help you plan out how much time you may have per question. Keep in mind that some questions will come easier than others. It’s also important to leave yourself enough time to complete written or long-form questions, which will likely take longer than multiple choice. Remind yourself that it’s also okay to skip questions if you feel like you’re running behind. You can always come back to them later. Just make sure you keep track of question numbers on your scantron to avoid potential errors.
Take a deep breath
Remember those calming techniques we talked about earlier? Now is the time to put them into practice. If you feel stressed about a question, take a pause. Remind yourself that a minute-long break is worth it if it helps you concentrate or work through problems more effectively.
Ways to reset after a test
Test anxiety doesn’t just rear its head before and during exams. It can also crop up after you’ve turned in your test. Here are some tips to help you decompress and reset after a stressful exam.
Allow yourself to relinquish control
Once you’ve submitted an exam, that’s it. Relinquish your control over the outcome and allow yourself to accept that it’s in your instructor's hands now. It can also be helpful to avoid ruminating over questions you may have gotten wrong or problems you didn’t finish. Instead, allow yourself to breathe a sigh of relief that your exam is complete.
Focus on positive self-talk
It’s normal to think about the things we could have done or should have done during an exam. However, this may not be the most helpful strategy in managing your anxiety while you wait for the results. Instead, try to practice the same positive self-talk you used when you were preparing for your tests.
Move your body
Moving your body and engaging in physical activity is a great way to reduce stress, especially after exams. Consider taking a walk, visiting the Rec Center or shaking it out with a quick dance session.
Review your results on your own terms
Some people like to see their results right away or talk about them in class. Others may prefer to review their scores privately or wait until they have a chance to calm down. Regardless of what others do, allow yourself to see how you did on your own terms. If you’re worried about your test scores or are anxious to see what they are, consider asking a close friend to review and share them with you in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
Resources are available
Campus resources are available to help you prepare for exams and get additional support for test anxiety. Here are a few to check out.