What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a nervous feeling that many people get before they take a test. Test anxiety happens to everyone at one time or another.

When you have test anxiety, you might feel nervous or worried, sick to your stomach, have a headache or have thoughts that you’ll do poorly.

What Can I Do to Prepare Before the Test?

  • Prepare as much as you can. You can do this in many ways. Make sure you go to class and follow along with the teacher as best you can. Take good notes during class, and go over your notes as the test gets closer.
  • Get a full night’s sleep the night before the test. People who get a full 8 hours of sleep before a test often do better than those who don’t sleep and/or stay up all night studying.
  • Ask your teacher for suggestions on how to do your best on certain types of questions. Your teacher might be able to give you tips on how to answer multiple-choice questions, essay questions or fill-in-the-blank questions.
  • Talk to your teacher before the test. Let your teacher know that you’re nervous and ask him/her for suggestions on how you can make sure you do your best. You can also talk to your teacher about test-taking strategies that have been beneficial in the past, such as taking the test in a quiet room or being given extra time to finish.
  • Be aware of negative thoughts and challenge them with logic. If you find yourself thinking, “I know I’m going to do poorly,” try reframing your mindset. For example, ask yourself instead, “How do I know I’ll do poorly?” or say to yourself, “Just because I was nervous about my last test doesn’t mean I’ll be nervous about this one.”
  • Approach the test with confidence. Use whatever methods have helped you feel confident about tests in the past, whether that’s doing some extra studying, challenging negative thoughts or picturing yourself doing well on the test.

What Can I Do During the Test?

  • Read the directions carefully before answering the questions. If you don’t understand the directions, ask the teacher to explain.
  • Do the simple questions first. This can help build your confidence for when it comes time to tackle the harder questions later.
  • Be aware of negative thoughts during the test. Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. If you find yourself thinking, “I’m going to fail this,” try thinking instead, “I’ve studied hard and know the material, so I’ll do the best I can.”
  • Focus on what you’re doing, not on what your classmates are doing. Everyone finishes tests at different times. If one person finishes sooner than you, it doesn’t mean he/she did better or that he/she understands the material more thoroughly.
  • If you’re feeling nervous, take 3 deep, slow breaths. Remember that you’re doing your best.

Rev. 2/2016

Adapted from “Conquering Test Anxiety” by Ellen Braaten, PhD, of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.

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