7 Tips to Successfully Overcome Test Anxiety

Updated on September 28, 2017
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Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

Effective study and preparation could go a far way to relieve your exam anxiety. .
Effective study and preparation could go a far way to relieve your exam anxiety. . | Source

What is Test anxiety?

Most people are anxious whenever they take tests, and normal anxiety could help you to be more alert and keep you at your peak performance during tests. But intense anxiety much could hinder your concentration and logical thinking, and hinder your performance.

When you focus on the negative things that could happen in your test, this increases your anxiety. For example, you might be thinking that you are not going to remember the things you study. Then test anxiety is a reaction to your anticipating a stressful situation during test taking. So your body releases adrenaline which is for "flight or fight." This causes physical symptoms such as:

  • sweaty hands
  • heart beating quickly
  • rapid breathing
  • tense muscles
  • racing thoughts
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble recalling what was studied

Lisa Collins of Ohio Literacy Resource Center describes four sources of test anxiety including:

  • Behavior that is learned from the expectations of significant people in your life such as your parents and teachers.
  • Associating your worth with your grades and test performance
  • A desire to please and not disappoint your family or friends with poor performance

If you experience exam anxiety this hub will help you. It has content and videos with useful strategies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive self-talk to help you overcome your anxiety and succeed.

What is test Anxiety?

Steps to Overcome Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety Poll

If you experience test anxiety, what is the MOST distressing symptom for you?

See results

1. Set Goals to Study Smartly

You could experience test anxiety because you are not properly prepared. As you improve your preparation, test taking could become less threatening, reducing your level of anxiety.

One of the best ways to achieve this goal is to start studying well in advance of your exam to give yourself enough time to absorb the material and lessen your test anxiety. Make a manageable schedule and stick with it as far as possible.

Then practice reviewing your course material so that you can recall it for the exam. For example, practising sample tests could help you learn the material and give you a feel of what to expect on the exam.

Brazosport College encourages students to get a clear understanding of the nature of the test and know what to expect. This includes:

  • what the test covers
  • how much the test affects your overall grade
  • the format of the test, such as objective or essay questions
  • the length of the test

A good knowledge of what is expected in the test could facilitate effective preparation for the test, lessen your anxiety, and lead to improved performance.

This Test Does Not Define You!

2. Change Your Self-Talk

Begin to place your test in the proper perspective. Remind yourself that the test doesn't define you and that failing a test doesn't mean that you are not smart. A test doesn't give the full picture of what of what you know.

This means then that you will need to examine the irrational messages you tell yourself about the outcomes of your test. Then replace them with positive ones. So you might be telling yourself, "There’s no way I can pass this test, there's too much to cover."

As you re-frame your negative self-talk in light of your test anxiety, you could say, "I started my preparation early, so I should complete at the most important areas in the exam."

3. Cultivate a Mental Picture of Success

Visualize your exam success from the start of your exam preparation until you complete your test. Picture yourself in the exam room, and imagine how you would feel and behave as a confident test taker.

See yourself writing your exam, comfortably, calmly and purposefully. Picture yourself remembering the answer for each question. As you do, take the opportunity to review what you know with respect to the material you studied for the exam.

4. Improve Exam Self-Management

How you manage yourself in the exam will depend largely on your preparation, and will determine how well you perform. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Show up early with the materials you need for your test.
  • Read through the paper quickly to get a sense of what is required.
  • Then start with the questions that you feel most comfortable with. Completing a question well will give the confidence to tackle more difficult ones, and ensure that you get credit for what you know.
  • Be sure to read the directions from each question carefully to make sure you don't miss important details that could cause you to lose marks on questions.
  • Where applicable, make an outline before your start writing, and answer the questions fully.
  • Keep your focus on one question at a time.
  • If you find a question difficult, move on to a more manageable one, always try to complete the questions that you can do well first.

Stategies to Deal with Test Anxiety

5. Practice Relaxation Exercises

Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation could help you to cope with exam stress and anxiety.

Deep breathing is a great way to relieve stress. Slowly breathe in through your nose, counting to five. Then let out the air through your mouth, counting to eight. Repeating this routine several times could relieve your tension during your preparation and even in the test.

Learn progressive muscle relaxation to help to ease tensions. This involves tensing and relaxing each of the group of your muscles. You could start with your toes and work up to your neck and head. Tense your muscles for five seconds then relax for ten seconds.

You will need to keep practicing these relaxation techniques. As you practice, the skills will improve, and you can easily use them when you get anxious or feel stressed. You could find that the Relaxation Techniques audio CD help you to manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety as you learn and practice the simple relaxation techniques.

6. Adopt Adequate Self-Care

Try to maintain good health through your lifestyle choices. This means taking care of your overall well-being - socially, emotionally, spiritual and physically. Strive for balance in your life, where you do not focus only on academic goals but pursue other interests such as healthy relationships and hobbies.

Maintain a well balanced diet and do not skip meals. Stay away from caffeine before tests as this could impact your ability to focus.

Get regular exercise, for example, moderate exercise for thirty minutes each day. Also, get enough sleep which could help you manage your stress. Take time to do things you enjoy, for example, going out with friends, cooking, or outdoor activities.

You need to take care of yourself, including getting enough sleep,  to ensure that your perform well on your test.
You need to take care of yourself, including getting enough sleep, to ensure that your perform well on your test. | Source

Coping with Test Anxiety Poll

Which strategy do find MOST helpful for dealing with test anxiety?

See results

7. Get Professional Help

Depending on the severity of test your anxiety or how well you can manage your anxiety on your own, you might need the help of a trained mental health professional.

A trained therapist can help you to control your test anxiety. For example, the therapist could use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to teach you skills such as cognitive restructuring. This could help you identify and replace anxiety-producing thoughts about test taking.

A therapist could also help you to learn to manage the symptoms of anxiety by teaching you breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques and visualization.

On a deeper level, the therapist could explore and treat the underlying causes for you test anxiety such as perfectionist traits, which make you unwilling to accept mistakes, resulting in undue pressure.

Summary of Tips to Overcome Test Anxiety

Coping Strategy
How it Helps
Study Smartly
Adequate preparation could ease your anxiety
Changing Self-talk
What you tell yourself affects your feelings.
Visualizing Success
Helps you to focus on achieving your goal
Exam self-management
How you manage yourself in the test will determine your success
Pactice relaxation exercises
These ease built up tension and stress
Adequate self-care
Proper nutrtion, rest and so on, could lead to better concentration and focus
Seek professional help
Addresses underlying cause for test anxiety
Try these helpful tips to overcome test anxiety. This will mean being persistent and not giving up. You can succeed!

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change

— Wayne Dyer

Moving to Exam Success

You can succeed at you tests, by decreasing the overall level and intensity of test anxiety so that it does not hinder your performance. You could use stress as a cue to remind you to prepare and study well in advance of your test.

Overcoming test anxiety levels means being able to think through the answers to exam questions and performing at a higher level. You could use a combination of strategies including positive cognitive messages that will increase you self-confidence during tests, and relaxation exercises to reduce exam stress and improve your performance.

References and Further Resources

Brazosport College (2013). Dealing with test anxiety. Retrieved April 30, 2014.

Lisa Collins (1997) Effective strategies for dealing with test anxiety. Ohio Literacy resource Center. Retrieved April

© 2014 Yvette Stupart PhD


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    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for commenting favored. Test anxiety is a real problem for some people but they can take steps to deal with it..

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      Extremely good points for evaluation during testing time. This is something I've dealt with in my classroom trying to teach kids to relax. So helpful; sharing this article on my teacher board.

    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks DDE. I'm happy you found the tips to overcome test anxiety helpful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great tips so helpful and well-informed

    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for your comments MsDora. Indeed, test anxiety is a real problem for some people.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very helpful advice. I knew someone who was brilliant enough to teach but could not pass exams. She was the first person who made me know that test anxiety was a real problem. Thank you on behalf of the many people who could benefit from your article. Voted up!

    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks FlourishAnyway. Yes, test takers of all ages could find the tips useful.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This well-written and finely researched hub should be very helpful for students of all ages. Voted up and more, plus sharing and pinning. Excellent!

    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for your comments Denise. Regularly practice and review are essential to reduce test anxiety. But some people still experience extreme anxiety so they will need to use additional strategies..

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      During my schooling, I found that the best strategy to alleviate test anxiety for me was to study regularly, rather than trying to cram before the test. I was much more likely to remember the items that were important that way. Deep breathing and relaxation during the test were also very helpful.