How to Overcome Test Anxiety

Being a little nervous before taking a test is a normal feeling for most people. In fact, the National Institute of Health says that testing anxiety affects up to 40% of students in the US.

However, if you suffer from testing anxiety, you know that it isn’t limited to just feeling nervous the day before your exam. It can escalate to extreme worry and self-doubt, and it can affect how well you perform on the test.

Thankfully, there are many ways to conquer test anxiety. We’ve compiled all of the best test anxiety tips and tricks to help you calm your nerves and pass the exam with ease.

What Is Test Anxiety?

How to Overcome Test Anxiety Video

As mentioned earlier, test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that occurs before or during a test. This anxiety can stem from a fear of failure, lack of preparation, or previous bad experiences with exams. Test anxiety symptoms may include sweating, rapid heartbeat, and headaches, as well as difficulty concentrating on the test.

Test Anxiety Causes

Anxiety is a reaction to something that is stressful. It can be anything from a meeting or an interview to a school activity or an important test. Any type of anxiety, including test anxiety, affects both your body and mind.

Fear of Failure

Taking an important test can put a lot of pressure on you. You’re pressured to make sure that you do well on the test, which sometimes can be motivating, but you’re also worried that failing the test can hurt your character, or the failing grade will show your true value.

Lack of Preparation

You may feel like you’re properly prepared and that you’ll do well, so you’ll put off studying for the exam until the last minute. Or you may not study at all. Either way, this could cause test anxiety on the day of the exam.

High Pressure

Knowing that you need to achieve a certain score to pass a class or even get a job can cause pressure, which will cause test anxiety.

Poor Test History

Not doing well on a past test can make you anxious during the next test you will need to take. It’s best that you stay focused on the test that you’re taking rather than thinking about how you did not do well on past tests.

Biological Causes of Test Anxiety

When you’re in a stressful situation, your body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This hormone is what prepares your body to deal with stressful situations and is known as a “fight-or-flight” response. This response helps you determine whether you are going to stay and deal with the stress at hand or if you’re going to leave the situation.

When the fight-or-flight response kicks in, you may have difficulty focusing or concentrating on the test. You may even experience sweating, shaky hands, or nausea.

Mental Causes of Test Anxiety

On top of biological causes of test anxiety, there are also mental causes. One factor is high expectations. For example, if a student believes going in that they will do badly on a test, then they will more than likely start to have anxiety before and during the test.

Another mental cause of test anxiety is previously having test anxiety. After you’ve experienced test anxiety, you may start to become fearful about it happening again the next time you take an important test.

Test Anxiety Symptoms

There are many test anxiety symptoms that may appear before, during, and/or after you take your exam. Not everyone reacts the same way, but these are some of the most common test anxiety symptoms:

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Procrastination in studying
  • Disorganized or inefficient study habits

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative thinking
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Racing thoughts
  • Blanking out
  • Overthinking

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Feeling helpless
  • Shame
  • Disappointment

Physical Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Racing heart
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tense muscles

Social Symptoms

  • Isolation from peers or study groups
  • Reluctance to ask for help
  • Difficulty communicating with instructors regarding concerns about the test

Test Anxiety Tips

Learning how to overcome test anxiety can be a challenge, but it is an essential step to creating a better test-taking experience. To help you out, we’ve compiled the top 15 test anxiety tips to help you conquer your anxiety.

1. Start preparing early.
It’s important that you start preparing early for your test rather than waiting until the last minute and cramming information. Start studying a week or two before the test, and study in smaller blocks each day.

2. Create a study plan.
Having a study plan is important for success on a test. A study plan will allow you to create blocks of time to study each day, as well as lay out exactly what you’re going to study. Create a study plan from the day you start studying and follow through until the day before the test.

3. Learn how to study
While you may feel like you have this down, you can always get more tips on how to effectively study. Your school may offer study skill classes or other resources that can help you learn effective study skills so that you can feel confident and pass that test.

4. Keep a positive attitude.
Keep in mind that your self-worth does not rely on the outcome of a test. Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself that you can do well on the test. Believing in yourself and keeping a positive attitude while you study and take the test can help you go a long way!

5. Read carefully.
This is important with every test, whether you have test anxiety or not. Make sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin the test and read each and every question and answer before choosing an answer. If you don’t read everything carefully, you could miss out on an important detail that can help you choose the correct answer.

6. Make practice tests your best friend.
Practice tests are a great way to make sure that you’re prepared completely for your test. You’ll be able to get a firsthand look at what the exam will be like, including how many questions will be on the exam and what type of questions you can expect. You’ll also get more of an idea as to which areas you may need more work on.

7. Get a good night’s sleep.
The night before the exam, make sure that you get a good night’s sleep; at least a full 8 hours is recommended. Getting good sleep can help improve your memory and concentration as well as make you feel fresh the next day and ready to tackle that test.

8. Start with what you know.
When you sit down for the test, you don’t have to start with the first question. Start with the ones that you know. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out that one question that has you stumped. Skip over it and move on to the next one that you know. If time allows, go back to the questions you skipped and try to answer them.

9. Use flashcards.
Flashcards are another great resource when you’re preparing for a test. They allow you to study the material in smaller chunks rather than a long list of concepts. You’re able to focus on one concept at a time, such as vocabulary words or specific facts that you know you’ll need for the test.

10. On test day, get to the test site early.
One thing that you don’t want to do is rush because you’re running late. Rushing because you’re late to the exam will only cause you to have more anxiety when you take the test. Get to the test site a little early. Take a walk around the building to help relieve any anxiety that you do have. Moving your body can help remove some of that nervous energy and get your blood flowing, making you feel better.

11. Don’t forget to eat and drink.
Your brain and body need fuel to function and work properly. Make sure that you eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water leading up to the test day and on the test day. Try to stay away from sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks such as coffee. Caffeinated drinks can make you wiry and cause more anxiety.

12. Stay focused.
On test day, try to stay focused on the test only. Don’t worry about what you’re doing after the exam or what happened before, and don’t worry about how the other test-takers are doing. Concentrate solely on your test.

13. Dress comfortably.
Dress appropriately, but wear something that makes you comfortable and that allows you to relax. Stay away from clothes that you will need to adjust constantly or that are too tight for you. Be sure to take a light jacket or sweater in case the test room is cold for you.

14. Take a break if needed.
If you feel that your test anxiety is getting to be a little too much, take a quick break. Close your eyes, take ten deep breaths to calm yourself, and get back to concentrating on the exam.

15. Avoid distractions.
Don’t worry about the person next to you or in front of you who may be going through their test twice as fast. Sit somewhere where you can be free of distractions, perhaps in the front of the room if possible, and focus on your test.

Test Anxiety Strategies

One of the best test anxiety strategies is to evaluate how severe your test anxiety is. This way, you can pinpoint the best way to conquer your anxiety. You can do this by asking yourself the following ten questions:

1. Are you procrastinating studying?
If you are experiencing test anxiety, it is very common to put off studying until the last second. Procrastinating studying is like hitting the snooze button on your alarm—it temporarily eases the stress but doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it is very likely to just make your anxiety worse.

2. Have you performed poorly on tests in the past?
If you have taken exams in the past and did not perform as well as you had hoped, you might be stuck thinking there’s no way you will pass this test either. If you are in this position, it’s important to remember that every test-taking attempt is a fresh start. There’s no need to let results from past tests weigh you down for future tests.

3. Do you usually have trouble staying focused when taking a test?
Having trouble focusing during a test isn’t necessarily a symptom of test anxiety, but think about how easy your focus wanders during other events. If your mind only seems to wander during a stressful situation like test-taking, that’s a sign that you may be an anxious test-taker.

4. Do you usually experience nausea, a racing heart, or sweating when you take a test?
This may seem obvious, but acknowledging whether or not you experience physical symptoms like nausea and sweating during a test can help you prepare for those symptoms beforehand. To help with this, try some breathing exercises when you sit down to take the test, and try to take as many practice tests as possible before test day.

5. Do you usually find yourself thinking about how much smarter other test-takers are?
It’s important to catch yourself when you start measuring your abilities against others’. If you spend all your time assuming everyone else taking the test is a genius, you will quickly become discouraged and potentially affect your testing performance.

6. Are you worried about the timed aspect of the test?
Most exams have a specific time limit set in place. If you are nervous that you will run out of time before you finish answering the questions, look up what the set time limit is for the test beforehand and compare that to the number of questions that will be on the test. You can then take timed practice tests to get a feel for how long it takes you to answer the questions.

7. Do you usually spend a lot of time thinking about how much better you could have done on a test after taking it?
It’s perfectly normal to think about how well or how poorly you did on a test after you take it. It’s important to note that no matter how much worrying or stressing you do after the exam is finished, what’s done is done. If you don’t wind up with the score you wanted, think positively about how you can move forward with studying for a retake of the test.

8. Are you worried about the format of the test?
Not knowing the format of the test or what types of questions are on the test may throw you off if you are unprepared. Most testing organizations provide information about how their testing system works and what kind of questions you can expect. Looking up this information will help you know what’s coming so you aren’t surprised on test day.

9. Are you worried that you will forget everything you know once you begin taking the test?
It is very common to worry about going blank and forgetting information once you sit down to take a test. If you’re worried this will happen to you, it may be helpful to implement some memorization tricks and repetitive recitation to your study regime. For some tests, if you draw a blank on a question, you can skip it and come back to it later.

10. Do you have a planned schedule set up for test day?
The last thing you want to worry about on test day is when you’re supposed to leave for the testing center, what time your exam appointment is, and what items you need to bring with you. Testing organizations provide all of the information you need to know, so be sure to take note of everything before test day arrives. This will ensure you aren’t running around in a panic.



What causes test anxiety?


There are many potential causes of testing anxiety. Things like fear of failure, lack of preparation, and poor testing history are common causes.


What does test anxiety feel like?


The physical symptoms of test anxiety can include nausea, dizziness, a racing heart, sweating, and tense muscles.


How do I get over test anxiety?


There are several ways you can overcome test anxiety. Ensuring you are well-prepared and getting a good night’s sleep before the exam are some of the best ways to get over your test anxiety.

By Peter Rench

Peter Rench joined Mometrix in 2009 and serves as Vice President of Product Development, responsible for overseeing all new product development and quality improvements. Mr. Rench, a National Merit Scholar, graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in mathematics from Texas A&M University.



by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: November 15, 2023