How to Manage Test Anxiety

Woman looking at exam paper anxiously in exam hall
It’s test day, and even though you’ve studied, a wave of dread begins to creep over you. You feel your heart thump in your chest. Your palms begin to sweat. You feel sick to your stomach.

If this scenario sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone – many students suffer from test anxiety. Making a few changes in your pre-test routine may help alleviate some of that anxiety. Check out the following tips:

  • Don’t cram. Probably since the time academic exams were created, students have made the mistake of “pulling an all-nighter” before a big test. It’s OK to review information the night before a big test, but skimping on sleep to study is never a good idea. When deprived of sleep, brain function is impaired, and if you can’t think clearly, you may be more likely to become anxious.
  • Eat well. A sugary breakfast washed down with two cups of coffee may make you feel alert, but sugar and caffeine can also raise blood pressure and bring on anxiety. Protein-rich foods such as eggs and Greek yogurt boost energy naturally, and yogurt also aids in digestion. Add fruit to yogurt to get a natural, mild boost in blood sugar.
  • Breathe. Deep breathing can help calm jittery nerves. Whether standing or sitting, place both feet flat on the ground and let your body relax, then breathe in slowly for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds and exhale for four seconds. Repeat your breathing pattern a few times, and you should notice your nerves settling.
  • Avoid distractions. On test day, don’t allow your mind to wander to what you need to accomplish after school, and don’t get drawn into chatting with classmates before the test. Stay focused – and turn off your cellphone.
  • Get perspective. Sometimes, students experience test anxiety because they believe a test is more important than it actually is. Rarely will getting a low or failing grade on a test ruin your future. Find out before the test how it will impact your grade, and whether you can retake it or earn extra credit if you don’t get the score you want. The SAT is one test you can retake as many times as you wish, so when you first take that exam, consider it a trial run – and if your scores are outstanding, that’s one test you won’t have to face again.