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Managing Test Anxiety

What is test anxiety?

Many students suffer from test anxiety. It can show itself in various ways:
  • Physically - sweaty palms, increased heart rate, headaches, stomach aches, nausea and dizziness
  • Emotionally - feelings of anger, depression, frustration and anxiety
  • Mentally - forgetting information you otherwise know, reading the same passages over and over yet the information doesn't "sink in," doubting yourself and being overly self-critical ("I'm so stupid")
Turn anxiety into
Turn anxiety into accomplishment!


Interrupt negative thoughts! They only escalate feelings of anxiety. Try these tips:

  • Imagine yourself passing the test. See the completed test being returned to you with your desired letter grade.
  • Allow yourself to daydream for a short time. Think of something you enjoy doing. See yourself in a place you find relaxing, doing something you love, or spending time with people who are supportive of you.
  • If you begin freezing up during the exam, focus on something trivial. If there is a window in your classroom, focus on the leaves of the trees outside. How is the wind affecting the leaves? What color are they? Are there flowers in bloom? If you cannot see the window, focus on something in your area. What can you find interesting about it?
  • Make positive self-statements. Talk to yourself as if you're encouraging a friend or a child.
  • Entertain the thought, "What is the worst that can happen?" Take this thought as far (and as ridiculously) as you can: you'll fail the test and fail the course. Do you see yourself surviving? Can you retake the class? What services are available to prevent this from happening, such as tutoring, setup up study skills group, or using better time management techniques? Whatever the worst outcome would be, think about how you could manage it - because you can.

Eliminate the physical stress before it builds up. Try some of these techniques:

  • Engage in aerobic exercise regularly. Exercise releases stress from your body, helps clear your mind and can increase focus while you're studying.
  • Stretch! Many people carry lots of stress in their upper back and shoulders. Take a moment to stretch out these muscles.
  • 6-7-6 Technique. Breathe! Sit upright in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms down at your sides. Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose slowly while counting to 6. Hold your breath to the count of 7. Slowly exhale from your mouth while counting to 6. Repeat this 5 to 6 times and do this as many times as necessary during the day.

Helpful Websites

Reducing Test Taking Anxiety
Overcoming Test Anxiety, Albert Einstein College of Medicine