How to Overcome Test Anxiety

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

No matter what type of exam you’re facing, it’s normal to experience fear and stress beforehand. You may have trouble sleeping the night before or a decreased appetite. However, if you have a history of letting your nerves get the better of you to the extent that it hurts your score, it’s time to learn some tips on how to overcome test anxiety.


Form a Preparation Plan

Want to know a sure-fire technique to banish anxiety? Confidence. If you’re thinking that test-taking confidence is something innate that you can’t learn, think again. By preparing for the exam in advance, you eliminate many of the uncertainties that fester into paralyzing fear:

  • Pick the right test day and location.
  • Start studying early and take advantage of practice tests.
  • Make a test-day to-do list.
  • Invest some time and effort in your physical health.

When you walk into the classroom or testing center with the realization that you put in the work and know your stuff, you will immediately feel like you have more control over the outcome.


College student looking up ways to overcome test anxiety on her laptop.

Put Things in Perspective

A looming exam can inspire deep dread that may cause you to catastrophize (imagine the worst possible outcome). For instance, you may tell yourself that performing poorly on an exam will set in motion a series of events that prohibit you from ever getting into an institution, earning a degree, starting your dream career, or moving out of your parent’s house.


Stop imagining these exaggerated scenarios that have no basis in reality. If you’re starting to believe your entire future relies on one exam, think about the real outcome of not earning the score you want. More often than not, it may simply delay your plans, not totally demolish them. If it’s just another test in a class, one bad score may not even impact your ability to pass the course. Even if you do bomb this one exam, realistically considering the ramifications will allow you to make solid backup plans and see that you still have a path to your future goals. The test may be important, but it won’t make or break your future.


Set Realistic Goals

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? Sometimes the weight of extremely lofty goals will cause you to buckle under the pressure. Instead of telling yourself that anything less than a perfect score is failure, accept that a lower score is often sufficient.


How do you know what a sufficient score is? Consider the context of the exam and what you’re trying to accomplish:

  • Pass a particular course
  • Gain entry to an institution
  • Qualify for an honors program
  • Win scholarships
  • Receive special academic distinctions

Once you’ve figured out exactly what goal this test is helping you accomplish, you can back out to see the actual score you need to receive. Chances are it’s lower than you initially expected.


Use Meditation on Test Day

Still feeling stressed about your exam? Consider using meditation techniques to sharpen your focus and reduce anxiety. In addition to helping you overcome test-day jitters, they will also help as you study.


A quick online search yields countless meditation and relaxation techniques. However, most typically involve one or more common elements:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Muscle relaxation exercises
  • Positive visualization exercises
  • Morale-boosting mantras

Find one that works for you and stick to it. For the best results, experts recommend you practice meditation consistently for at least six months.


Seek Professional Support

If none of the other strategies for beating test anxiety work, you may want to speak with a counselor who can help. According to the Mayo Clinic, this professional can help you address those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that worsen anxiety.


Depending on your current academic or employment status, you may have access to professional counseling through several different sources:

  • High school or college counseling
  • Work-provided counseling through employee assistance programs
  • Private psychologist or licensed mental health professional services

College student taking an exam and trying different techniques to overcome test anxiety.

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