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How to overcome test anxiety (exam anxiety)

Updated on May 10, 2012

How to Prepare for Exams - Exam Anxiety

Anxiety is a common occurrence before a test or exam with most students, while what is described, as test/exam anxiety is not. Preparing for exams should include both mental and psychological preparation. Anxiety is good to a certain extent and it is usually present when your skills are being challenged in some way. Anxiety even helps you remain focused on your studies, but when it becomes too severe, it disturbs and disrupts your concentration and the progress of your preparations. Before we get into how to prepare psychologically for an exam and handle exam or test anxiety, we need to clarify a finer point here. Anxiety that arises due to poor preparation is natural. Exam or test anxiety is that which you feel despite your best efforts.

Exam Anxiety - Symptoms

Panic, negative thoughts, a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, blanking out, sweating, nausea, feeling light headed, fear, irritability, anger etc. could all be the most common symptoms of exam anxiety, although it could differ from person to person. Negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness assail you and prevent you from doing your best. Most students do experience some symptoms in a mild way before exams but as the symptoms increase in their severity they hinder you from performing to your best potential. It is important to understand and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before your exams.

Although this article discusses the psychological aspects of preparing for your exams, it is important to mention that preparing mentally and physically for your exams are equally, if not more important. Proper study routines using good study techniques, time management and effective learning techniques are all so important for exam readiness. Systematic and thorough preparation helps you feel calmer, self-assured and do well in your exams. While that is one half the battle, taking care of your nerves is the other half of the challenge.

Exams are important milestones to prove your ability. Having put in a good deal of effort during the months before your exams you wait for the hard work to pay off. You need to keep stress away, to remain in a stable emotional state. Letting stress or anxiety get to you could counteract your efforts. Studies have proved that there is a noticeable decline of cognitive abilities during periods of intense stress.

How to Overcome Test Anxiety

Be positive – Exams are important, but that does not mean you have to panic. Once you have done all you can to prepare for your exam, it is time to believe in the best and remain positive until your results arrive. Talk yourself out of all doubts and fears by positively affirming yourself of the work you have put it, the dedication and commitment you have shown. Repeatedly tell yourself that you can do it.

Stop all negative thoughts as and when they occur. Sometimes, it would help even to prick yourself or cause a little pain to take your mind away from focusing on the negative. Pain always shifts focus from what you are doing to your body part. When the focus shifts, start telling yourself “I am sufficiently prepared, I am ready to take this exam and I can do well”. Reaffirming yourself with such thoughts not only calms you down but also provides you with the confidence to move ahead. Believe in yourself.

Focus on what motivates you. Find the source of your inspiration, think back to a time when someone inspired you, and focus on how much you were really motivated to study this subject. This could take your mind off the anxiety and negative thoughts. Focus on the emotions that filled you when you decided to take up this course, the joy you felt pursuing your ambitions. The motivation that you had all along will see you through your stressful periods too. Positive emotions are effective stress busters.

Overcoming Test (exam) Anxiety

Find a buddy – It is always good to have one or two people who understand the stress and the difficulty involved, to support you during your exams. It would help to find buddies with whom you have been studying or those who are taking up similar exams. These people could effectively empathize with you and support you when you need the most. These are not for pity parties but to be used as healthy support groups.

Balance your life – Exams mean that you have to study a lot, but not all the time. You need recreation and exercise to balance your life. Recreation and exercise help you to change your focus and relax for a while. They also help you to clear your mind and provide much needed activity during strenuous study hours. Plan a short break for exercise and entertainment in the middle of long study hours.

Use time management techniques – Proper time management techniques would not only help you plan your study hours properly, but they could also help take a lot of the stress out of the exam. Taking mock tests, while adhering to time schedules, using older question papers and other resources that are available to you could help you master the art of writing the exam and managing your time well.

Learn stress management techniques Learn and put to practice those techniques that are helpful to you. Panic is what causes you to go blank. Practicing these techniques could help you calm down to a large extent.

Here are some calming techniques that you could use Try to relax by breathing in a deep breath, holding your breath push your shoulders back and slowly exhale.

Another technique would be to use a word or a phrase to instil positive feelings. You could tell yourself “calm down” or “I can do it”. This often helps you to focus on your strengths.

Do you use relaxing techniques? if yes does it help you

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More Test Taking Tips

During your reading time, the fifteen minutes before the start of your exam, read the question paper slowly and thoroughly, if you find yourself panicking try the breathing or the calming exercises, then get back to your reading.

Your reading time is meant to help you frame the answers for the questions. You usually start to panic when you come across a question about which you are not so sure. Start by answering questions that you are certain of, this would give you more confidence to approach those that you are not sure of, in a calmer state of mind.

A short, but light workout before an exam helps reduce your nervous energy. It not only brings enough oxygen to your brain cells but also keeps you alert during your exam.

A healthy breakfast or lunch could help you concentrate well.

Spend time the previous day reading the instructions, it is important that you know what you can bring with you and what you cannot. Organise all the things that you need for the exam, this could help you avoid the last minute panic.

Do take professional help if you really find that you are panicking too much and your stress level is very high.


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    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Tiger Mom, Thanks for stopping by to write that comment. Unfortunately where we live, exams are the order of the day.. you cannot get into any course without a series of tests and interviews. I am glad that there are 'testing optional' colleges there. Appreciate the input. Have a great day!

    • Tiger Mom profile image

      Tiger Mom 5 years ago from New York

      Excellent hub. I'm all for destressing about tests. Did you know there are 'Testing Optional' colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores? And the list is growing. Way to go holistic! Voted up.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      teaches12345, LOL I would have thought you were getting reading to test your students. I am sure you would do exceptionally well. Best wishes to you and have a nice day. God bless!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Jpcmc, Yes, exams have to be handled at the cognitive and emotional levels. Thanks for the comment and the heads up. Have a wonderful day. God bless!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Ruby, Wow! you did employ some wonderful effective learning techniques. I would always chill out before an exam and have fun! Never did it ever trouble me. Have a great day. God bless!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Kj force, That is an excellent tip. I guess most young people would take your suggestion happily.. however, I wonder if the green tea would go down well with them. I for one love it! Have a wonderful day. God bless!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Denise, Thanks for that vote of confidence. It really helps me go on. Have a beautiful day. God bless!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Rlaha, Thank you for the comment and the encouragement. I appreciate that very much. Have a wonderful day. God bless!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I am getting ready to take an exam this week and this information will help me prepare. Thanks for writing. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Tests are more than just cognitive exams. They are emotional to a certain extent. These tips will surely help anyone handle the stresses of taking an exam.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very useful information. I was one who always got up tight on exams. I used a technique while in nurses training, using the alphabet, for instance, if i couldn't think of a medical word, i would go through the alphabet and could usually bring the word up. Thank you Sophie..Smiles

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      Years ago when I was in college and later in Med school I used a technique of lying down and listening to tapes of the study material (that would be CD's today)

      It helped immensely and stress was relieved.Naturally I had already studied the material..this was just a booster..and a nice cup of green tea and protein breakfast on day of exams.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Interesting, helpful and useful information here, Sofs. Thanks! Voted up

    • rlaha profile image

      rlaha 5 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

      Good and useful information. Thanks. Voted up, interesting, and useful!