conquering test anxiety

5 Tips for Conquering Test Anxiety

If you’ve ever experienced it, you know that test anxiety is real. 

It goes beyond jitters or nervousness, and can lead to students feeling paralyzed, nauseated, helpless, and depressed. There are strategies students can deploy to conquer test anxiety—with preparation and self-care. 

Strategy #1: Eliminate ancillary sources of stress

You can mitigate test anxiety by getting rid of non-test stressors, such as late arrival. Get to the testing site early to avoid the anxiety-provoking feelings that may arise when you run late, hit traffic, or can’t find a parking space. Then give yourself time to burn off a little nervous energy once you get to the site. Finally, take deep breaths and engage in positive self-talk. 

Strategy #2: Study efficiently, not exhaustively

Studying efficiently is not the same thing as studying a lot. Some students try to study everything they’ve ever learned in a class—and that’s just not practical. Efficient study habits involve studying the topics that you know will be on the test, studying concepts that are confusing for you, and most importantly, studying for days or weeks before a big test—not just hours. The better your study plan and routine are, the less anxiety you will feel leading up to a test. If you’ve procrastinated until the last minute, you may feel unprepared and anxious. 

Strategy #3: Know what to expect

Ask your instructor about the question types that will appear on the test. If you’re expecting multiple choice, it can be anxiety-inducing to encounter a bunch of free-response or essay questions. If you’re taking a standardized test, you can usually find out how many questions, which question types, and which topics will be on the exam. That information will help you allocate your study time so that you’re not devoting a lot of energy to principles that will make up a small percentage of the exam. If possible, take (timed) practice tests in simulated testing conditions. The more you can do ensure there won’t be any surprises on test day, the more confident you’re likely to feel.

Strategy #4: Have a plan for the unexpected

It sounds contradictory, but you can plan for some uncertainty—and take steps to address it. If you encounter a question you really didn’t expect, know in advance how you’re going to handle it. Are you going to spend two minutes working on it, skip it, and then come back if you have time? Are you going to guess and move on? Remember that it’s better to get all the points for the questions you do know how to answer than to spend a lot of time on questions you don’t have much chance of getting right. Spend your time where you’re likeliest to earn points.

Strategy #5: Evaluate your performance

You may forget this step because you are so glad when a test is over. Immediately after the test, finding a small way to celebrate can be the perfect antidote to a high-stress situation. Once you get your results, however, it will behoove you to spend time evaluating your performance. What did you do well? What could you do better? Did your study strategy work? Did you stick to your test-taking strategy? Based on your answers to those questions, set a plan for your next test!

There is no magic recipe for overcoming test anxiety. Nerves are normal, and preparation helps. Set yourself up for success by being prepared. If you want more tips and strategies, check out our webinar, “Overcoming Test Anxiety,” led by Dr. Amy Dietzman. You can conquer your test anxiety, and we are here to help!