- How to Overcome Test Anxiety – 5 Strategies That Work
- Change Your Personal Definition of Anxiety
- Prepare and the Grade Will Take Care of Itself
- Relax and Breathe
- Activate Tunnel Vision
- Change Your Perspective
- Now Go Conquer the World (and Your Test)
- 10 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety
- What is Test Anxiety?
- Test Anxiety Tips
- 1. Be prepared.
- 2. Get a good night’s sleep.
- 3. Fuel up.
- 4. Get to class—or the testing site—early
- 5. Have a positive mental attitude.
- 6. Read carefully.
- 7. Just start.
- 8. Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing.
- 9. Watch the clock
- 10. Focus on calm breathing and positive thoughts
- Stuck on homework?
- Test Anxiety
- Tips to Help Overcome Test Anxiety
- Before the Exam:
- During the Exam:
- General Tips
- Test Anxiety Tips
- What Is Test Anxiety?
- Causes of Test Anxiety
- Fear of Failure
- Lack of Preparation
- High Pressure
- Poor Test History
- Biological Causes of Test Anxiety
- Mental Causes of Test Anxiety
- 15 Tips to Help Test Anxiety
- Test Anxiety Tips | School of Medicine
- Symptoms of Test Anxiety
- Causes of Test Anxiety
- Overcoming Test Anxiety
- Support Services
How to Overcome Test Anxiety – 5 Strategies That Work
Anxiety on test day can make you feel you’re alone in the wilderness.
You might feel trapped in your own mind, afraid that one wrong answer could collapse your entire semester (or future career.) The next thing you know, your mind has wandered so far that you’ve only managed to answer a couple of questions. Meanwhile, the clock ticks faster and faster.
If this experience sounds familiar, you’re far from being the only one. In his book Anxiety in Schools, psychology professor Jerrell Cassady notes that between 25 and 40 percent of students experience test anxiety to some extent.
Just the thought that a quarter of your class is also worried can be enough to settle you down. We’ll talk more about that later.
The cause of test anxiety can be any combination of cultural, genetic, or behavioral factors. Fortunately, the human brain is one of the most adaptable mechanisms in the world. It may not seem it in the heat of the battle, but it’s possible to feel calm and even excited on test day.
This post will outline 5 strategies that I’ve learned over the years that can help mitigate the test anxiety you’re feeling – whatever variety it might be.
Change Your Personal Definition of Anxiety
If you watch the Olympics or other prominent athletic competitions, you’ll notice that reporters always ask participants the same question during interviews: “Were you nervous?”
99% of the time, he or she will respond by saying something along the lines of, “No, I was excited.”
How can this be? These elite athletes are performing on a global stage, often with their livelihoods at stake. As Simon Sinek points out, it has to do with how they interpret physical and mental stimuli.
Take a moment to consider the signs of anxiety: fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, butterflies, and so on. Now consider the signs of excitement: fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, and butterflies. They’re indistinguishable.
The athletes, whether purposely or not, trained themselves over years of practice to interpret nerves as excitement.
So, next time you start to feel “anxious” before a test, remind yourself: this is exciting.
You’ll be surprised how effective this tactic is—trust me.
Prepare and the Grade Will Take Care of Itself
When Bill Walsh took over as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, his work was cut out for him. The organization had endured several embarrassingly bad seasons prior to his arrival, and as a result, the media, fans and even some players expected the 49ers to fail.
That was until Walsh implemented a new philosophy.
Instead of setting long-term goals winning the Super Bowl, Walsh prioritized the tiniest details each and every day: wearing uniforms properly, executing plays in practice down to the inch, eating healthy, and getting adequate rest.
If the players could do these little things right every single day, the score of the game would take care of itself.
There are strong parallels between Walsh’s coaching philosophy and test preparation. Boosting confidence in the classroom starts long before test day. This means taking care of the little things: taking notes every class and reviewing material consistently instead of cramming the night before the exam.
The compound effect of this slow, steady preparation is the confidence that you need to ward off those nerves on test day.
The downside of thorough preparation is obvious: it’s time-consuming, especially for college students who juggle multiple classes, jobs, and extracurriculars. The key is to find a level of preparation that you can tolerate without overwhelming yourself.
Then, on test day, think, “I’ve prepared as best I can; now the grade will take care of itself.”
Relax and Breathe
Many of us (myself included) don’t breathe in the manner humans are actually designed to breathe. The right way to breath is to use the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs) to expand the belly. Instead, we take short, shallow breaths using our chest, which limits oxygen intake.
Left unchecked, this breathing pattern can cause an endless cycle of stress: we feel tense, so we take shallow breaths. These shallow breaths cause more tension, and so on and so on until you’re in a low-grade state of anxiety all the time. Needless to say, this isn’t ideal when you’re trying to recall material from last week or write an essay on the spot.
Breathing deeply with the diaphragm, however, has an abundance of benefits including lower blood pressure and relaxed muscles. This technique can do more than just calm you down, though. It can improve cognitive function as well. A 2016 study from The Journal of Neuroscience discovered a direct link between proper breathing and the ability to recall and recognize objects more quickly.
It may seem an oversimplification, but breathing could be the difference between passing and failing a test.
Activate Tunnel Vision
Does this sound familiar?
You’re about 15 minutes into an exam when you glance up and see someone hand in their test and strut the room glowing with confidence. You look back down at your own test and notice that you’re not even past the first page.
The natural instinct here is to panic: Should I be further along? How can he/she already be finished? I wonder how far along the rest of the class is.
If you catch yourself in this thought trap, it’s important to remember two things:
- Even if the whole class finishes before you, it doesn’t affect your ability to do well on the test.
- Paying attention to anything other than your own test is a waste of time and energy.
These can be tough to keep in mind, especially for competitive students, but reminding yourself that your test is the only one that matters is liberating.
There’s no need to rush here: read things carefully, allow yourself to comprehend everything, skip around if you’re stuck, and work at your own pace. The smartest kid in the room isn’t the one who turns in the test first (of course, it’s also not the one who gets the highest score.)
I know it feels everyone’s observing your pen strokes with a spotlight, but I promise they’re not. Stay in your own lane.
Change Your Perspective
Simply understanding where a single test fits in the grand scheme of your life may be the most effective tactic to minimize test anxiety.
Take a moment to consider how much the test matters: unless your degree or acceptance into grad school rides on a single test, chances are you can recoup any losses from a less-than-great performance.
I bombed my fair share of tests in college, but not a single one of those negatively affected the position I’m in today (nor do I even remember any of my test scores, whether they were good or bad.)
Sure, you want to get good grades – but what’s more important is what you actually learn and retain, along with the experiences and relationships you’re building outside of class.
As you may have heard in this interview with Tony Stubblebine, a lot of companies these days don’t care whatsoever about your GPA. Some don’t even want to see a resume – they’d much rather see a portfolio or testimonials.
Does this mean you can slack off and play 78 hours of Fortnite instead of studying for your tests? Probably not. But it does mean that, as long as you’re applying yourself outside the classroom, your test scores are not the deciding factor of your future.
Now Go Conquer the World (and Your Test)
By implementing these tips, you’re well on your to stress-free test-taking. Just remember: breathe and control what you can control. Most importantly, remind yourself that no single test defines you as a student or a person.
10 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been studying hard for your chemistry midterm, but when you walk into your exam, your mind goes blank. As you sit down to start your test, you notice your sweaty palms and a pit in your stomach.
If these classic signs of test anxiety sound familiar, your grades and test scores may not reflect your true abilities. Learn ways to manage test anxiety before and during a stressful test.
What is Test Anxiety?
While it’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous before a test, some students find test anxiety debilitating. Racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, or feelings of dread can combine with physical symptoms a fast heartbeat, headache, or nausea. Whether it’s the ACT, an AP exam, or an important history final, test anxiety has the power to derail weeks and months of hard work.
Test Anxiety Tips
According to the ADAA, causes of test anxiety may include a fear of failure, lack of adequate prep time, or bad experiences taking tests in the past. You're not alone! Here's what you can do to stay calm in the days leading up to and during your test.
1. Be prepared.
Yes, this seems obvious, but it bears repeating. If you feel confident that you’ve prepped thoroughly, you’ll feel more confident walking into the test. Need help reviewing tough concepts or question types? The test prep experts at The Princeton Review can provide that extra boost you need to feel cool and collected.
2. Get a good night’s sleep.
Cramming is never the answer, and pulling an all-nighter can exacerbate your nerves. Having adequate rest (9–10 hours per night) is ly to be more beneficial than rereading a text until dawn (But if you ARE up late studying and have a question, our on-demand tutors are there for you.)
3. Fuel up.
Eat a nutritious breakfast before the test and pack smart snacks for ongoing energy. Look for foods that offer a steady stream of nutrients, rather than a sugar high followed by a crash.
4. Get to class—or the testing site—early
Feeling rushed will only amp up the anxiety. Pack everything you need for the exam the night before and set the alarm, so you can get out the door on time.
5. Have a positive mental attitude .
Bring a picture of your happy place or come up with a morale-boosting mantra “I can do this” or “I worked hard and deserve this.” Peek at your picture or recite your mantra, right before the test begins.
6. Read carefully.
Read the directions thoroughly and read all answers before making a choice or starting the essay. There is nothing worse than putting time into a question and realizing you are not solving for x, or the essay is off target. Slowing down can help you stay focused.
7. Just start.
The blank page can maximize your anxiety. After you’ve read the directions, dive right in by making an outline for an essay answer. Or, find some questions you can ace to build up your confidence and momentum. You can always go back and change things later if needed, but a few quick answers can get the ball rolling.
Read More: 5 Signs You Need a Tutor
8. Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing.
Everyone else is scribbling away? Ack! What do they know that you don’t? It doesn’t matter. Pay attention to your own test and pace, and forget about the other students in the room.
9. Watch the clock
Realizing that time is almost up and there are lots of test questions left can make it hard to do anything useful in those final minutes. Stay on pace by scoping out the whole test before getting started. Mentally allocate how much time you’ll spend on each section. If there’s time to recheck, even better.
10. Focus on calm breathing and positive thoughts
Deep breathing can slow down a beating heart or a racing mind, so practice these techniques at home. The very act of concentrating on breathing and thinking can biometrically alter those anxious feelings.
Sometimes just remembering that some test-taking anxiety is a normal part of school can help make it easier to handle. If you need a confidence boost, try a session with an online tutor. From PhDs and Ivy Leaguers to doctors and teachers, our tutors are experts in their fields, and they know how to keep your anxiety at bay.
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- Test Anxiety: Crash Course Skills
Exams can be terrifying.
It’s easy to feel the weight of the world rests in these moments – this one test determines your grades and, in turn, your whole future – even if you know, rationally, that this isn’t really the case.
What’s worse is that this fear and anxiety can make you do worse on the test. So, take a deep breath, and watch this video to walk you through some tips for beating test anxiety so that you can walk in on test day feeling refreshed and confident.
- How to Beat Test Anxiety and Take on Exams Without Stress
Exams can cause a lot of unnecessary stress, but you can reduce that stress in several ways. In this video, we'll look at several common worries you'll face as a student that cause test anxiety, and cover ways to deal with them.
- Exam Technique! Run-up to Exams
This video talks through some techniques that will help make your exam blade become sharp!
- 7 Tips to Beat Exam Anxiety
This video explores tips to end exam anxiety.
Tips to Help Overcome Test Anxiety
There are several relatively simple things students can do to ease their test anxiety. It’s important to remember, what works for one student might not work for another. Below is a list of suggestions and strategies that you can try before and during exams. Some are easy no-brainers; others might be surprising. Try one, some or all of these to find out what works for you.
Before the Exam:
- Put things in perspective. Remind yourself that your upcoming exam is important, but your entire future doesn't depend on this exam.
- Also, it might be helpful to tell yourself that regardless of your performance on the test you will not be diagnosed with a terminal illness at the end of it.
It’s easy to lose perspective when you find that you are no longer the top student in the class. Intellectually, you understand that you're competing against many other bright students, but you may need to remind yourself of that.
- Also, bring to mind your past successes on exams and remind yourself that the admissions officers know what they’re doing and they have “bet” on your success.
Your performance on an exam mostly depends on how effectively you studied for the test, the quality of your prior education, and the test-taking strategies you use. The exam does not define who you are!
Using vivid images, play the entire «tape» in your mind – from the moment you wake up on the day of the exam to the moment you finish the exam.
- And remember: you can always use anxiety control strategies to moderate your anxiety level if it becomes excessive.
- You might try imagining yourself as a professional athlete: ask yourself how you would prepare yourself mentally and physically for an important game.
- Doing a moderate workout early in the evening (5:00 or 6:00) may help you sleep more soundly at night. If you often have trouble sleeping, consult your physician.
During the Exam:
- Get to the test site a little early, but try to avoid talking with other students right before the exam. (Their anxieties may increase your own.) Instead, take a walk around the building and silently talk to yourself, meditate, breathe, and/or pray.
- Moving your body can help rid you of some of the nervous energy you are experiencing.
- Also, your sense of what questions should appear on the test is not going to match perfectly with what the writer of the test had in mind. Therefore, when you encounter a curve ball on the exam, don’t get upset and lose your concentration. Instead, you can either make an intelligent guess now or mark the question and return later.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in slowly to the count of seven and exhale to the count of seven.
- Continue this slow breathing until you actually feel your body begin to relax. (Most people find that it takes 2 to 4 sequences.)
- Open your eyes and give yourself a positive, very specific self-talk (i.e., «You're sure to do well. You studied hard. You’re doing the best you can.») This whole procedure should take only about a minute and it's well worth the time.
It's hard to guess accurately, and thinking about your score will only increase your anxiety.
- Seek help at your school. Don't be afraid to ask for help from instructors, tutors or counselors. Anxiety disorders, including test anxiety, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and those affected may qualify for test-taking accommodations such as a quiet room or additional time. Check out the college's counseling services; they may offer support and/or study groups.
- Seek help outside your school. Make an appointment with your family physician to discuss whether medication might help alleviate your anxiety. Secure the services of a private therapist or look for support groups. Talking about your anxieties with a professional counselor or fellow sufferers may help defuse their powerful hold on you.
Test Anxiety Tips
You went to class, you studied, and you’ve taken many practice tests. You feel confident about yourself, and you just know that you’re going to ace that test.
You just know it.
But then test day comes, and as you sit down in your desk, you start to wonder, “Am I really ready?”
And then it starts. You freeze up, zone out, start feeling nervous, and start sweating. What’s going on?
What Is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is more than just being a little nervous before a test; it can often be intense fear or worrying. This is because test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety; there is pressure on you to do well in a situation. Test anxiety can interfere with your performance while you’re taking a test.
Causes of Test Anxiety
Anxiety is a reaction to something that is stressful. It can be anything from a meeting or an interview to a school activity or an important test. Any type of anxiety, including test anxiety, affects both your body and mind.
Fear of Failure
Taking an important test can put a lot of pressure on you. You’re pressured to make sure that you do well on the test, which sometimes can be motivating, but you’re also worried that failing the test can hurt your character, or the failing grade will show your true value.
Lack of Preparation
You may feel you’re properly prepared and that you’ll do well, so you’ll put off studying for the exam until the last minute. Or you may not study at all. Either way, this could cause test anxiety on the day of the exam.
Knowing that you need to achieve a certain score to pass a class or even get a job can cause pressure, which will cause test anxiety.
Poor Test History
Not doing well on a past test can make you anxious during the next test you will need to take. It’s best that you stay focused on the test that you’re taking rather than thinking about how you did not do well on past tests.
Biological Causes of Test Anxiety
When you’re in a stressful situation, your body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This hormone is what prepares your body to deal with stressful situations and is known as a “fight-or-flight” response. This response helps you determine whether you are going to stay and deal with the stress at hand or if you’re going to leave the situation.
When the fight-or-flight response kicks in, you may have difficulty focusing or concentrating on the test. You may even experience sweating, shaky hands, or nausea.
Mental Causes of Test Anxiety
On top of biological causes of test anxiety, there are also mental causes. One factor is high expectations. For example, if a student believes going in that they will do badly on a test, then they will more than ly start to have anxiety before and during the test.
Another mental cause of test anxiety is previously having test anxiety. After you’ve experienced test anxiety, you may start to become fearful about it happening again the next time you take an important test.
15 Tips to Help Test Anxiety
1. Start preparing early.
It’s important that you start preparing early for your test rather than waiting until the last minute and cramming information. Start studying a week or two before the test, and study in smaller blocks each day.
2. Create a study plan.
Having a study plan is important for success on a test. A study plan will allow you to create blocks of time to study each day, as well as lay out exactly what you’re going to study. Create a study plan from the day you start studying and follow through until the day before the test.
3. Learn how to study
While you may feel you have this down, you can always get more tips on how to effectively study. Your school may offer study skill classes or other resources that can help you learn effective study skills so that you can feel confident and pass that test.
4. Keep a positive attitude.
Keep in mind that your self-worth does not rely on the outcome of a test. Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself that you can do well on the test. Believing in yourself and keeping a positive attitude while you study and take the test can help you go a long way!
5. Read carefully.
This is important with every test, whether you have test anxiety or not. Make sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin the test and read each and every question and answer before choosing an answer. If you don’t read everything carefully, you could miss out on an important detail that can help you choose the correct answer.
6. Make practice tests your best friend.
Practice tests are a great way to make sure that you’re prepared completely for your test. You’ll be able to get a firsthand look at what the exam will be , including how many questions will be on the exam and what type of questions you can expect. You’ll also get more of an idea as to which areas you may need more work on.
7. Get a good night’s sleep.
The night before the exam, make sure that you get a good night’s sleep; at least a full 8 hours is recommended. Getting good sleep can help improve your memory and concentration as well as make you feel fresh the next day and ready to tackle that test. More info
8. Start with what you know.
When you sit down for the test, you don’t have to start with the first question. Start with the ones that you know. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out that one question that has you stumped. Skip over it and move on to the next one that you know. If time allows, go back to the questions you skipped and try to answer them.
9. Use flashcards.
Flashcards are another great resource when you’re preparing for a test. They allow you to study the material in smaller chunks rather than a long list of concepts. You’re able to focus on one concept at a time, such as vocabulary words or specific facts that you know you’ll need for the test.
10. On test day, get to the test site early.
One thing that you don’t want to do is rush because you’re running late.
Rushing because you’re late to the exam will only cause you to have more anxiety when you take the test. Get to the test site a little early. Take a walk around the building to help relieve any anxiety that you do have.
Moving your body can help remove some of that nervous energy and get your blood flowing, making you feel better.
11. Don’t forget to eat and drink.
Your brain and body need fuel to function and work properly. Make sure that you eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water leading up to the test day and on the test day. Try to stay away from sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks such as coffee. Caffeinated drinks can make you wiry and cause more anxiety.
12. Stay focused.
On test day, try to stay focused on the test only. Don’t worry about what you’re doing after the exam or what happened before, and don’t worry about how the other test-takers are doing. Concentrate solely on your test.
13. Dress comfortably.
Dress appropriately, but wear something that makes you comfortable and that allows you to relax. Stay away from clothes that you will need to adjust constantly or that are too tight for you. Be sure to take a light jacket or sweater in case the test room is cold for you.
14. Take a break if needed.
If you feel that your test anxiety is getting to be a little too much, take a quick break. Close your eyes, take ten deep breaths to calm yourself, and get back to concentrating on the exam.
15. Avoid distractions.
Don’t worry about the person next to you or in front of you who may be going through their test twice as fast. Sit somewhere where you can be free of distractions, perhaps in the front of the room if possible, and focus on your test.
49 Ways to Beat Test Anxiety
Mometrix Academy – Home
Test Anxiety Tips | School of Medicine
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. When there is pressure because of high expectations or the stakes are high, people can become so anxious that they are hindered from doing their best.
It is sometimes helpful and normal to have nervousness around testing. The energy can keep our minds alert and the arousal can help with focus.
However, there is a threshold and sometimes too much anxiety can begin to impair brain functioning.
When our emotional brain starts to feel fear and get activated, it can make it hard to remember what was studied and to maximize our prefrontal cortex functioning.
Symptoms of Test Anxiety
Test anxiety symptoms can range from mild to severe. It is possible to have mild symptoms of test anxiety and still perform well on exams. Others can feel so overwhelmed that they encounter panic attacks before or during exams. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes symptoms of test anxiety as physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional.
Physical symptoms can range from increased heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, to shaking, fainting, panic attacks, vomiting and nausea.
Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms
Cognitive and behavioral symptoms can include negative self-talk and cognitive distortions that lead students to avoid studying or testing situations. Challenges with focus and concentration as well as racing thoughts or rumination can be common.
Emotional symptoms can include low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, frustration, irritability, feeling overwhelmed and a sense of hopelessness.
Causes of Test Anxiety
In the medical student population, test anxiety can be heightened due to the intense nature of the academic environment. Often times it is a combination of reasons that contribute to test anxiety. Here are some potential causes:
- Perfectionistic tendencies/fear of failure. Maladaptive perfectionism is prevalent amongst the medical student population. Connecting one’s sense of worth and identity to performance can cause test anxiety.
- Stress around testing history. If previous test experiences have been anxiety-provoking or led to unexpected poor outcomes, this can add more anxiety with each additional testing experience.
- Underlying anxiety. Often times, students have a history of anxiety that can be exacerbated around testing experiences. This anxiety can contribute to one feeling they haven’t studied enough, and it can cloud the academic journey leading to a sense of dread around studying and testing.
Overcoming Test Anxiety
Thankfully there are tools to support students in addressing and overcoming test anxiety. Each person’s needs will be different the reasons for test anxiety. Here are some strategies:
- Get enough restful sleep, especially before the test
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Consume nutritious foods
- Get exercise and movement throughout the week
- Spend time outdoors in nature
- Take meaningful regular breaks while studying (not mindlessly scrolling through news, social media or )
- Practice mindfulness or meditation at least once a day (Headspace is a helpful app to get started)
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation
Cognitive, Behavioral and Emotional Strategies
- Understand and address cognitive distortions
- Remember your strengths and remind yourself of why you want to become a physician
- Take a step back and reflect on who you are outside of being a medical student
- Reconnect with hobbies you enjoy
- Make time for social connection and reach out for social support
- Ask for support and testing if you think you might have a learning disability ( ADHD)
- Connect with a professional clinician who can help you come up with a successful plan, reduce negative self-talk, and feel more hopeful before exams
- Reach out to faculty to better understand how to prepare
- Get tutoring support from our learning specialist
We are here to support you in your medical school journey and want you to succeed. Sometimes it is helpful to consult with a psychiatrist and/or to meet with a licensed therapist.
We have many professional clinicians on campus and as well as in the community who are preferred providers for the Student Health Plan who are ready to support you. See the Student Affairs webpage for counseling resources.
Student may make medical and counseling appointments without a referral or without involving the School of Medicine Dean’s Office or any faculty. If you choose, you may contact Dr. Lamberton’s office for suggestions for counselors.
Cherry, K. (2020) Test anxiety symptoms, causes, and treatments. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-test-anxiety-2795368