5 Strategies for Combatting Test Anxiety

By: Jenna Savage

Being a student means having to juggle multiple responsibilities at a time — and that can be stressful. Add tests, midterms, and finals to normal, everyday student responsibilities, and the weight can be a little hard to handle. Of course, with some studying and time management, students can balance their schedules and dedicate the time they need to study and do well in their classes. For some students, though, preparing for an exam is not enough to relieve the apprehension that they feel when it comes to taking exams. That apprehension — often called “test anxiety” — can interfere with a student’s performance on exams, regardless of the amount of time the student invests in studying.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), test anxiety symptoms include fear, trouble concentrating, negative thinking, discomfort, tightness in the chest, feelings of helplessness, headaches, and nausea. The ADAA recommends preparing for exams and reducing procrastination to help reduce test anxiety. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. Below is a list of five other ways to combat test anxiety.

  1. Think Positively. Negative thoughts are only going to make feelings of anxiety worse. Instead of comparing yourself to other people or focusing on your weaknesses, remind yourself of your strengths. Encourage yourself — replace I can’t with I can. It’s easier said than done, but if you practice, you’ll eventually cut down on negative thinking, and that can help lower your anxiety.
  2. Don’t Cram. Do your best to prepare before the exam, but don’t cram. If you wait until the last minute to study, you’ll fuel anxiety. It’s also unlikely that you will be able to remember everything you’re trying to cram in at the last minute, anyway. Instead, do something calming and relaxing before you take your exam, like listening to some soft music or reading something unrelated to school for pleasure. If you do, you’ll be in a better state of mind once you take your exam.
  3. Avoid Caffeine. It’s true that caffeine may help you stay awake, but it comes with a price. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, caffeine causes a fast heart rate and the constricting of blood vessels, both of which can exasperate an anxiety condition. Reducing caffeine or doing away with it entirely can help you avoid unnecessary suffering through anxiety symptoms.
  4. Take Deep Breaths. If you are taking an exam and you begin to feel anxious, allow yourself a moment to take a few deep breaths to help you calm down. Inhale slowly, hold your breath for a second, and then release it slowly. This can help you minimize any feelings of tightness in the chest or shortness of breath that may come with being anxious.
  5. Get Help. If anxiety is making it difficult for you to take exams and these strategies aren’t alleviating your symptoms, seek out someone who can help. Most colleges and universities have a counseling center with individuals who are trained in therapeutic techniques that will help you reduce your anxiety. It’s better to ask for help than to suffer.