If you live with performance anxiety, taking a test can be overwhelming. But test anxiety can be managed and these tips may help.
Test anxiety is a common form of performance anxiety, which can create stress, fear, and overwhelm before or while taking an academic or job examination.
Discovering strategies to manage test anxiety can help you approach the situation with calmness and confidence.
People of all ages can get anxious about taking a test. It’s natural and not uncommon.
There are, however, several habits and strategies that can help you deal with test anxiety before and during an exam.
If it causes you distress and anxiety, you may try to avoid the test. But avoidance may cause you more anxiety and lead to school or work complications.
These 5 test anxiety tips can help you prepare:
1. Be prepared
There are some people who thrive on last-minute cramming. But for most folks, adequate prep time is needed.
Once you know a test is scheduled, you may want to create a study plan. A plan could help you absorb the material at a slower pace so that you can feel comfortable and confident well before test time.
If you’re unsure how to get the most out of your study time or need help setting up a study plan, consider talking with a teacher or tutor. They can provide guidance and resources to help you succeed.
2. Get enough sleep
Experts recommend getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your physical and mental health and increase anxiety symptoms.
A more recent study suggests that sleep deprivation can influence our overall cognitive flexibility, or the ability to adapt to changes in our surroundings or circumstances.
Sleep deprivation is also
Sleeping the recommended number of hours can improve your concentration and memory, which is important for test-taking.
With plenty of sleep for at least 3 days before the test, you can avoid fatigue and sluggishness and approach tests or other challenges with a clear head and confidence.
3. Eat the right foods
Nutrition is connected to brain function. When you provide your brain with essential nutrients, you can lower the chance of anxiety and remember more information.
Multiple studies suggest that a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars can increase depression and anxiety symptoms.
Try to avoid fats and sugar for at least 3 days before taking the test.
Eating well-balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding (or reducing) caffeine can also help you manage and prevent test anxiety.
4. Say “no” to cognitive distortions
Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that can cause you to see yourself and others more negatively. Identifying these distorted thoughts may help you manage test anxiety.
Negative self-talk and performance anxiety are often connected to cognitive distortions.
Research suggests you can replace negative self-talk with positive statements once you acknowledge the negative ways you speak to yourself.
Self encouragement and support can lift your mood, lessen anxiety, and boost confidence in your test-taking abilities.
Here are some test anxiety tips if you need self-talk replacements:
- Instead of “I can’t do this,” consider “I can do this.”
- Instead of “I’m not good enough,” you could say “I’m am doing my best.”
- Instead of “I’m going to fail,” consider “I am prepared.”
Identifying and reassessing other thoughts, such as catastrophizing, may help you avoid jumping to the worst possible conclusion every time you take a test.
This way, you can focus on the evidence (you’ve prepared well) versus the catastrophizing thought (I’ll fail the test and the entire course).
5. Use relaxation techniques
When we stress, our body responds. And often, this physiological response increases stress.
For example, you may think you’ll fail the test, which causes your heart to beat faster. In turn, you could experience sweating and shortness of breath. When you feel this way, you become concerned and more stressed.
Relaxation techniques can help to:
- lower your heart rate
- steady your breathing
- bring your blood pressure down
These techniques can help you manage other anxiety symptoms.
There are also various relaxation exercises you can try before taking a test, including:
- breathing exercises
- meditation exercises
- yoga or tai chi
- body scan
- progressive muscle relaxation
Symptoms of anxiety before, during, or after a test
Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way or intensity. What matters is how you feel and how it affects you.
There are some common symptoms of test anxiety, including:
- nausea or stomach pain
- rapid heartbeat
- trouble breathing
Emotional and mental symptoms
- racing thoughts
- memory loss
- low focus
- mental confusion
- anger and irritability
- feelings of inadequacy
These symptoms may impact your behavior and performance.
You’ve fully prepared, are well-rested, had a hearty breakfast, and have been using positive self-talk and relaxation exercises.
But when the test day arrives, the anxiety shows up again. What can you do?
1. Accept anxiety
It’s common to feel anxiety while taking a test. Even those who aren’t anxious test-takers may find themselves feeling a bit more stressed than usual during test time.
Try to accept anxiety instead of fighting it.
You can try positive self-talk and breathing techniques right before or during the test.
Reassuring yourself that you are well-prepared and ready to do your best can help ease the stress and allow you to move forward.
2. Take your time
Working too quickly can cause your anxiety to resurface, so it’s important not to rush during a test.
You’ll find it helpful to take your time to read the instructions and questions carefully.
Also, consider beginning with the questions you can quickly and easily answer. Getting them out of the way first will allow you to spend more time on questions that may feel more difficult.
Feeling you have done some work already can also help you decrease your anxiety.
3. Use your relaxation techniques
If you start to get anxious during your test, consider using some relaxation techniques you used before the test.
Some gentle deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, or quietly counting down to ease your mind can relax your body and calm your mind so that you can turn your focus back to your test.
Spending some time before the test practicing techniques to reduce anxiety quickly can help you implement them easily during the test.
4. Ignore your surroundings
It can be nerve-wracking when others around you are finishing their tests before you do. But it’s important to remember: Test-taking isn’t a race. There are no winners or losers, and every person will get through the test in their own time.
Try to ignore what others are doing. Paying attention to them pulls your focus from where it needs to be, which can cause anxious thoughts. Instead, try to zero in on what you’re doing, and pull out that positive self-talk if needed.
If you feel you’re getting distracted, spend one minute practicing a grounding technique like focusing on every little detail of a sheet of paper or anything on your desk.
5. Reward yourself
Sometimes, having an incentive to take your test can help you to get through it.
Maybe that means having a post-test snack or treating yourself to your favorite restaurant, movie, or activity.
Whether big or small, find a way to credit yourself for working hard and celebrating your effort.
Many people experience anxiety, particularly when it comes to taking tests. However, if you feel your fear of tests is getting in your way of functioning at school or work, consider reaching out for professional help.
A mental health professional can explore the underlying causes of your anxiety and can work with you in developing a plan to manage it.
These resources may help you:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists