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7 Tips to Successfully Overcome Test Anxiety

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. .

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 article 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

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.

Coping with Test Anxiety Poll

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

Try these helpful tips to overcome test anxiety. This will mean being persistent and not giving up. You can succeed!

Coping StrategyHow 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



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


Literarycreature from Argentina on August 09, 2020:

Test anxiety is something I deal with a lot as a student. I always put a lot of time and effort into preparing my exams, but, on many occasions, when the moment of proving my knowledge comes, I experience a weird kind of panic. It is tremendously frustrating not to get the grades I know I should have because of those moments of irrational fear.

With my last few exams, however, I tried some relaxation exercises before taking the test. I did not have much faith in it working, but it was surprisingly useful. It helped me to manage most of the initial panic at the beginning of the exam (Which is always the worst part) From then on I was able to go through the rest of it well enough.

I particularly liked what you wrote about visualizing success because that is what I have to work on myself! I will try to do it.

Great article!

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on March 11, 2020:

Great suggestions, Martha. Thank you.

Martha on March 09, 2020:

First and foremost you must be well prepares, this can put your mind at ease till the D-day arrives. You must prepare for the test in a strategic manner, you must familiarize yourself with similar sort of questions before hand and take practice exams which can help in boosting your self-confidence, while at the same time it will help you in feeling more calm and collected before the test. I would recommend to join a study groups, or enroll into a training and learning institute that offers comprehensive training and workshops essential to ace your exam.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on November 15, 2014:

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

Fay Favored from USA on November 15, 2014:

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.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 14, 2014:

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

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 14, 2014:

Great tips so helpful and well-informed

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 07, 2014:

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

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 07, 2014:

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!

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 06, 2014:

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

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 06, 2014:

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!

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 06, 2014:

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 from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 06, 2014:

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.