It is normal for students to experience some stress before an exam, and it’s not always a bad thing. Stress can be a good motivator, making you more likely to study. However, some students suffer from test anxiety – or extreme stress – leading up to and during an exam. This level of stress is not healthy, and can often have a negative effect on a student’s exam performance.
Students who experience test anxiety might rush through an exam too quickly, or they might “blank” on answers even if they’ve studied. They might spend too much time debating between answers or fixating on one question, making it more difficult to finish the exam on time.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Test anxiety is preventable, and these tips can help get your stress levels under control.
1. Be prepared
One of the most common causes of test anxiety is self-doubt or feeling like you don’t know the material well enough. Developing strong study habits and practicing good time management will not only result in a better exam score, but it will also boost your confidence before, during and after the test.
Think about your study routine and make sure you are practicing healthy and productive study habits. For example, it’s important to take breaks during study sessions to prevent burnout. Allowing yourself time to relax will reduce stress and help you be more productive during your study time. Use your break to eat a snack, exercise or listen to music – whatever will help you feel refreshed and reenergized.
2. Get a good night’s sleep
Some students have a habit of staying up late to study for exams, but sacrificing sleep for studying can actually hurt your exam performance. Lack of sleep can inhibit your memory and make you feel more stressed going into an exam. In fact, a recent study found that students who slept seven hours before an exam performed 10 percent better than those who got less sleep. Students who slept longer than seven hours saw even higher exam scores. Set yourself up for success by getting plenty of sleep on the night before and the week of your exams.
3. Don’t skip breakfast
Going into an exam on an empty stomach can also hinder your concentration and increase your stress levels. Make breakfast a priority the morning of your exam, even if you feel too nervous to eat. Pack healthy snacks, such as apples or bananas, to eat during exam breaks or in between classes. You want to be able to focus on the test instead of your hunger.
4. Practice deep breathing
If you start getting anxious during the exam, use calming breathing techniques to bring your stress levels back down. Take several, slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Concentrating on your breathing will help you take the focus off of your anxiety. Many people start feeling more relaxed within 30 seconds using this technique.
5. Just start writing
This strategy can help you if you have a tendency to freeze up during your exams. As soon as you get your test booklet, write down key ideas and concepts you want to remember in the margins of your paper. These will most likely come in handy at some point of the exam, and you’ll feel more confident knowing that you have these notes to fall back on.
If you blank on a question, don’t panic. Start jotting down related terms and concepts – anything to help jog your memory. If you still don’t know the answer after a minute or two, move on. You might come across a question later that helps you remember.
6. Stay positive
Negative thinking will do nothing but increase your anxiety. Remind yourself that one test grade does not define you – there is no need to put extreme pressure on yourself for just one exam. Focus on the task at hand and not a worst-case scenario outcome. Believe in yourself!
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It might also help you to talk to a counselor about your test anxiety. He or she can help you develop strategies for coping with your anxiety and connect you to other academic resources, such as a tutor, if you’re struggling with a particular course. There are also certain test-taking strategies you can learn to improve your exam performance.
Test anxiety can happen to anyone, but there are steps you can take to minimize its effects. By practicing good study habits and taking care of yourself, you can control your stress levels and improve your grade.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.