5 Test Anxiety Tips To Help You Succeed In Class

Updated February 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Whether you need to score high to get a good overall grade or you're trying to enter college or a grad school program, exams can create a lot of stress. This is a normal response, especially if the stakes are high. However, the negative impact can be reduced or even eliminated. This article will some strategies that you can use to learn how to overcome test anxiety.

There Are Many Types Of Anxiety

What Is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a specific form of performance anxiety. It is similar to the anxiety many people feel in situations such as public speaking and auditioning. In layman's terms, test anxiety can best be described as a combination of tension and symptoms that stem from the fear, worry, or dread of failing an exam.

Most exams are important, and if they aren't passed, there may be consequences. This creates stress. If there are high stakes, test anxiety can also cause some people to catastrophize and make failing seem even worse than it is. For instance, someone might feel that they may never get a job if they do not pass the test to enter their university of choice.

Like other similar situations, the anxiety related to taking a test can also cause physical symptoms such as :

  • Headaches

  • Light-headedness

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Sweating

  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms can make concentrating much harder and may make an exam feel practically impossible. This can cause students to "blank out" on questions or take too long on them, making them prone to leaving subsequent ones unanswered.

Because of this, it is estimated that those with test anxiety perform around 12 percentile points lower than those with little to no tension. Anxiety can also reduce working memory, confuse reasoning, and increase the chances of making mistakes; and thus, decrease test scores. 

This issue is  common with students. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, approximately 16 to 20 percent of students report having high test anxiety. An additional 18 percent are affected by moderately-high anxiety. 

Based on these test anxiety statistics, nearly 40 percent of students regularly experience debilitating test anxiety.

If you are a student who struggles with test anxiety, you are not alone. By learning specific skills and strategies, you can learn how to deal with test anxiety and reduce its negative impact on your performance. The following suggestions will teach you practical ways to do just that.

  1. Practice Relaxation Techniques

There are many ways to physically and mentally relax before and during your exams, which can  lead to better performance overall. One of the primary ways to do this is through deep breathing. It is recommended that you perform this type of breathing anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes at a time, slowly allowing your lungs and abdomen to fill up with air and then gradually exhaling. 

Guided imagery is also another method that you can use to put yourself in a more peaceful headspace. Similarly, prior to the exam, you might also try to find a nice, quiet place on campus where you can try to unwind and think positive thoughts.

If you experience muscle tension, you can try to stretch or become familiar with the feeling of relaxation by purposely and briefly tensing your muscles, then loosening them up. Since you'll be conscious of how relaxation is supposed to feel, you can try to alleviate discomfort whenever it arises. 

  1. Pay Attention To The Essentials: Diet And Sleep

The importance of lifestyle habits such as what you eat and how you sleep can apply to just about any type of anxiety. If you have chronic test anxiety, you might want to look into these factors.

There Are Many Types Of Anxiety

Having a balanced diet and staying hydrated is optimal for brain functioning, and certain nutrients can even work to reduce anxiety, especially those rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

Although it can give you a boost at the start of your day, avoiding caffeine can also help calm anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can contribute to the worsening of anxiety symptoms. Some carbohydrates found in processed foods can also cause the jitters prior to a test, so you may want to avoid these as well before it is time to take the test.

Similar to diet and nutrition, sleep can also contribute to your ability to stay focused and even put you in a more positive mood. You might want to avoid staying up too late the night before a test, even if you’re studying. Instead, it may be best to prepare for the test well in advance and go to bed early.

  1. Avoid Cramming The Material

Another suggestion for avoiding exam anxiety is to stay clear of procrastination and cramming. 

Cramming is best described as a "period of neglect of study followed by a concentrated burst of studying immediately before an exam". Multiple studies have shown cramming to be an efficient way to prepare for a test, especially in today's fast-paced and busy world, but it has also been shown to limit information retention.

In other words, there is a chance you might forget specific details if you try to absorb too many and too quickly. Forgetfulness can also lead to self-doubt on a test, and consequently, cause anxiety.

Instead, it is recommended that you review the material little-by-little each day leading up to the exam. Doing so will promote learning retention and give you more confidence.  By allowing yourself more time to prepare and study the course material, you’ll be more likely to trust   your abilities and do well on the test.

  1. Pace Yourself

Most exams have a time limit, but this does not mean that you should rush through the questions on your test. Instead, consider taking the time to read the questions carefully. This will reduce the likelihood of making a mistake. If you are having trouble with your current question, it may be best to temporarily skip it and move on to the next, returning to it later.

Freezing on a question is quite common in those with test anxiety, so the above strategy could allow you to continue with the test and not get hung up on a specific test problem.

It’s also recommended that you try to avoid becoming overly concerned with how your peers are progressing through the exam. Some students like to breeze through exams, but this can cause other classmates to panic and feel like they are going too slowly. It’s advisable to work on your test at a pace that is comfortable for you and resist the temptation to rush.  

  1. Think Positively

Test anxiety can tend to make people doubt themselves and think of the worst-case scenarios. Altering this negative mindset may be one of the most effective ways to beat test anxiety.

If you frequently have low morale when it’s time to take a test, sometimes self-talk can be  a good way to fight any doubts that you might have. For example, you can tell yourself, "I have given myself plenty of time to study, and I am prepared for this test".

Thinking positively about passing the test can be helpful. After all, as long as you've studied, you've put yourself in the best position to succeed.

Finally, you can try to use anxiety to your advantage. For some people, having a little bit of stress is okay. It can drive their performance by making them more careful and focused. 


Managing test anxiety may take some effort, but once put into practice, you can start to see improvements rather quickly. However, if your test anxiety is severe, you may benefit from a personalized approach to your condition from a professional. In addition to these test anxiety tips, there are also mental health counselors and therapists  who specialize in helping those with anxiety, no matter how general or specific.

Anxiety can also present symptoms that make it hard to reach out for help in person, though. If you have test anxiety, you may have other types of anxiety too like social anxiety, for instance. This may prevent you from meeting a counselor in an office-based setting. Online therapy is another option. With this form of remote treatment, you can speak to a licensed counselor from the comfort of your home. It also saves time, allowing you to skip the commute and devote more time to your studies.

Online therapy has been the subject of much research in the field of psychology. A recent study showed that online therapeutic interventions can reduce symptoms of various mental health conditions, including anxiety. This study highlighted the effects of online mindfulness training.  

Anxiety is a widespread mental health condition, but it does not have to hurt your academic performance. The above test anxiety strategies may be useful in helping you manage your symptoms, improving your mindset, and allow you to achieve the good grades that you deserve. For more support, reach out to one of the thousands of qualified therapists at BetterHelp

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