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What to Do if You Have Test & Exam Anxiety

Taking an exam isn't just about studying. It's also about confidence. When you take a test, you have to be confident, otherwise you're going to take too long, talk yourself out of the right answers, or suffer from serious exam anxiety that affects your happiness.

Do You Have Exam Anxiety?

If you're someone that's always struggling with tests despite all of your studying, maybe it's your anxiety that's holding you back. Find out more about reducing your anxiety with my free 7 minute anxiety test.

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Anxiety Creates Test Anxiety

The first thing you need to ask yourself is if you're an anxious person in general. Those that struggle with anxiety regularly often find that they have more severe exam anxiety than those that do not. So make sure you take my anxiety test now before continuing.

Why Exam Anxiety is a Problem

For those that have struggled with anxiety on tests, you know how much of a problem it can be. Anxiety is pretty overwhelming, and it's always a struggle to experience that much anxiety and fear before a test. But there are also problems with exam anxiety that you may not even be aware of. Let's recap some of the reasons exam anxiety is such a problem:

  • Overwhelming First and foremost, anxiety is overwhelming, and you need all of you brain power to take the test. When you struggle with exam anxiety, you'll often find yourself being too overwhelmed with worrying about how you're going to do, and that makes it much harder to focus on the information on the test itself.
  • Second Guessing/Doubt While teachers always tell you to check your work, there is something about the gut answer that can often be right. After all, the answer that you're pretty sure is right will usually be right if you studied and focused. But those with anxiety have a tendency to experience significant doubt, and sit and think about the answer for so long they may talk themselves out of a right answer or take too long on the exam, both of which can be a significant problem.
  • State Dependent Learning Interestingly, one of the most forgotten reasons exam anxiety is a problem is due to state dependent learning. Studies have shown that the mind is more likely to remember things when you feel the same way you felt when you studied. For example, if you always studied after exercise, then you'd be more likely to do well on the test after you exercise. If you always study hungry, then you may do better if you took the test hungry. And if you never study anxious, then you need to make sure you're not anxious on the test.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to make sure you don't have exam anxiety is simple: anxiety is difficult. No one wants to live with it, and it can reduce your quality of life dramatically. That's why it's so important to make sure that you learn to control your exam anxiety, not just so that you do well on tests, but also so that your life isn't as affected by stress and anxiety.

Tips to Reduce Exam Anxiety

Obviously the best thing you can do is study hard and study early. Exam anxiety is worse when you haven't properly prepared for a test or do not fully understand the subject. The mere act of cramming last minute can cause a lot of anxiety as well, because even if you do learn the material you are going to doubt your ability to have learned it in such a short time.

Still, the following are some strategies to help you reduce test anxiety:

  • Have a Game Plan Give yourself something to do specifically during the test to account for any anxiety. For example, one strategy you can have on a multiple choice test is to answer each question first as quickly as possible, then make notes by the ones you doubt according to your degree of doubt. That way you're at least done with the test and then you can go back and fix any trouble spots later.
  • Mimic the Exam Experience You may also want to address the specific exam experience. One of the reasons exam anxiety grows so strong is because you only experience what an exam is like when you're taking it. Essentially, you experience severe anxiety, then it's over, then you associate exams with anxiety, then worry about that experience again. One non-traditional way to overcome this is to give yourself a test and try to mimic as much about the test taking experience as possible. Sit at a desk. Have someone create test for you. Time yourself. Make sure the room is quiet, etc. The more you experience a mock exam, the less the environment itself will cause fear.
  • Jog First It's very hard to be anxious when you're physically tired. While being too tired can be a bit bad for taking a test, it also makes it easier to focus, with fewer anxiety symptoms keeping you distracted. A good jog an hour or so prior to the exam can make a huge difference.
  • Sleep, Healthy Eating, etc. Healthy living really does affect anxiety, despite how corny it sounds to people, and for something like exam anxiety it can play a significant role. Sleeping and eating a good meal before the test makes a genuine difference on your ability to combat daily stressors, especially short term stressors like exams. Sleep is of essential importance, because not only does sleep make it easier to think clearly and reduces anxiety symptoms - it also improves memory.

These are some of the basic tools that you can use to combat exam anxiety. But there is actually much more. In fact, there are many indications that those that already suffer from poor coping are more likely to experience stress on tests.

I've helped many people overcome exam anxiety starting with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Strongly consider taking the test now to learn more about anxiety and what you can do to reduce it.

Start the test here.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jul 19, 2018.

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