Tackling Test Anxiety


This week I decided to do something a little different. Since it’s back-to-school season, I thought it would be great to discuss something that affects almost everyone – test anxiety. Special thanks to Taylor for sharing this helpful article!


7 Ways to Reduce Test Anxiety

“Should I pull an all-nighter tonight? Is it worth it?” I wondered sitting at my desk. I stared blankly at my notes, concerned about tomorrow’s final exam. I open my laptop and search for a final grade calculator to find out what I need to receive an A in the course. A pop-up appears suddenly on my screen stating, “You need at least a 65%. Congrats!” …Congrats? I spent the next 15 minutes thinking about every single thing that could go wrong on exam day. What if I don’t know anything when I get the test? What if I’ve been studying the wrong material? What if I need to be focusing on something else? What if I can’t even get a 60%? What if I sleep through my exam tomorrow? What if, what if, what if!

Testing anxiety is often depicted by the phrase, “I know the material well, but when I start the test, my mind goes blank.” Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety is characterized by an abnormal feeling in your stomach, palpitations, excessive sweating, hyperventilating, just to name a few. Many students will not openly admit to experiencing testing anxiety, but there are a lot of students who cope with it. A small amount of anxiety can be excellent for motivation and momentum and is often normal in students. Dealing with testing anxiety was a struggle earlier in my undergraduate career. In the end, I realized this excessive anxiety wasn’t helping me learn anything. In fact, it caused me to lose focus and interfered with my academic success. Currently, I am about to begin my journey in graduate school. I have come so far with enhancing my test-taking skills.  You can’t just prepare for an exam by studying the material. To succeed in testing, you must know how to approach the test and maintain your focus throughout the testing period. How did I determine the best method for managing test anxiety? I discovered ways to calm my nerves and absorb as much material as possible via trial and error. Here are 7 methods I learned to lessen my anxiety prior to an exam:

Thinking about an all-nighter? Don’t.

Studies have proven the lack of sleep only hinders your ability to function cognitively during test time as well as increase anxiety. It becomes more difficult to concentrate and retain your memory. You should obtain a full 7-8 hours of sleep at least the day before taking the exam. Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with a nap every now and then while studying. Take a short nap break if you need it.

No peeking before the exam

This can cause you to become more anxious and overwhelmed. I found that looking at my textbooks and notes before taking the exam led me to formulate “what if thoughts.” “What if thoughts” are negative ideas, such as “What if I forget this or that? What if I don’t really know this material? What if I fail this test…this class?!” I will discuss this more in detail under number 6, but you can avoid “what if thoughts” and other negative ideas by closing your book. My rule is “If I don’t know it now, I won’t know it during the test.” If you hear other students discussing the material, run! Just kidding, don’t actually run. Walk away or find something else to focus on. You should not look at any material an hour before the test. Close the book. Rest and participate in a relaxing/enjoyable activity prior to walking in that room, leading into number 3.

Find your zen

Whether it is during finals or just a regular school week, get involved in something to calm your nerves and relieve your stress. I discovered that going to church services, taking a yoga class with friends, and drawing while listening to music helped me to manage my stress. You can try a sport, games, crafts – whatever works for you.

Always remember to eat

This may seem self-explanatory because it is. You must eat a balanced meal prior to testing. I used to become stressed out and skipped meals in order to gain more study time. It becomes difficult to focus on an empty stomach. I found that my hunger also added to my stress and anxiety. You should eat a light nutritious meal of fruits, veggies, protein, and grains before your test. Avoid heavy foods and processed foods, because they will cause you to become tired and decrease your overall energy required for the test.


When you find yourself becoming anxious, try slowly inhaling and slowly exhaling to relax your body. Sometimes tightening your fists also helps. This causes you to shift your concentration from your anxiety to the pressure in your hands as you tighten them. I personally counted to five while simultaneously inhaling then counted again when I slowly exhaled. I discovered this method worked well for me in addition to staying positive.

Be like a proton

Before you take a test, say “I love taking tests!” I know. That’s not true. However, it’s positive and alters your overall thought process. Walk into the testing room with confidence and avoid negative thinking. One day, I was watching a clip of Laurie Hernandez preparing for a gymnastics routine. She said, “I got this,” before completely nailing her bar routine. (Go, girl!) From that day forward, I started saying that before every test. As cheesy as it sounds, it worked. I began to see a difference in my academic performance as well as my confidence. You should fill your mind with positive thoughts and continuously tell yourself that you CAN do this. It is all about how you approach the exam. I realized I was treating every test question as a major life decision. Don’t think of this one exam as your future depends on it. Remember, there are more important factors in your application besides your grades.  There is the personal statement, MCAT score, extracurriculars, etc. You have a chance to reach your goals and must remind yourself daily. You can do this, and you will.

Seek professional help

Finally, if you feel that you need to speak with someone about your testing anxiety, please don’t hesitate to speak with someone at your on-campus counseling and psychological services. They are friendly and willing to assist you with additional strategies to maintain testing anxiety. You can also discuss this with your parents, family, friends, or physician. Do not be afraid to reach out for help.

In conclusion, you have the power to take control of your anxiety and turn it into determination. Believe in yourself and trust that you know the material. If you find you didn’t do as well as you wished on an exam, don’t gloat about it. Use that disappointment to fuel your motivation for the next exam. Note which methods did not work for one exam and avoid them when studying for the next. Learning to study is all about trial and error. Also, some methods work for one class but may not work for another course. Keep in mind these tips may not work for you as they did for me. Eventually, you will discover what helps you to learn and begin to crush those exams! Remember:

Thanks for reading! Please visit my blog at blackgirlmedicine.wordpress.com for more posts. Be kind and remember that today affects what occurs tomorrow. – Taylor ❤

Taylor is a nontraditional premed student. She is currently a graduate student of biomedical sciences. She plans to apply for medical school during the 2019 cycle.

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