Have you ever had a dream where you have to take a test in a subject you’ve never heard of? If you suffer from test anxiety, those feelings of panic are all too familiar—because you’ve experienced them in real life. Although some level of test anxiety is to be expected (most people get a little nervous about taking tests), having test anxiety that consistently has a negative effect on your performance is something you shouldn’t have to deal with.  Here are some tips to help relieve test anxiety.

Before the test

  • Develop good study habits and time management strategies. If you study consistently throughout the semester, you won’t feel the need to cram so much last minute. You will also know the material better, which may lessen your anxiety during the actual test. 
  • Try to keep a positive attitude. Do not make a habit of complaining about your schoolwork too much (either out loud or in your head). If you constantly say and think things such as ‘I’m not ready for this,’ or ‘I’m going to fail,’ you’ll start believing it. Try thinking things like ‘I’m nervous for the test, but I’m working hard to succeed!’ or ‘I can do this!’ 
  • Make sure that you are well-rested and eat healthy food leading up to the test. Don’t eat too little (being hungry is distracting) or too much (you might fall asleep!) right before the test. Additionally, too much caffeine, sugar, or preservatives can increase your jitters. Why would you want that when you can avoid it? 
  • If possible, take practice tests in a calming environment. Print out blank copies of your study guide and try to go through the whole thing as if it’s a test. This could also be helpful as a study technique! 
  • If it’s helpful to you, make a list of the reasons why test-taking gives you anxiety. Is it the other people in the room? The time limit? The feeling that if you fail you’ll ruin your academic career? If you can pinpoint the aspects of test-taking that make you nervous, you can start a game plan to overcome those specific fears. However, if thinking about your test anxiety gives you MORE test anxiety, do not bother with this tip. It’s only helpful if it’s helpful to you!

During the test

  • If possible, sit in an area with few distractions and anxiety triggers. Try the end of the row away from foot traffic so that you won’t be distracted by people walking by you.
  • Try some deep breathing techniques. If you Google ‘breathing exercises to relieve anxiety,’ you will find several results that may be helpful. Before you even look at your test paper, take a calming breath or two and tell yourself ‘I can do this!’
  • Read the directions carefully to make sure that you are doing everything correctly.
  • If your mind goes blank on one question, skip it and go on to the next one. Just make sure you come back later to the questions that you skipped! Also, make sure that you check both sides of each page. Being surprised by a double-sided test is the worst!
  • If your mind goes blank on an essay test, just start writing. The act of writing may help you remember the answer.
  • If you see people start to hand in their papers before you, remind yourself that it is not a race. Keep going at your own pace and try not to rush your answers. As long as you are done by the time limit and you are answering to the best of your ability, any speed is fine.

After the test

  • Reward yourself in some small way after the test. You just did something that is difficult and that makes you nervous. Go you! Treat yourself to a small snack or an activity you enjoy. If you have something to look forward to after the test, it may make test-taking easier in the future.
  • Take a few minutes to think about how the test went in a constructive way (not in an ‘I FAILED, I FAILED, I KNOW I FAILED’ way). List what strategies worked, what strategies didn’t work, and some ideas on how you can improve for the next test.
  • See what resources your campus offers. Test anxiety is not uncommon, and you may have luck with speaking to your professors about it. Some professors may help you set up special accommodations during tests (extra time, taking tests in a more controlled environment, etc.). Not all professors will be helpful, but many professors are willing to help you succeed if you ask for help. Another great resource is disability services on your campus. They will be familiar with anxiety in a school environment and be able to help you set up some accommodations, access counseling, or just build up your test-taking skills.

It may seem like test-taking is an innate skill, but it’s not. As with any other skill, some people are good at taking tests, and others have to work at it a little harder. There is no shame in needing to work at something to get better at it; working hard is just a fact of life! Do you have any other tips for relieving test anxiety? Leave them in the comments below!