Top 10 Tips and Tricks for Anxious Test Takers

by Jeremy D. Rothstein, PhD Candidate, Psychology

Stress and anxiety on test day can sap your working memory, and lower your performance. Below are some tips and tricks to help anxious test takers to perform at their peak!

1. Become as familiar with the test as possible. Complete practice sections. Complete MANY practice sections. If you know what to expect on test day, you’ll free up working memory, and be able to perform at your peak!

2. Practice under pressure. To succeed on test day, you need to take as many practice tests as possible under simulated testing conditions. Ideally, take the real test as many times as you can. We always have our students take real tests to prepare for their exams. Your stress and anxiety will decrease each time you take a test, due to increased exposure! Remember, the test is also an assessment of your stamina and endurance, which you need to build up over time!

3. Stop to write. Take a few minutes to write about your stress and anxiety, right before you take a test. Doing so can release tension and free up working memory!

4. Consider the benefits of stress and anxiety*. Some stress and anxiety can actually help you; stress and anxiety tell you that you care about the situation, and that you are motivated to do well. Viewing stressful and anxiety-provoking situations as challenging opportunities to be overcome can aid your performance!

5. Engage in light cardiovascular exercise. Breaking a sweat an hour or two before a test can help you to clear your mind and put yourself at ease. It can also help increase blood-flow to your brain, which can improve your performance!

6. Learn to breathe. Mindful breathing – an aspect of meditation — is an effective way to decrease your stress and anxiety, before, and during a test. It can also help increase blood-flow to your brain, which can improve your performance!

7. Visit the test site in advance. Get to know the test setting in advance. Drive to the test site at the same time that you will be going on the day of the actual test so that you can expect traffic conditions. Doing so can help you to conserve cognitive energy on test day because you’ll know what to expect.

8. Distract yourself before the test. Listen to pump-up music, or watch something amusing. It can improve your cognition and comprehension!

9. Recall your preparation. Reflect on the hard work you have put in. Remembering that you have put in the necessary time and effort to learn the necessary test content and strategies can boost your confidence and your sense of self-efficacy, which can improve your performance! Remember, you are more prepared than everyone else in the room! 10. Trust your instincts and move forward. If you tend to overanalyze and second-guess yourself, the best thing that you can do is force yourself to speed up. Doing so can ensure that you don’t have time to overanalyze or second-guess your answers. And, remember that missing a few questions will not ruin your score. If you hit a tough question, or a tough passage, don’t obsess over it. Move forward!

*NOTE. Non-anxious test-takers perform more poorly when they are primed to consider the benefits of stress, and perform better when they are primed to think about stress as something negative and to be avoided. So we recommend different strategies for different students based on their profile. Feel free to contact us directly for more information.

For more information, check out the following references:

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Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology, 86(2), 320.