Strategies for Controlling Anxiety and Staying Calm During a Test

Before the Test

  • Prepare well in advance by reviewing your notes a little each day along with your textbook readings.
  • Include as much self-testing in your review as possible.
  • Before you go to bed on the night before the exam, organize anything that you will need for the exam -- pen, pencil, ruler, eraser, calculator, etc. Double check the time of the exam and the location. 
  • Set the alarm clock and then get a good night's sleep before the exam.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle:get enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise, some personal "down" time, and a reasonable amount of social interaction.
  • As you anticipate the exam, think positively, e.g., "I can do OK on this exam. I've studied and I know my stuff."
  • Do not quiz each other right before the exam.

Day of and during the Test

  • Get to the exam on time. Do not go to class too early. Other students' panic is contagious.
  • Sit in a location in the exam room where you will be distracted as little as possible.
  • As the papers are distributed, calm yourself by taking some slow deep breaths.
  • As soon as you get the exam, use the back of the question sheet to write down facts and details that you have memorized, but are afraid you might forget.
  • Make sure to carefully read any instructions on the exam.
  • As you work on the exam, focus only on the exam, not on what other students are doing or on thinking about past exams or future goals.
  • Allow yourself to "warm up." Read each question through first, and then answer the one you know the most about first.
  • If you notice that your mind is consumed with distress and worries, mentally yell "stop". Try to focus back on the exam.
  • If you feel very anxious in the exam, take a few minutes to calm yourself. Stretch your arms and legs and then relax them again. Do this a couple of times. Take a few slow deep breaths. Do some positive internal self-talk; say to yourself, "I will be OK, I can do this."
  • Do not hesitate to ask for clarifications.
  • Plan your time accordingly to the structure of the test.
  • If the exam is more difficult than you anticipated, try to focus and just do your best. It might be enough to get you through with a reasonable grade.
  • When done review your answers and leave the test site.

After the Test

  • When the exam is over, treat yourself. If you don't have any other commitments, maybe you can take the night off. If you have to study for other exams you may have to postpone a larger break, but a brief break may be the "pick up" that you need.