Do the words “test day” make your pulse race or your stomach churn? You may suffer from test anxiety—and you’re far from alone.
Anxiety is on the rise in the United States, especially for teenagers. There’s increased competition among students and more pressure regarding the college admissions process. So it’s no surprise that anxiety often shows up when you sit down to take a quiz, test, or exam.
How to Recognize Test Anxiety
When you experience test anxiety, your body and mind go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. Physical symptoms might include rapid breathing, sweaty palms, pounding heart, tunnel vision, and nausea.
Even students who don’t experience physical symptoms may see the effects of anxiety on their test performance. Anxiety can cause you to forget material you’re familiar with; have a difficult time concentrating; feel like your brain is foggy or fuzzy; and make avoidable mistakes.
How to Manage Test Anxiety
What can you do about test anxiety? Signet tutors have found a few strategies that are effective for many students.
Evaluate Your Concerns
It’s possible your anxiety is baseless; maybe you’ve done everything you need in order to prepare for your exam. On the other hand, that nagging worry could be a signal that you aren’t fully prepared to succeed. Take some time to reflect, and possibly speak with a trusted adult, about your concerns. Try to differentiate the unhelpful thoughts from the ones that are telling you something useful.
Build in More Prep Time
One easy way to take the pressure off is to lengthen the timeline for studying and preparation. This is particularly helpful for “big” exams like midterms and finals. As soon as you know the date of your midterm/final, start carving out time to review key concepts and brush up on any facts or ideas you may not have learned fully the first time.
Make Studying a Repeatable Process
We come back to this concept over and over: the highest-performing students usually have a specific, repeatable method for studying. This not only ensures that they are fully prepared; more importantly, reaching the end of the process signals to their brains that they have done enough and can stop worrying.
It’s very human to avoid something we find unpleasant. Unfortunately, avoiding tests is impossible! Instead, you may be able to gradually decrease your worry by repeatedly putting yourself in a situation like the stressful one (i.e., by replicating the test conditions as closely as possible). We recommend that you:
- Take full practice tests (if these aren’t available, try making up your own questions)
- Time yourself during the tests
- Study in a noisy environment
Have Tools for Quieting Your Mind
Meditation and breathing exercises are great ways of quieting your mind. Physical practices, including yoga, Tai Chi, and even running or swimming, can also help you find a calm, focused mental state. Obviously, you won’t be able to get into downward dog in the middle of your exam, but you will have an easier time quieting your mind when you’ve made a regular habit of it.
Start the Day off Right
The night before your test, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. Fuel up in the morning with a nutritious breakfast and drink plenty of water. Consider a short walk or some light stretching.
These simple strategies can reduce anxiety and help you feel your best the next time you sit down to take an exam. Remember, practice is key! If you need more support, please reach out to us for help.
*Test anxiety may be related to a larger issue, such as ADHD or a generalized anxiety disorder. We recommend connecting with a primary care physician and/or a mental health professional if test anxiety continues or if anxiety manifests in other areas of a student’s life.
Mental wellbeing is key to students' high school success. Check out our Intro to Mental Health in High School for more information.