How to Overcome Test Anxiety

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Overwhelmed by college entrance exams, mid terms, finals, or continuing education assessments? Test anxiety is common for so many people. We’ve got several tips to help you prepare and manage the stress.

Erika Carson, Eds.
Trilogy Mentors, Chief Learning Officer

Tips for managing test anxiety

Do you wake up in the middle of the night, in a panic, because of a test? Even if that test was twenty years ago? There’s something about taking tests that just seems to unnerve so many of us.

According to the Washington Post, 20% of students have severe test anxiety – that doesn’t account for the many people that fall somewhere in the moderate range. As students, young and old, we’ve been ingrained with the notion that failing a test is catastrophic. There is a lot to be learned from performing poorly on an exam, but when it comes to high school, college, and graduate school exams the stakes become so much higher, and failing poses greater consequences when there are test fees or limited testing dates.

To help you craft a plan to overcome test anxiety, and excel in spite of it, here are several tips to prepare for higher-level exams.

  1. Understand the goal of the test.

For entrance examinations, start by researching the minimum test scores required for the institution or program you are interested in attending. You want to be realistic about what your end goal is so that when you perform your initial assessment using a practice test, you’ll be clear about how much work you’re going to have to commit to, and what test date is best for you. In the case for mid-terms and finals, take a look at your current grade in the course. From there, you can estimate the score you’ll need on the exam to reach your overall goal for the course.

2. Assess yourself.

Find resources that align with the test you’re going to take (online practice tests, study guides, vocabulary, etc.) and assess your starting level. Keep track of how long it takes you to complete each question or each section on a practice test. Identify which problems you are, and are not, able to answer correctly or evaluate the content you have a harder time with on a study guide. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. This will allow you to determine where you’ll need to spend most of your time when studying and preparing for the actual exam.

3. Look for resources and ask for help.

Find tutorials, programs, and instructors to help you set and reach your goals. It’s okay to ask for help. Whether you’re looking for someone/something to help you figure out the test preparation process or looking for assistance and guidance to develop your academic skills, it’s important to determine the type of help you’ll need. Then, you’ll be able to seek out relevant resources. Trying to figure these things out on our own can get overwhelming. Not knowing where to start can equate to a lot of time and energy focused on the wrong things – which can create more frustration and stress. Use resources and people to help you prepare.

4. Practice! Practice! Practice!

You wouldn’t get on a plane with a person who jumped into the cockpit and decided 10-minutes ago “I want to start flying today,” so why would you think jumping into a room to take a challenging test, without any practice, would be any different. The more practice time you get in, the better prepared you’ll be for the different questions that might show up on your test. Surprises on tests are very stressful. Practice helps us build confidence, and confidence helps us stay calm, cool, and perform better in any situation.

5. Be healthy and practice mindfulness.

Getting rest and nutrition before an exam is critical. Managing stress and developing strategies for coping with test anxiety are also healthy practices. What happens to you when you get anxious during a test? Some people forget everything they learned, some people freeze, some cry, and some just lose all their confidence on one question, so much so that they mess up their answers on the rest of the test. Practicing mindfulness to help manage stress is really beneficial. Various practices can be used to manage stress while preparing for an exam and during your actual tests. Think about a person or place that calms you down or try controlled breathing exercises. These are 2 examples of mindfulness practice that could be helpful to you. Find whatever it is that works for you and practice those strategies under stressful situations. Then, when it’s time to take your test you know exactly what to do when the “What ifs” start stressing you out. In the end, being mentally healthy is more important.

Managing test anxiety - take aways

It’s important to understand that there are many things that you can do before a test to make sure that anxiety doesn’t take control during your test.
To recap our tips:

  • Understand the goal of the test and the overall score you’ll need to accomplish that goal.

  • Assess yourself to determine your areas of strength and where you need to improve.

  • Use the resources available to you and ask for help

  • Practice and review are ongoing efforts

  • Prioritize your mental and physical health.

Above all, remember to believe in yourself – that’s half the battle! And don’t forget that you can re-take many tests if you manage your timeline for applying to programs.

You’re well on your way to conquering that next exam!