5 Important Test-Taking Tips to Overcome Anxiety


Do you get nervous before taking exams? You’re not alone! Here, New York, NY tutor Lauren P. shares some helpful test taking tips for overcoming your anxiety…


You’ve already used every tactic and justification to convince your subconscious to let go of test anxiety. Despite your logical arguments, if you can still feel the tension in your body and panic flooding your brain, don’t lose hope. Take a deep breath and consider the following solutions.

1. Stop fearing the unknown (or expecting the worst)

Almost all fear is simply fear of the unknown. Another kind of fear comes from expecting the worst. This, of course, is also unknown since we cannot predict the future. To take your upcoming test out of the realm of the unknown, try one of the following:

• Over-prepare, so you can be confident.
• Pay attention in class, keep organized notes, and complete all reading and homework assignments.
• Use fun and informative online test prep, practice tests, and study forums to learn information in a new way.
• Search for subject or test-specific apps, YouTube videos, Quizlet pages, or resource websites.
• Study ahead of time independently, with a partner, in a study group, and with your tutor.
• Set up appointments with your teacher to get extra study materials and his or her personal tips for doing well.
• Take a practice or pre-test (ask your teacher if he/she has one).
• If possible, practice in the actual test setting. (Mentally, this will trick your brain into feeling calm in the test-taking setting and prevent you from feeling anxiety or drawing a blank on the actual test day.)

2. Establish positive associations

The brain is an amazing and infuriating tool. It forms subconscious positive and negative associations that can lead to anything from post-traumatic stress-induced fainting or salivating hunger. Use the following strategies to replace your negative test-taking associations with positive associations.

• Schedule regular study sessions with a post-study party or reward.
• Make cramming fun with friends, snacks, and music, or a post-study meal or movie.
• Schedule a post-test celebration. (This will help you associate tests with rewarding celebratory experiences.)
• Keep a positive frame of mind in the test setting.
• In the actual test, keep something with you that brings you back to a calm state of mind. For example, use scented Chapstick or lotion that reminds you of the beach.
• Take a one-minute break to visualize your “happy place” or “play” your favorite song in your head.

3. Visualize

The power of visualization is so real that doctors have proven that the effects of an athlete visualizing the specifics of an intense training session and successful competition are as beneficial as actually exercising or practicing. If positive visualization has measurable effects on an athlete’s capabilities and success, it can for you too! Visualize breezing through the test, correctly and confidently answering questions, and receiving it back with a perfect score.

4. Keep perspective

As odd as it may sound, the best way to eliminate anxiety is to not care at all how you do or what happens. If you complete all of the above suggestions and are still panicked, it is time for you to take a step back and keep perspective. Think back to past experiences of anxiety. How much did the outcome really matter? Now realize the same is true for this test. Ask yourself how you will feel about this when you are 80 years old — will it really matter? Will it even matter in 10 years, or even one? Probably not.

Maybe you are screaming that this test does affect your life in the long-term. It is time to assume the positive attitude that everything happens for a reason. Most standardized and admission tests that carry long-term consequences allow you to take them multiple times. If not, what is the worst that can possibly happen? Maybe you are not meant to do well on your SAT because you will end up at a school where you will find your true calling or your soul mate. While this may sound crazy, it is important to keep perspective. Remember that everything happens for a reason, and in five, 10, or 15 years, it probably won’t matter anyway.

5. Be honest and upfront about your needs

Okay, okay, so you do care about the score and this does matter. Stop trying to be superhuman and deal with the anxiety on your own. Tell your teacher ahead of time that you have test anxiety and need accommodations. What would relieve your anxiety? It is in your rights to ask for double the amount of time, a proctor to read the test aloud, a small group setting, or a completely separate location without any other students or distractions.

Speaking from experience as a student support coordinator, more than one in 10 students use one of the above testing modifications. If your school is resistant, download a 504 form and have your doctor sign it, explaining that you need extended time or a separate location due to testing anxiety. There is no need to be concerned that use of accommodations will affect your reputation as a stellar student. A large percentage of students benefit from accommodations, and the use of them are completely confidential and unknown to college admissions offices, prospective schools, and employers.

So, to review the above test-taking tips: review your materials with your tutor, take a practice test in the same or a similar test setting, ask your teacher for additional support, establish positive associations, plan for celebration, and visualize positive outcomes. Once you’ve done all that, you will be ready to take your test anxiety-free.

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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