Test Anxiety


Students may experience anxiety about tests and may experience heightened anxiety before a testing situation. A certain degree of test anxiety is normal and may help students prepare more effectively, work more efficiently, and remain focused during testing. Too much anxiety, however, can negatively affect performance. The following strategies may assist students and parents in reducing test anxiety.

Student Strategies for Reducing Test Anxiety

  • Be prepared. Develop good study habits. Study at least a week or two before the exam, in smaller increments of time and over a few days (instead of pulling an "all-nighter"). Try to simulate exam conditions by working through a practice test, following the same time constraints.
  • Develop good test-taking skills. Read the directions carefully, answer questions you know first and then return to the more difficult ones. Outline essays before you begin to write

  • Maintain a positive attitude. Remember that your self-worth should not be dependent on or defined by a test grade. Creating a system of rewards and reasonable expectations for studying can help to produce effective studying habits. There is no benefit to negative thinking.

  • Stay focused. Concentrate on the test, not other students during your exams. Try not to talk to other students about the subject material before taking an exam.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. If you feel stressed during the exam, take deep, slow breaths and consciously relax your muscles, one at a time. This can invigorate your body and will allow you to better focus on the exam.

  • Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise and allow for personal time. If you are exhausted - physically or emotionally - it will be more difficult for you to handle stress and anxiety.

  • Share your feelings of anxiety with parents and teachers

Remember the test is only one way your academic performance is measured.

Parent Strategies for Reducing Test Anxiety

  • Discuss the test openly and in a positive way.

  • Have realistic expectations of your child's performance while encouraging his/her best efforts.

  • Emphasize that the test is only one measure of academic performance.

  • Emphasize that test scores do not determine a person's worth.

Myths of Test Anxiety

  • Students are born with test anxiety.

  • Test anxiety is a mental illness.

  • Test anxiety cannot be reduced.

  • Any level of test anxiety is bad.

  • All students who are not prepared have test anxiety.

  • Students with test anxiety cannot learn math.

  • Students who are well prepared will not have test anxiety.

  • Very intelligent students and students taking high-level courses, such as calculus, do not have test anxiety.

  • Attending class and doing my homework should reduce all my test anxiety.

  • Being told to relax during a test will make you relaxed.

  • Doing nothing about test anxiety will make it go away.

  • Reducing test anxiety will guarantee better grades.

How to Reduce Text Anxiety

Relaxation Techniques

There are both short-term and long-term relaxation response techniques that help control emotional (somatic) and worry (cognitive) test anxiety. Once these procedures are learned, the relaxation response will take the place of an anxiety response.

1.  Put your feet flat on the floor.
2.  With your hands, grab underneath the chair.
3.  Push down with your feet and pull up on your chair at the same time for about five seconds.
4.  Relax for five to ten seconds.
5.  Repeat the procedure two or three times.
6.  Relax all your muscles except the ones that are actually used to take the test.

1.  Close and cover your eyes using the center of the palms of your hands.
2.  Prevent your hands from touching your eyes by resting the lower parts of your palms on your cheekbones and placing your fingers on your forehead.  Your eyeballs must not be touched, rubbed or handled in any way.
3.  Think of some real or imaginary relaxing scene. Mentally visualize this scene.  Picture the scene as if you were actually there, looking through your own eyes.
4.  Visualize this relaxing scene for one to two minutes.

 1.  Sit straight up in your chair in a good posture position.
 2.  Slowly inhale through your nose.
3.  As you inhale, first fill the lower section of your lungs and work your way up to the upper part of your lungs.
4.  Hold your breath for a few seconds.
 5.  Exhale slowly through your mouth.
6.  Wait a few seconds and repeat the cycle.


Negative self-talk (cognitive anxiety) is defined as the negative statements you tell yourself before and during tests. Negative self-talk causes students to lose confidence and to give up on tests. Students need to change their negative self-talk to positive self-talk without making unrealistic statements.

During tests, positive self-talk can build confidence and decrease your test anxiety. Using positive self-talk before a test can help reduce your test anxiety and improve your grades.

"No matter what I do, I will not pass the course."
"I am no good at math, so why should I try?"
"I cannot remember the answers or I have forgotten how to do the problems. I am going to fail this test."
"I failed this course last semester, and I am going to flunk out again this semester."


"I failed the course last semester, but I can now use my study/ math skills to pass this course."
"I went blank on the last test, but I now know how to reduce test anxiety."
"I know that with hard work, I will pass math."
"I prepared for this test and will do the best I can."
"I feel good about my self and my abilities. I am not going to worry about that difficult problem. I'm going to use all my test time and check for careless errors. Even if I don't get the grade I want on this test, it is not the end of the world.

Some students have difficulty stopping their negative self-talk. These students cannot just tell themselves to eliminate those thoughts. These students need to use a thought-stopping  technique to overcome their worry and become relaxed.

To stop your thoughts in the classroom or during a test, silently shout to yourself "Stop" or "Stop thinking about that." After your silent shout, either relax yourself or repeat one of your positive self-talk statements. You may have to shout to yourself several times during a test or while doing homework to control negative self-talk. After every shout, use a different relaxation technique/scene or positive self-talk statement.

Thought stopping works because it interrupts the worry response before it can cause high anxiety or negative emotions. During the interruption, you can replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk statements or relaxation. Students with high worry anxiety should practice this technique three days to one week before taking a test. Contact the campus counselor if you have additional questions about how to reduce test anxiety/negative self-talk statements.


Paul D. Nolting, Ph.D., Math Study Skills Workbook, Your Guide to Reducing Test Anxiety and Improving Study Strategies, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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