How to Stop Worrying About Tests
Test-taking anxiety is a frustrating thing. It can impede your progress and make it more difficult to achieve grades that match your knowledge in high school, college, university, and beyond.
Do you battle your nerves and memory blocks, struggling to produce the answers to questions you have studied well for? Even if you have a firm grasp of your subject matter, you could find yourself freezing up because of test-taking anxiety. There’s nothing more frustrating than being a good student but failing tests because of your anxiety.
In it’s most basic form, test-taking anxiety is a form of performance anxiety about doing well on the test. When you have anxiety and blank out, you are worried that you can’t perform as well as you should under pressure (or under the spotlight of the test).
However, test taking anxiety is not impossible to overcome. Below are some tips to help you get a better handle on your anxiety so that you can survive your next test.
Test-taking is not a reflection of your study skills or even your ability to perform well under pressure; rather, if you have anxiety that interferes with your ability to take tests, you could have a diagnosable illness such as social anxiety disorder.
It’s important to visit your school counseling office if you are struggling with moderate to severe anxiety that’s getting in the way of doing well on tests. Most of these offices will have supports in place such as therapists you can talk to, group sessions, and test accomodations (such as writing your test in a private room).
If your school does not offer therapy or the wait is too long, I use and recommend the online therapy service Betterhelp. You will be matched with a therapist and can communicate via video chat, email, or phone to quickly start working on your anxiety without having to see anyone in person.
Try to choose your clothes the night before a test so that you aren’t scrambling in the morning finding something to wear. Wear clothes that are comfortable and won’t be distracting while you take the test. Choose clothing that also won’t leave you feeling too hot or cold, and that is breathable if you are prone to breaking out in a sweat when feeling anxious.
Also, make sure that you have all the tools that you will need for the test, that you know where your exam is located and at what time, and that you’ve put in the appropriate amount of studying (doing little bits of studying over a longer period is better than cramming all at once).
While it’s possible to still have test taking anxiety even if you’ve prepared well, making sure you are adequately prepared will help you to notice when your negative thoughts are unrealistic rather than actually reflecting the fact you didn’t study enough.
Practice Healthy Habits
Watching what you eat in the days leading up to a test can be helpful for managing test taking anxiety. Choose healthy foods that help to reduce anxiety and work to keep you calm. Foods high in sugar and caffeine can add to overall test-taking anxiety; you should avoid food and drink high in either before taking a test.
Try to also get plenty of rest before an exam. If you are struggling with insomnia because of anxiety about a test, try a mindfulness meditation recording from Youtube and listen to it right before bed. Also, try using a lavender spray on your pillow and drinking chamomile tea. Both are known to help with drowsiness and make it easier to sleep.
Manage Anxious Thoughts
It’s important to manage your anxious thinking both before and during an exam. If you are prone to predicting catastrophe or focusing on the negative, using a free app such as Woebot.io may help you to identify problematic thinking and replace your thoughts with more realistic appraisals of the situation.
Create a Panic Plan
If the worst happens and you do start to panic during a test, it’s best to have a plan in place of what you will do in that situation. Some strategies that you could plan to implement include stopping working for a minute to take deep breaths, asking the teacher to clarify something that is confusing, or moving on to a different part of the test that you find easier.
When I was in school, I rarely completed test questions in the order they were presented. I’d often leave the ones that I struggled with so that I could build confidence answering the easier ones first.
Finally, if despite these suggestions you are still having difficulty, it might be worth speaking to a counselor to see if you may have an underlying anxiety disorder that is affecting your ability to take exams.