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Testing/Test Prep Mental Health

3 Tips on How to Deal with Test Anxiety

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By Michael Cohen on January, 18 2023 | 8 minute read

Most students have felt nervous before an exam, but an increasing number of high schoolers are experiencing pre-test stress that can negatively impact their academic performance and mental health. Read on to learn three crucial tips on how to deal with test anxiety before and on the day of an exam.


Test anxiety is more than just the feeling of slight nervousness or “butterflies.” It is a serious feeling of distress that affects students before and during exams. Statistics on the prevalence of test anxiety are difficult to pin down. Studies of various student demographics estimate that anywhere from 10-60% of students deal with anxiety that negatively impacts their performance on exams. Whatever the rate of test anxiety, the experience is real— one that not only affects students’ grades in school, but also their general well-being in daily life.

To deal with test anxiety, it is important to understand its causes. Studies have shown that test anxiety is linked with the uncertainty of the unknown. I have no idea what will be on the test. How do I even study for this? What if I studied the wrong material? What will happen if I do poorly? Thoughts like these can be repetitive and anxiety-producing.

Another contributing factor to test anxiety can be negative thoughts about the test anxiety itself. If a student knows that they are prone to test anxiety already, they may think that preparation is hopeless because they will just freeze on the test or that there is nothing that they can do about their anxiety. Often, students will avoid thinking about and preparing for an exam because it is such a source of distress. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle of poor performance and low self-confidence.

The following strategies are not a one-size-fits-all cure for test anxiety. But for students that may be struggling with test anxiety, there are a few suggestions that may help put them at ease as they prepare for exam day.

Tip #1: Use Resources to Limit the Unknown

Ask Questions

Ask the teacher questions about the test! What will the test look like? What content should I focus on for preparation? If you were studying for the exam, how would you prepare? All these questions are perfectly acceptable to ask your instructor ahead of the test, but it’s important to ask these questions early in the process and always be respectful.

If your teacher provides one, look at your study guide early and make sure you have access to all the information you need. You don’t need to know everything on your study guide just yet, but make sure you know where to find the information listed. If you’re unsure, asking your teacher where to look for certain material is a good idea.

Review Old Material

Use past quizzes and exams from the course to get an idea of how the teacher likes to structure the exam and ask questions. If the exam is based on the same content as previous tests/quizzes, past exams can be great study materials, too.

Ask peers who are currently taking the same class or have taken the class in previous years how they study. Sometimes you’ll find a study partner or get some great tips!

For standardized tests, look at exams from previous years. Past ACT, AP, and SAT exams are all available in study guides and online resources.

Finally, the last key step when limiting the unknown is to organize all your study materials in one place.

Tip #2: Minimize Stress from Studying 

Create an Action Plan

Once your materials are gathered, the next step in how to deal with test anxiety is to take the time to lay out a plan of action. Review how much time you think it will take to study for an upcoming test and start mapping out how you'll split study sessions. 

Studies show that “distributed practice,” or the spacing of studying over longer periods, is better for memory than cramming. It also has the added benefit of reducing stress because it is less likely to interfere with other tasks, sleep, or be at the very last minute. So, it’s worth it to set up a plan to spread those hours you need to study over a longer period.

Complete Practice Tests

Since negative thoughts about performance and the effectiveness of studying are major contributors to test anxiety, it’s good to include a practice test a few days before the exam. Not only will the practice exam help with the recall of the information, but, more importantly, it will demonstrate the effectiveness of your studying. You will see growth, and you can learn the material and perform in test-like conditions.

Try Different Study Methods

Include different methods of study in your plan. Reading the textbook and taking notes, doing practice problems, watching videos online, creating and studying flashcards, etc. As you study, try to notice which methods you prefer. Treat studying a bit like an experiment. There will be more exams in the future, and you’ll be able to refine your method over time. It’s ok if it isn’t perfect just yet.

When you’re building a study plan, it’s important to make sure you keep time for yourself. Include time for activities you enjoy, and make sure you’re getting regular sleep. Not only are leisure activities and sleep crucial for your well-being, but they will also help deal with your test anxiety.
Another study method that could be helpful to students, is working with a tutor or enrolling in test preparation courses. Collegewise's tutoring and test preparation offers students flexible learning, group and individual courses, and dedicated teaching to ensure students are well-prepared for upcoming exams. Lower stress and boost scores with Collegewise tutors today. 

Tip #3: Practice Self-Care Before & On Test Day 

Don't Overdo the Studying

Some light studying is fine on the day before the test but focus on relaxing and getting a good night’s sleep. A little exercise is usually a good idea— it will help with stress and make falling asleep easier.

Don't Skip Breakfast

We know, the last thing you want to think about on test day is eating a big breakfast, but it's extremely important that before a test, you don't skip your morning meal. Be sure to prioritize nutritious foods and avoid going to a test on an empty stomach. The best way to get the juices flowing in your head is by fueling it. And no, a coffee from Starbucks is not breakfast. 

Keep a Positive Mindset

If you feel nervousness building, try telling yourself that you’re excited about the exam (or finishing the exam). You’re excited to see how well your preparation will pay off. You’re eager to face the challenge that the test presents. It may sound silly, but research suggests that since the physiological state of nervousness and excitement are the same, it is easier to convince ourselves that we are excited than it is to try to calm ourselves down. You can read more about this strategy here.

No single test will define your future. Think about the test as an experiment. Which resources did you prefer? Which study methods helped the most? What can you try differently next time? Rather than seeing the test as a culmination or a measure of your worth, try to see the test as part of a process of growth. There will be victories and setbacks, but this test will help you better prepare for the next one.

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