Test Anxiety Tips

Top 12 Tips For Reducing Test Anxiety

The standardized test crusade initiated by the No Child Left Behind Act has left students under more testing pressures than ever before. While many debate the merits of standardized testing, the reality for students remains having to cope with these pressures.

Luckily, both educators and researchers have learned a great deal about how to reduce test anxiety and improve test performance. The test anxiety tips below have been gathered from polls of professionals and from articles in Time Magazine and the New York Times.

1. Take A Deep Breath

Remember, it’s just a test. Close your eyes and breathe in to the count of 4. Breathe deeply enough to feel your stomach come in. Then breathe out to the count of 6. Feel your stomach go out. Repeat for 1 to 2 minutes before the start of the test.

2. Eat Well, Sleep Well

From Tim Boyle and Kate Dalby
Don’t skip breakfast. Eat a meal heavy in protein and fat. Bacon and eggs provide more sustained energy than a plain bagel.

Get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before. But don’t sleep for 12 hours straight. If you can’t fall asleep, refer to #1.

3. Be Prepared

There is no substitute for knowing the material. Put in the time to master the concepts. But don’t stress about being perfect.

Also, know the test format. And solve practice problems under timed circumstances.

4. Fake Confidence

You don’t have to be successful to be confident. Spend two minutes before the test in a “Power Pose” to trick your body into feeling confident. Go into a bathroom stall and stand like Super Woman. See the TED talk below for details.

5. Write Away Your Worries

Take out a piece of paper 10 minutes before the test. Unload every worry, fear, and negative emotion running through your head. Studies show this frees up mental space that you can then dedicate to the actual test.

See this Time Magazine article for details: Test Anxiety: Unload On Paper

6. Understand The Benefits of Pressure

Recent studies show that many students perform better under pressure. So be grateful for pressure. Without it, you might not perform at your peak.

If you do not fall into that category, do not fret. A recent study asked students to read the statement “people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.” The study found that these students actually did better on the test. Whether you actually perform better under pressure or simply believe that you will, the result is the same.

See this New York Times article for details: Benefits Of Test Anxiety

7. Create Positive Associations

From Alex Marcus

Do the following while studying: chew flavored gum or wear a special cologne/perfume; analyze each question as if you had to teach it; pretend you have complete mastery over the material. Then chew the same gum or wear the same fragrance during the test. The mind will association the taste or smell with your pretend teaching/mastery.

8. Listen To “Eye Of The Tiger”

From a helpful redditor

Get pumped. Replace your anxiety with a fierce competitiveness. If you are well prepared, there is no reason you can’t beat the test.

9. Work With A Friend

From Susan Turner

Misery loves company. Meet with a friend to not only practice together but to share your concerns. It may help you feel less isolated in your anxiety.

10. Inquire About Accommodations

From Susan Turner

Advocate for your needs. Special testing conditions may be available to you, including time extensions. Talk to your teachers for tests at school. Visit the SAT website below for information about SAT testing accommodations.

SAT Testing Accommodations

11. Ask For A Supportive Letter

From a helpful redditor

Ask a parent or teacher to write an encouraging letter for you on test day. Have them remind you that pressure can actually be a good thing and that you’ve done all the right things to get prepared for the test.

12. Don’t Catastrophize

From Peter Baum

Finally, remember that bumps in the road will come along. Expect them, deal with them, but do not harp on them. Understand that challenges are just part of the testing experience. If you can’t solve a problem simply move to the next one.

The Science Of Test Anxiety

If you’re interested in learning more about the science of test anxiety, check out this article: The Science of Test Anxiety.

And here are some more great tips on how to beat exam anxiety.

About Jared R

Jared, founder of The Knowledge Roundtable, is passionate about the advancement of knowledge. He has a B.S. in astronomy and physics from UMass and an MBA in Advanced Financial Analytics, also from UMass. He has a day job as a Data Scientist in Boston. He has over 500 hours of tutoring experience in everything from algebra to writing. He taught our SAT prep group courses for two years in NH, and before that developed educational content for math, stats, and finance textbooks for two years. His teaching style is hands-on with a focus on problem-solving and critical thinking.

  1. lisa kay 02/13/2013, 3:09 pm Reply

    As a longtime SAT coach, one of the most powerful tools that I use is Creative Visualization. At the start of each session, we spend 5 minutes envisioning every aspect of the test and the test day from a positive perspective. We wake, eat, get to the test site, answer or omit each question, see the positive results arrive via email, etc.
    The students practice this CV each day during our tutoring time, and the anxiety goes down as the anticipation increases. As former attorney, i would “rehearse” my opening, closing, reactions to possible answers/witnesses, etc.

    Sports stars (and some not stars) visualize their play all the time. Since we’re gaming the SAT, use the techniques of professional “gamers”.

    • Jared R 02/13/2013, 5:48 pm Reply

      Thank you Lisa for sharing your innovative strategy! I’ve used visualization in my own life and have had successful outcomes. Most recently I used it before an actuary exam by imagining that I would sit down for the test and feel like I was crushing every question. I did this while lying in bed the night before so that my mind would continue imagining this while it dreamed. Of course, I crushed the test.
      I will pass along your Creative Visualization strategy to our students!