Updated: Apr 24, 2019
If you suffer from test taking anxiety, you are not alone. As many as 40% of all test takers experience test anxiety. But knowing you're part of group larger than yourself probably won't make you feel much better if your test score is still dropping from that awful test-day freeze.
The good news is that just because you're prone to being anxious doesn't mean your score ultimately has to suffer. There are plenty of things you can do rather than succumb to the freeze! We've compiled a list of some of our favorite tips to help get your test taking anxiety in check.
10 Ways to Crush Test Taking Anxiety
1. Acknowledge your anxiety. Don’t associate any negative or positive emotion with your anxiety: just consider yourself the manager of your brain, with your brain as your employee. Pay careful attention to when your employee is off task. Is it because of one of those classic anxiety symptoms-- maybe you're feeling panic, fear of failure, or a rapid heart rate?
2. Review your history. Look back at your test taking history, prior test scores, and test taking techniques. When did you experience the test anxiety symptoms in the past? Where do you experience them now? Which test sections your anxiety is the highest--is it math? Maybe reading or writing? Or is it throughout the entire test? Look deeper: which problems within the test sections make you are most anxious. Is anxiety costing you in complex reading comprehension and word problems, or do you lose focus during multi-step problems?
3. Play to your Problems. Skill deficits can lead to poor performance because you don't know the material. Sometimes, though, the awareness of that missing knowledge is what leads to a poor performance. To avoid that outcome, familiarize yourself with all sections of the test. Review of all of your weak subjects. Start studying far in advance of test day, and avoid procrastination.
4. Practice like it's Test Day. That used to mean being crammed in a big room with a tiny little bit of space for your paper, but these days it generally means sitting at a computer in a room with a bunch of other students typing away. Get used to the test's time and space environment. You want to be comfortable with the test day's character before you meet it in person--being rigid about having plenty of space when you study may increase your anxiety on test day if you end up having to take a test at a small table.
5. Put parental pressure in check. Parental pressure is associated with greater worry, irrelevant thoughts, and physical anxiety symptoms on test day. Communicate with your parents openly about your anxiety to ensure you test your best.
6. Live a healthy lifestyle, right up to test day. Sleeping, eating well, and getting plenty of exercise is the key to a healthy brain. Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, has said that “engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions“, including the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory.
7. Exercise before you study. In a study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, women performed 20% better on memory tests after running on a treadmill than they did before running, and increased problem-solving abilities by 20 percent. Another study in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory found that people learned vocabulary words 20% faster after intense exercise than after low-intensity activity.
8. Plan your test-day morning. Be relaxed on test day by preparing the day before. Know how you are getting to the test and what you’re eating for breakfast. Have your materials and test information ready the night before so you aren't scrambling to find anything the morning of.
9. Work with one of our specially trained strategic tutors to master content, learn specific intentional thinking and relaxation strategies to ensure your take your exam confidently and with ease on test day. Contact us today to set up your initial evaluation!
10. Practice relaxation and focusing techniques to prevent anxiety and distraction when they hit during the test. Intentional thinking strategies can refocus and redirect your attention to critical information to avoid anxiety-based mistakes on test day. There are free yoga and meditation videos on YouTube, relaxation and sleep podcasts, and meditation apps for your specific pre-test day and test-day anxieties.
REMEMBER: You don’t have to suffer from test anxiety, and you don’t have to fear failure. Keep studying, and be patient with yourself as you become a more self-aware and strategic learner.