What are some tips to help deal with test-taking anxiety?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would tell a student: Join the club! Your feelings of anxiety about examinations have been experienced by millions and millions of people and will be experienced by millions and millions more in the future--not only in America but all over Europe and probably all over the world. In his famous book The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud wrote that what he called "Examination Dreams" were among the most common dreams of all. So not only do students feel anxious about examinations, but people will continue to dream about them, and experience the same anxiety, when they are in the forties and fifties, and maybe even when they are in their eighties and nineties. I think you are wise to talk about them, and you might even try joking about them. Freud came to the conclusion that the function of examination dreams was to remind the dreamer that something he or she was dreading in the present was like the way the dreamer felt way back in school when an examination was coming up. The dream is telling him or her, "You felt this way about exams ages ago when you were in school and you got through them all right, so don't be so worried. You'll get through your current problem all right too." 

I have felt plenty of anxiety about tests in college myself. But my recollection is that the actual tests were never as bad as I anticipated. Shakespeare says in Macbeth

Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.

askteacherz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Test Anxiety Help:

Testing is like Game-Time; Performance-Time. All athletes, musicians and performers get pre-performance jitters. There's no short term cure for it other than performing on "stage" often with success. Here's some help to be successful which ultimately leads to eliminating anxiety.

1. Preparation... sounds easy and one might state I do prepare but are you preparing properly. Not the night prior studying; are doing what is necessary throughout the ENTIRE lapse of time. Are you taking notes in an organized manner? Are you color coding, highlighting important concepts? The BEST most useful FREE online tool that syncs with ALL iOS products, lap tops and desk tops in Evernote.

2. Studying... Are you studying your notes often enough? Studying is a task that needs to be done frequently, for shorter periods of time so that information is placed in your long term memory, rather than in your short term memory. In 20 years teaching here's the BEST online source for studying techniques that I've found. It's titled ADPRIMA and the auithor of the site Dr. Bob Kizlick (he's a study expert on the topic - his bio is linked). Using flash cards is also very helpful. Again this needs to done many days, even weeks in advance. Here's a YouTube video on helpful note card development: Note Card Tutorial. An additional gem of a tool is to use the app titled Quizlet (<- click here) that is compatible with making and sharing flashcards online with others.

3. Game-Time... Get to bed at a reasonable time the night prior to the test. On the day of the test wake up early and review ALL material after having a quality, healthy breakfast. Your brain is a muscle, treat it as such like an athlete treats their body. A fresh, alert brain in the morning will make the difference the day of the test.

4. Success... breads more success but it doesn't come with out preparation over a long period of time. Musicians, athletes and performers do not reach their top performance levels without spending incredible amounts of time preparing using multiple methods. Test taking skills are no different. Experiment and try various methods of studying. Use the internet to research how other(s) study; learn from their attempts. Start here at the AskteacherZ Homework HelperZ web site and then branch out.

5. Be Confident... when you know, in your heart, that you've done what it takes to prepare you'll be confident taking that test. Once you reach this level the anxiety will cease to exist. You can do it!

laurto | Student

Test taking anxiety is the worst because it can cause you to do poorly on the test. Here are some tips on what to do when you have have test taking anxiety:

  • DO NOT CRAM Space out your studying in order to lessen stress. If you try to learn everything the night before there's a huge chance you won't remember much and you'll end up stressing more.
  • TRY TO BE POSITIVE Negativity can cause even more anxiety. Try to convince yourself that you'll do great even if you feel you might not do very well because negativity can cause you believe that you'll do terrible even if you do study (which is not true because if you study, you'll do fine). 
  • GET SLEEP I know this seems impossible when you're a student but by spacing out your studying and by getting off your phone and computer it's possible.
  • TAKE BREAKS You need to take breaks so you don't overwhelm yourself with the material and get tired.
Wiggin42 | Student

With AP Exams coming up, this is quite a salient question. 

I find that studying thoroughly is the best way to avoid test taking anxiety. When I am confident in myself that I absolutely know the material, I am not as anxious. Studying a little bit each night (cliché as it sounds!) really does help make the test less frightening. 

However, that is not enough for certain high stakes test such as the SAT. The ungodly amount of importance we give that test alone is enough to make me anxious; despite all my studying. For tests like that, reminding myself that I can always retake the test helps alleviate some of that stress.

Its also helpful to do a simple practice problem or two the morning of the exam. This wakes up my brain and gets me ready to be in a testing "zone". Its nice not having the first problem I solve that day be an actual question on my test. 

Telling myself that this one test does not define me; that I have value beyond my GPA, rank, etc is absolutely important to relieving the stress of major tests.

Anxiety is a mind over matter struggle that can unwittingly jeopardize students who truly know the material but are too stressed to focus. If I feel anxious while taking a test, I close my eyes and take a few breaths to calm myself down. Skipping over the difficult questions and completing the easier ones is also a nice confidence boost that helps avoid anxiety. 

thewanderlust878 | Student

For me, I find comfort in a multitude of different test-taking tips. A couple of years ago, I made some lifestyle changes to help me better my studies and improve not only my health, but my grades and anxiety levels as well. I started doing yoga and meditation, which helped to ease my tensions and calm my nerves, and I also started to stress less. I read many self-help books, including Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens, and I felt they really helped me improve my life. Long story short, the tips I have for test taking anxiety are:

-reevaluate your life. Make changes that you feel will help your overall mental and physical state. While on the outside it may not seem like it would help test taking, it truly does, because it will help you focus more on studying and allow you to absorb information better.

-stress less. This proves difficult to most, but I promise this helps tremendously. I recommend reading Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens  by Richard Carlson if you need further help. 

StephanieRR | Student

Here are some links to sites that have a lot of helpful advice and techniques about test anxiety:




From looking at these, it seems that an important part of dealing with test anxiety actually happens before you even sit down to take the test. Being well-prepared beforehand can do a lot to lessen the anxiety during the test, because if you can say to yourself, "I know the material and there won't be any surprises," that goes a long way in boosting confidence and making you feel more at ease once you are finally looking at the questions. Getting a good night's sleep, eating a good breakfast, and knowing how to pace your studying are some of the ways to contribute to this strong preparation. As far as that last one goes, good studying skills also include knowing when to stop studying. Your brain can only absorb so much information at one time, and if you try to cram a bunch of material into your head with no breaks for several hours, you are not doing yourself any favors, and will retain less than if you let yourself take time to get a snack, listen to music, or watch a good show.

These sites also acknowledge, however, that sometimes test anxiety isn't directly linked to lack of preparation. Some people just are not good at taking tests, and no matter how much they study, they always seem to choke. They help with this kind of anxiety, too, by providing helpful ways to calm yourself while taking the test. Taking deep breaths, focusing intently on what the questions are saying rather than focusing on your fear, and telling yourself positive things to remind yourself that all you can do is your best, and your best will be just fine, are a few of many helpful suggestions. It might also help to speak with your teacher or professor ahead of time so he or she knows you have a problem, and might be able to offer an alternative or help you find an environment that will make you feel more comfortable. It is always okay to talk to someone if you are having trouble.

The first site listed has some links to other pages that will further illustrate how to develop good study habits so that you can walk into the classroom feeling as good about the test as possible.

udonbutterfly | Student

First thing to do would take a deep breath. Remember that you going  crazy will not help you ace the exam but hinder you.

Now do not hesitate to open the test, open it and get right to solving the questions. The longer you site there psyched out the less time you have to complete the test which will cause further anxiety.

Also take your time answering the questions but do so in a timely manner. If you spend too much time on a question just skip it and come back to by the end of the test.

Do not stress your self out it will only increase your ability to miss the east questions.

CaitlynnReeves | Student

Here are my best tips for test taking anxiety: 

1) Breathe: Take really long deep breaths. It sounds cliche I know, but I swear it helps. 

2) Possitive thoughts: Sometimes I tell myself it is just a practice test even if it actually determines 40% of my grade. Tell youself how smart you are and remind yourself of how well you prepared. Remember, this is just one test. While you should always do your best, one test will not ruin your life. 

3) Read: Do not get so wraped up in freaking out or test taking strategies that you forget to read the quesion thoroughly. Most the time the questions are easier than they seem if you read them through several times. 

4) Smile: It's silly and simple but the physiological effects of smiling can reduce stress and help you focus better. So when you start to freak out take a deep breath and smile!

i used to have test taking anxiety and i cannot stress to you how hard it was for me and how upsetting because i would study sometimes over 8 hours a day and still make c's on some tests. i went to my teacher and here are some tips he gave me and a combo of what ive learned from trial and error:

1. study the material once, and create an outline then walk around repeating as much of the outline as you can and sometimes correcting yourself when needed. make up as many funny ways to remember the things as you can i.e. i remember the three types of lichens: fruticose, foliose, and crustose, by linking them to washing you face: you wash your face with grapefruit wash to exfoliate your skin so that it does not get crusty. ta-da!

2. create a practice test and ask a friend to check your answers for you, try to recreate the testing environment

3. when you think you start forgetting the material, try to think big then gointo details of the outline you memorized earlier. like lets say you had a question on the three types of lichens, and you forgot what they were try and recall what study guide you heard the word from..oh it was the fungi chapter, then try and recall what part of the fungi chapter, oh it was something about the detection of air quality , and green algae and cyanobacteria.. and then the tree kinds had something to do with face washing...wash your face with grapefruit wash to exfoliate your skin so that it does not get crusty...fruticose, foliose, and crustose,

4. when at the testing place, close your eyes, zone out people around you don't allow others to ask you questions about things because that will throw you in a state of panic. just close your eyes and keep remembering the outline. if you began to panic, and sometimes get short of breath, hold your breath for a few seconds, dont take a deep breath as in some cases that brings more oxygen into your system allowing you to be more hyperactive and jittery. if you see a word you dont recognize, skip it and then go back to it and visualize your outline again try to find where you heard the word. 

I hope this helps, with those of you who have test anxiety, don't worry just try your best!

taangerine | Student

Based on my personal experience, this is what helped me:

  1. Dreaming. Set a goal for yourself to reach 2 nights before the test day. A score or even a grade. 
  2. Planning. Make a plan to reach your goal. For example, on one day you can take a practice test, one day to study a specific topic you are struggling on, or even have one day that you rest. You can even make a graph showing where you are and what you need to do to reach your goal!
  3. Fulfilling. Make a commitment to the plan you are doing. Don't procrastinate and follow through with your plan. 
  4. Rewarding. Reward yourself with treats once you reach a checkpoint of your goal. 
  5. Completing. Once you complete and fulfill what you are set out to do, you will have exactly 2 days left before the test. On the first day, study the material briefly and get a good night of rest. On the second day (which is the day before the test), get a good night rest.
  6. Test Day. Come in the testing center knowing that you have reached your goal. Stay confident and tackle the test. 

This really helped me because I knew that I was prepared and ready on the day of test.

If you don't have time, what else can you do? At the end of each day, once you have finished your homework and chores, you can just crack open your notes for each class and study for 15 minutes for each class. Every little bit counts. So, when you have a test coming up, you don't have to fret because you already mastered everything there is to master in that class.

Other tips. 

  • Chew gum. It helps stimulate brain activity and helps you think. It also helps you relieve stress as you don't have to chew on your pen or pencil cap anymore! 
  • Breaks. Make breaks in between your test every ~30 minutes to stretch and walk outside for fresh air (if you could). It keeps you relaxed and rejuvenated. Take advantage of them! 
  • Eat. Eat a good meal before your exam, so you don't feel hungry or distracted throughout the testing period. 
  • Restroom. GO before the exam. During the test, I know that I try not to go because I will waste time and end up not finishing my test in time if I go. My stress always lies within this area because if I can't go, my bladder would explode, but if I can, I won't have enough time to finish the test! I can advocate this enough, especially if you drink a lot of fluids throughout the day.

Stay confident, relaxed, and happy (stay positive!). 

chrisyhsun | Student

For test-taking anxiety, I often find that this doesn't relate to how much a person studies. I have friends who study more than most people I know but end up more scared for tests than those same people. The best tips for test-taking anxiety, in my opinion, are for after you have already conquered all the material - it's more a game of confidence than of knowledge.

  1. This may seem counter-productive, but don't study right up until you walk into the classroom. Give your brain a break and stop poring over study guides. Invariably, you'll find a fact that may have slipped your mind momentarily and that will only stress you out even more.
  2. Play a little mind game with yourself. For me, I always perform better on tests when I "convince" myself beforehand that this test really doesn't matter all that much. This may be false (and certainly shouldn't be your attitude when studying for the test), but right before I walk into the room, this is the "encouragement" I need. Find something that works for you.
  3. Get everything prepped and checked and double-checked and backed-up and whatever else you need...the night before. You'll be a lot less stressed before the test. Rather than running around finding a friend to borrow a calculator from, you can be finding your happy place.
  4. Step back and look at the big picture. You just spent several hours studying and trying to memorize every little fact. In the time before the test, turn your brain back to the big picture rather than focusing on minute details. This helps my brain "recalibrate" so I'm not surprised by the first question on a test, which rarely has to do with the last-minute cram facts I reviewed.

tl;dr - Relax and Be Confident.

ayl0124 | Student

For nerve-wrecking tests like the AP tests and SATs, it's really hard not to get anxious. This is my test-taking ritual:

1) Take practice tests! Once you take practice tests, you get a feel of what to expect. This way, you won't have any surprises. Even with tests in school, doing practice problems that your teacher gives you helps a lot.

2) Once you take the practice tests, be sure to review the answers! You spent all the time taking the test; you might as well see what went wrong! Check wrong answers and why they were wrong. Then, on a blank piece of paper, reiterate what you did wrong or highlight the concept you did not really understand.

3) Be sure to review your notes, but try not to read the textbook. After you have read the textbook once, there really is no point. You'll just end up skimming the text and it'll be a waste of time.

4) On the day before test, don't do anything related to the test! Relax and just prepare for the little things like materials (ID, pencils, calculator, snacks, etc.). I find that when I try to study the night before, I get even more stressed.

5) On the day of the test, my favorite thing to do is to dress well. Based on psychological studies, you're more likely to do better on a test when you feel good about yourself. Although you may be tempted to grab those sweats, think about wearing your favorite dress! Just make sure it isn't too uncomfortable! Also, before the test begins, review those notes you made about your mistakes on the practice test. It'll help you remember those tricky concepts and will prevent you from making those same mistakes. 

clyoon | Student

What are some tips to help deal with test-taking anxiety?

  1. Do not procrastinate. Study thoroughly and early so that by the day of the test you feel prepared and confident. Cramming the night before will not help you. You might be able to remember a few things here and there, but really, your brain will be stressed having to remember many concepts all in a few hours.
  2. Rehearsal. Don't just study one thing and leave it at that. Review it again later. They say practice makes perfect because you repeat something over and over again until you've got it down. It's the same thing with studying. Review your material in different intervals of time and you can remember it much better.
  3. Treat it like any other regular assignment. One thing that helped me when taking my SAT's and AP exams was to treat it like it was practice. Not too serious. But still be focused and pay attention to detail. Ignore the fact that it's a test. When I did this, my scores were better. But when I remembered it was a test, I slowed down, my brain couldn't think as quickly and efficiently, and well you know the rest.
  4. Eat a banana! This is just something my friends in orchestra told me. Before they go on stage to perform, many of them eat bananas because it's said that the potassium can help you calm down. Maybe a banana or two can help you calm down for your test!
  5. Breathe. Take deep breaths. If you find yourself holding your breath while trying to solve a problem or answer a question quickly, just let it go and breathe. Let the oxygen flow in your body so your brain has fuel to think.
  6. "I am a good test taker!" Telling yourself that you can do this can actually increase your score. Your performance is all in your head. Be confident and you can improve your score.
arrellbelle | Student

Well for me, the main reason why I get test-anxiety is because I don't feel prepared for what i'm about to be tested on. Of course, I have thoughts of doubt and I feel that I won't know the material. However, if one better prepares themselves a week or two prior to the exam, I feel that you'll be relaxed in the test-taking situation. If you've learned the material, you will feel more confident and being confident usually leads to higher scores in tests/exams. Just remember though, there is a difference between confidence and cockiness! Good luck!

maria-vivanco | Student

god, this question hits home. 

i personally have problems with test taking because of the pressure and weight of the grade on my overall grade in the class.

Some tips that have worked with me are:

  • study. i cannot stress this enough. i know sometimes you don't feel the need to study the material. however, when studying and revising the material, this corresponds with the confidence you'll have while taking the test. Studying helps you remember more. sometimes the lesson you learned in class isn't enough. when prepping for math, take a few problems that were given in class and do them again and check your answer afterward. with chemistry or science, make index cards or quiz yourself on terms and solving problems. with history, review terms and the sequence of events. If studying world history or us history, john green has made study videos called crash course on youtube which go over certain topics on us history or world history.
  • confidence: when you let your anxiety get the best of you this can make you blank out and forget the material that you studied. just relax and know that you can get a good grade. especially if you studied.
  • STUDY THE MATERIAL BEFORE GETTING INTO CLASS: i'm not saying to study all the material before the class and cram everything. no go over the material and focus on things you have trouble with. the material will be fresh in your mind. this works with memorizing classes such as languages and some history.