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8 Tips for Reducing Test Anxiety

We all feel some level of butterflies in our stomach before a test. Here are some pro tips to battle this anxiety and go in with a cool and calm demeanor. 


By Douglas Eddings, Certified Learning & Development Professional

Waiting for a Wave

Test anxiety is something that most people have felt at one time or another. Test anxiety can negatively affect the performance on an exam and overall self esteem. By following these eight tips provided test anxiety could be significantly reduced leading to a better outcome for the test taker. These simple tips are easily integrated into the test takers daily routine and when used in combination can be very effective in the reduction of test anxiety.

1. Be Prepared

The best way to reduce test anxiety is to be prepared for the exam. With few exceptions, the exact date and time of exams are known in advance. Therefore there is no excuse not to properly prepare. Studies have shown that studying for shorter periods each day for the weeks leading up to the exam is a more efficient way to prepare for the test. Set aside an ample amount of time to review information for the exam each day. This will help the brain absorb and retain more information that might be needed as well as help make you feel much more confident in your mastery of the material. Learn what study tools work best for you and dedicate some time each day to utilize these. 


2. Be Organized

Creating a study schedule can help keep order and ensure that the proper time is given to all classes. It can also help to build in time for exercise and rest as well. Creating and adhering to a study schedule can help determine how much time can be devoted to each course. Using the shorter duration over longer time practice can ensure better retention of the information leading to better test results as well and reduced test anxiety. Building in space for exercise, sleep and relaxation can help maintain a balanced lifestyle and also lead to reduced anxiety.


3. Eat Well

Research shows the positive benefit of proper nutrition on brain function. On exam day avoid sugary cereals, a single piece of toast or anything other option that can cause a spike and drop in blood sugar. Instead opt for a piece of toast topped with avocado and an egg, or toast with nut butter. The combination of complex carbohydrates, good fats and protein will help provide your body and mind with the nutrients for the brain to function best.  If allowed in the test, you can also pack snacks such as dried fruit and mixed nuts or seeds to help keep the brain well fed during the exam. 


4. Sleep

Sleep may be one of the most important factors in reducing test anxiety. The brain cannot function well with lack of sleep. Many studies have shown the ineffectiveness of the practice of staying up all night to study for the test the next day. Give yourself the best chance to do well on the test and in addition to studying early and properly preparing for the exam, try to sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours the night before the exam. The brain will get a chance to put all of the hard work you have done studying into memory.  


5. Exercise

The benefits of regular exercise go beyond the reduction of test anxiety. Incorporating routine exercise into the daily schedule can help the brain and body feel more relaxed come test day. Whether it is getting up to go for a short walk, going to the gym or catching a workout class the morning of the test can significantly reduce test anxiety. Giving the body and outlet for some of the stress, as well as giving the brain a chance to focus on something other than the test can help you enter the testing site with much less apprehension. If this is not possible, try arriving early to the test site and taking a quick ten-minute walk before entering the site.


6. Create a Pre-Exam Routine

Humans are creatures of habit; we all have our own established routines. Creating a pre-exam routine can help reduce test anxiety on the day of the exam. This suggestion is highly personalized to what ever you need to do to help you feel like you have the best start to the day as possible. It can include getting up early to attend your favorite work out class, sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or tea, or even listening to your favorite play list before arriving to the test site. Think about what will help relax and calm you and create a routine that incorporates one or more of these while still allowing ample time to arrive at the test site.


7. Calming Breath and Positive Thoughts

Taking a few deep, calming breaths can help take the brain out of the sympathetic nervous system- our flight or fight, and back into a more relaxed state of the parasympathetic nervous system. This can be achieved anywhere and can be used to help reduce test anxiety before and even during the exam. Inhale for the count of four, exhale for the count of eight and repeat three times. The count itself does not really matter as long as you are exhaling for double the time you are inhaling. Secondly using positive self-talk and thoughts. The words we say to ourselves have a profound impact on our performance on an exam. Reminding yourself how prepared you are and to acknowledge how smart you are can all help to reduce test anxiety. 


8. Get to the Test Site Early

This may be one of the easiest things you can do to reduce test anxiety. If the test site is unfamiliar to you, drive to the location a few days in advance to get comfortable with the directions and an understating of how long it may take. When you arrive early to the test site there is time to take advantage of some of the other anxiety relieving strategies such as the calming breaths and even a short walk. All of these combined with the fact you are already at the exam site will help reduce anxiety. 


Utilizing one or more of these tips leading up to an exam can help significantly reduce test anxiety. In turn a reduction of test anxiety can lead to a better outcome on the exam. 

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