test-anxietyA little anxiety before a test improves your concentration and alertness. Excessive worry, however, can lower your test scores.

Having test anxiety is like not having the password to your computer. The information is there, you just can’t get to it.

To reduce test anxiety, remember that this one test will not make or break your life.  Yes, it may be stressful and it may even determine if you pass the class or not, but even in the worst case scenario, there is always another option available so try to fact check the situation against reality and remember that in the grand scheme of life, this is just a stressor that you WILL be able to make it through with some patience and kindness to yourself.  The first and biggest key to minimizing test anxiety is to study enough so that you feel confident that you know the material. Then try to replace the thoughts that are worry and negative thinking with thoughts that are positive and relaxing.

Reduce Test Anxiety:

  • Start studying early. Cramming only increases test anxiety.
  • Mentally practice going through the test. See yourself taking the test, answering the questions correctly, and getting the grade you want.  It may help to think of your test as a play.  Your preparation is your dress rehearsal - study in the same format and time limits you'd have for the test to make sure you are prepared.
  • Know that you know what you know.  Even if you don't know everything that you want to know, at least you can feel confident to perform well on the areas that you know.  Then, on the other areas, perhaps the confidence will help carry over to a stronger grade than you had anticipated from the areas you performed well on during the test.
  • Beware of the frantic students among your peers and friends.  When you surround yourself with others who are highly anxious related to an upcoming exam, their anxiety will increase your anxiety.  You can often identify these individuals as those who come into the classroom in the last few moments before the test trying to cram in any additional content.
  • Try a relaxation technique.
  • Take a deep breath. Then slowly release your breath, along with any tension. Repeat.
  • Starting at the top of your head, flex, and then relax. Repeat moving down to each part of your body.
  • Use Expressive Writing: immediately before a test spend 10 minutes writing about your thoughts and feelings.  Getting all of the "gunk thoughts" out of your head frees up working memory space in your brain so that you can focus better on the test.
  • Use Value Writing: spend a few minutes before the test writing about something you value and why it matters to you
  • Try to eliminate negative self statements that you tend to make such as "I'm going to fail this test."  Repeating phrases like this in your head will have an impact on your behavior and your self concept.  Instead, replace it with a phrase such as, "I studied hard and will do as well as I can today."  
  • Stay in the moment.  Answer the question in front of you.  Then answer the next question.  Try to stay focused on the moment at hand rather than catastrophizing and thinking about the potential for negative consequences.
  • Think of a place where you feel relaxed and calm. Close your eyes and visualize being in that place.

Students may also be interested in this self-assessment called the Bernstein Performance Inventory.