Test Anxiety

Do you often feel anxious before or during a test? Does your mind go blank because of your feelings of anxiety? Sometimes you may even feel like you didn’t perform well even when you knew the material. Many people feel anxiety when it comes to test taking and are unable to perform at their peak level. Use this handout to help you let go of your test anxiety and perform at your best.

  • What is Test Anxiety?
  • Academic Preparation
  • Mental Preparation
  • Managing Anxiety (During the Test)

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety comes in many forms from sweaty palms and shallow breathing to thoughts of inadequacy. Check the following boxes to determine how you might feel when it comes to test taking.

  • Behavior
    • I avoid studying so that I don’t have to confront my anxiety.
    • My eyes jump around the page.
    • My heart races.
    • Sweaty palms.
    • Shallow breathing.
  • Thoughts
    • “I’m not smart enough.”
    • “I’ll never make it.”
    • “I’ll never do well in this class/program.”
  • Feelings
    • Anger
    • Depression
    • Self-Doubt
    • Fear
    • Dread

Acknowledging the anxiety can help you manage it.

Academic Preparation

The very best way to remove test anxiety from your life is to prepare well. There are many strategies for academic preparation. The following are selections from other study-skills handouts that can help you prepare better.

  • Efficient Time Scheduling – “Use Excel to create a basic weekly schedule. Mapping out your weekly activities will help you gain more time by visualizing available blocks of time that are normally wasted.”
  • Concentration – “Try having more frequent, shorter study periods to lessen your chance of getting distracted.”
  • Lecture Notes – “Review ALL of the notes you have taken since the beginning of the semester. Making 3x5 note cards is a good way to review on-the-go.”
  • Textbook Study – “Make an OUTLINE. Think about what you have learned and create a brief outline of the main ideas. Reflect on how the pieces of the subject fit together.”
  • Efficient Reading – “Most writers organize material using an: Intro, Development, Conclusion approach. Take advantage of this fact and pre-read.”

More detailed and helpful tips on each subject above are available to help you with your academic preparation. Contact whoever gave you this handout to get the others listed above!


  • Don’t cram.
  • Start strong. It’s more difficult to catch up.
  • Practice, review, practice, review...
  • Obtain the information about the test i.e. time, format, percentage allotted to each chapter, etc.
  • Try predicting test questions when you review.

Mental Preparation

If you can catch what is triggering your anxiety before it happens then you can better manage your anxiety. Following these steps can help you accomplish this:

  1. Reflect. Think back to the last time you felt test anxiety.
  2. Identify. Try to pinpoint how it began. You can refer back to the boxes above that you checked under Behavior, Thoughts, and Feelings.
  3. Plan. If you can successfully identify the triggers of your behavior, thoughts and feelings then you come up with a plan to avoid those triggers if possible.

For example, if you reflect back to a time when you to avoided studying to escape anxiety and identified that behavior as the result of procrastination, then you can plan to not procrastinate and study more regularly.


  • Ask yourself, “What is it I have to do? Can I develop a plan to deal with it?”
  • Focus on the things you can control.
  • Remember that it is normal to feel some sort of test-related anxiety.
  • Your test score is not a measure of who you are as a person.

Managing Anxiety (During the Test)

Now that you have prepared yourself academically and mentally to take your test, you’ll need a plan for managing your anxiety if it still happens to pop up during the test.

  • Practice Breathing – Take some deep breaths to try and calm your body physically. Concentrate on the air going in and out of your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Meditation - Mentally take yourself to a calming place (i.e. beach; a quiet, sunny hilltop; etc.) Notice how that calming place smells, feels, sounds, looks, and tastes. This can help calm your mind.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Tighten and relax your major muscles one at a time starting at your head/face and ending at your toes. This is especially helpful for people who have a hard time naturally relaxing.
  • Stopping Thoughts that Trigger Anxiety - If you find yourself thinking thoughts that you know are anxiety triggers, then sub vocally shout “STOP” or picture a stop sign.
  • Behavioral Rehearsal - Try rehearsing in your mind, or even physically, the routine you will take the day of the test. Be as detailed as you can from the clothes you wear to the room you will take the test in. If you begin to feel anxious, practice your stress management techniques so that you can perfect them come test time.


  • Try focusing on something physical like a pencil or a good-luck charm to bring yourself back to the present.