Generally, we all experience some level of nervousness or tension before tests or other important events in our lives. A little nervousness can actually help motivate us; however, too much of it can become a problem—especially if it interferes with our ability to prepare for and perform on tests.

Dealing with Anxiety

The first step is to distinguish between two types of anxiety. If your anxiety is a direct result of lack of preparation, consider it a normal, rational reaction. However, if you are adequately prepared, but still panic, “blank out”, and/or overact your reaction is not rational. While both of these anxieties may be considered normal (anyone can have them), it is certainly helpful to know how to overcome their effects.

Preparation Can Help

Preparation is the best way to minimize rationale anxiety. Consider the following:

  • Avoid “cramming” for a test. Trying to master a semester’s worth of material the day before the test is a poor way to learn and can easily produce anxiety.
  • Combine all the information you have been presented throughout the semester and work on mastering the main concepts of the course.
  • When studying for the test, ask yourself what questions may be asked and try to answer them by integrating ideas from lectures, notes, texts, and supplementary readings.

Changing Your Attitude

Improving your perspective of the test-taking experience can actually help you enjoy studying and may improve your performance. Don’t overplay the importance of a grade—it is not a reflection of your self-worth nor does it predict your future success. Try the following:

  • Remember that the most reasonable expectation is to try and show as much of what you know as you can.
  • Remind yourself that a test is only a test—there will be others.
  • Avoid thinking of yourself in irrational, all-or-nothing terms.

The Day of the Test

  • Begin your day with a moderate breakfast and avoid coffee if you are prone to “caffeine jitters”.
  • Try to do something relaxing the hour before the test—last minute cramming will cloud your mastering of the overall concepts of the course.
  • Plan to arrive at the test location early—this will allow you to relax and to select a seat located away from doors, windows, and other distractions.
  • Avoid classmates who generate anxiety and tend to upset your stability.
  • If waiting for the test to begin causes anxiety, distract yourself by reading a magazine or newspaper.

During the Test

Basic Strategies

Before you begin answering the questions on the test, take a few minutes and do the following:

  • First review the entire test, including the directions. Try to think of the test as an opportunity to show the professor what you know. Work on the easiest portions of the test first.
  • For essay questions, construct a short outline for yourself—then begin your answer with a summary sentence. For short-answer questions, answer only what is asked—short and to the point. If you have difficulty with an item involving a written response, show what knowledge you can.
  • For multiple choice questions, read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious.
  • Do not rush through the test. Recheck your answers only if you have extra time—and only if you are not anxious.

Anxiety Control

Curb excess anxiety in any of the following ways:

  • Tell yourself “I can be anxious later, now is the time to take the exam.”
  • Focus on answering the question, not on your grade.
  • Counter negative thoughts with other, more valid thoughts like, “I don’t have to be perfect.”
  • Tense and relax muscles throughout your body; take a couple of slow, deep breaths.
  • If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Ask the instructor a question.
  • Eat something.