If you have ever “blanked out” or “froze” on a test, you know what test anxiety feels like. It is terrifying.
Test anxiety can affect anyone at any age. For most students, it may occur once or twice each school year. Others may experience it on a regular basis. If left untreated, anxiety can interfere with test performance and actually go beyond excessive nervousness to include memory loss and physical discomfort.
It is not fun but, in most cases, it is controllable. There are steps you can take early on to alleviate the anxieties of exam day. Here are some stress-reducing ideas to get started.
1. Work It Out
Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping and releases any excess energy or tension you may have. When you start to feel the test pressure, try any light physical activity instead, like walking or gardening. These light exercises will raise your serotonin levels (aka, the “happiness hormone”) and leave you feeling calm and relaxed.
2. Treat Yourself
Everyone loves a treat. Increase your motivation by envisioning a post-exam reward to work toward. Whether it is a brownie, a round of golf or a new shirt, select a treat that will inspire you to reach your goal.
3. Envision Success
Visualize passing or acing your exam. The idea is that you will motivate yourself to work smarter. If you believe that all your studying will pay off, it will help make it true. Success will become more believable than you think.
4. Get Comfy
Where you take your test can really impact your performance. Whether you take your exam online or at a testing site, find a spot that has good lighting and minimal distractions. The right spot will help maintain your energy and focus. Meanwhile, loose, comfortable clothing is an absolute must and can help calm your nerves.
5. Get Your Sleep
You have heard it many times before: a lack of sleep can cause memory loss and impaired concentration. Not a good recipe for exams. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is directly tied to lower GPA’s, academic failure, impaired mood and trouble learning. So just as you set aside time to study, make an effort to get enough sleep in the days leading up to your exam.
6. Set a Reasonable and Realistic Pace
Even before you begin studying, skim through each section of your study material so you can come up with a study plan. A structured plan will help you pace yourself. Dedicate a reasonable amount of time to each topic and stick to your scheduled plan.
7. Come Up With a Strategy
Some exams allow you to skip around the questions and return to them later. This allows you to postpone answers to the hardest questions. If you get stuck on a question, you can leave it and go on to the next one - but note that you will return to it later. On exams that present questions in an orderly format, calculate how much time you have to answer each one. For example, if you take a two-hour, 100-question exam, you will have roughly 72 seconds to answer each question. Of course, the time you may need to answer each question correctly will vary. But a strategy will help you manage your time effectively and reduce any stress caused by rushing.
8. Play By the 15 Minute Rule
The time you have before your test begins are crucial. Use the 15 minutes before wisely. Depending on what would help you relax, conduct a quick review of the material or let your mind wander (and keep the books and notes tucked away). If you feel prepared and ready, then more studying probably won’t be necessary. Or, if you crave a quick recap, a short review may make you feel better. Either way, use the time before your exam begins in a way that will boost your academic performance.
9. Make Breakfast a Priority
The wrong food choices - think muffins and danishes - can leave you tired and sluggish before your test. But a balanced, healthy breakfast will help boost your academic performance every time. In fact, the right foods can be great stress busters. healthy nutrition will leave you feeling energized, alert and ready - exactly what you need to feel confident on exam day.
10. Establish a Pretest Routine
Learning what works for you, perhaps through trial and error, is key to overcoming test anxiety. To feel well-prepared, the MayoClinic advises establishing a consistent pretest routine. Take the same steps every time you get ready to take an exam. This will help you curb any nervousness and ensure that you are at the top of your game.
11. Practice Good Study Habits and Techniques
Of course, you want to coordinate how you study to how you learn. But to really study smarter, not harder, also incorporate small study techniques into your everyday activities to make a big difference. For example, carry around any travel-conducive for review whenever you have some unexpected down time. Or, keep your notes on a set of index cards in your purse or briefcase so you can pull them out and review them in between tasks.
12. Curb the Caffeine
Too much caffeine can make you jittery, only wreaking havoc on your nerves when you least need it. Stick to water in the days before your exam to increase brain function and concentration.
13. Avoid Negative Self-talk
There really is strength in positive reinforcement. Repeat encouraging phrases to yourself to build your pretest confidence. Some phrases will work better for you than others, but isn’t finding out which ones the best part?
14. Know Your Rights
Severe cases of test anxiety have been identified as a psychological condition by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, some students with other physical or mental impairments put added pressure on themselves out of worry or fear when it comes to exam time. If you have a disability, medical condition or injury that limits one or more major life activities, you may qualify for reasonable accommodations under the American Disabilities Act. After contacting the University’s ADA coordinator and providing a verification or documentation of your disability, you may be granted certain accommodations:
- Time and a half for pen and paper and online midterm and final exams.
- The option to take a pen and paper exam, which allows you to go back over your exam.
- Testing in a quiet, distraction-free room.
- Rest periods within the testing room itself.
Written by Thomas Edison State University