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Test Anxiety

Ten Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety


Updated May 15, 2014

Test anxiety is a type of social anxiety in which fear about scrutiny by parents, teachers, and professors interferes with your ability to perform well in an exam situation. If you suffer from test anxiety, there are a number of coping strategies that you can employ. Below are ten tips to help you cope.

1. Prepare Well

The first step to overcoming test anxiety is to make sure that you are adequately prepared. Cramming for a test or exam will only increase anxiety. Give yourself enough time to learn material well. Not sure how to study correctly? Ask friends for help who you know study regularly and do well, join a study group, read books about study skills, or find a study skills tutor. Finally, find out what you can about the test or exam in advance such as the types of questions and length, so that there will be no last minute surprises.

2. Watch Self-Talk

When performance suffers because of test anxiety it can be easy to fall into a downward spiral of negative thinking. It is important to watch what you say to yourself and replace any negative thoughts with positive ones. Consider how rational your thoughts are and whether there are better things you could say to yourself. Thoughts such as, "I should have studied more", "I must be stupid", and "I have to do well, everything is on the line" are not helpful. Tell yourself, "STOP" and come up with alternatives such as "I am prepared for this test", "I am smart enough to do well", and "Even if I don't do well, it's not the end of the world".

3. Visualize Success

Elite athletes visualize themselves being successful in competition. You can do the same to overcome test anxiety. While studying, imagine yourself feeling confident and clearheaded in the exam. Visualizing yourself doing well on the test can help you to make it happen in real life.

4. Relaxation Strategies

Make use of relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and guided imagery. Use these strategies in the weeks leading up to a test, and during the testing situation as needed.

5. Stay Healthy

When faced with multiple tests or exams you might start to neglect your physical health. Don't fall into this trap! Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are all important components of a lifestyle that will keep stress at a minimum. The day of a test, be sure to eat an adequate breakfast and avoid caffeine as it will only contribute to anxiety.

6. Arrive Early

Nothing will heighten anxiety like the feeling of rushing to get to a test. Arrive at least 10 minutes early. If waiting for the test to begin makes you nervous, bring a magazine or something along to keep your mind occupied. Avoid people who are anxious before a test and do not second guess what you know.

7. Focus During the Test

During the test, do everything you can to maintain focus. If you find yourself becoming anxious, stop and regroup. Sharpen your pencil, ask a question, or focus on taking deep breaths. Remember to take your time but check your watch to pace yourself. Before starting the test, do a quick review and read directions twice. Start with the easiest questions first.

8. Accept a Little Anxiety

Recognize that a little bit of anxiety before a test is a good thing. If you did not feel nervous at all, you might not be motivated to do your best. It is only when anxiety becomes unmanageable that it is a problem.

9. Expect Setbacks

If you have a bad experience, realize that there will always be roadblocks along the way. Plan for a better experience next time and know that one bad test result does not mean that you can't improve in the future.

10. Reward Yourself

Plan a reward for yourself after the test. Take some time to relax and clear your mind. Do not dwell on mistakes you may have made or worry about how you did. Whenever possible, give yourself a break before starting to study for another test.

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