You can control test anxiety so that your performance on a test reflects your real standing in that course. However, if levels of test anxiety that interfere with your academic success persist, talk to a counselor for some specialized help.
Mental preparation is a primary concern when dealing with test anxiety. Be well prepared for the test.
At the beginning of the semester:
- Plan your study strategy so that you will know the material well enough at exam time that you can recall it even when you are under stress.
- Organize your time (see the tutorial on time management) and stick closely to your schedule. When you are scheduled to study, study. Learn and practice good time management and avoid laziness, procrastination, and daydreaming.
Form a study group where you can review notes, reading assignments, and homework with a few classmates (see the tutorial on cooperative learning for tips on forming a study group).
During the semester, pay attention to your attitude:
- Build confidence by studying throughout the semester and avoid cramming the night before the exam. A final review is fine, but trying to cover two months of material in two hours is not an effective way to prepare for an exam.
- Learn to concentrate on the material you are studying.
- Generate questions from your textbooks and lecture notes.
- Focus on key words, concepts, and examples in your textbooks and lecture notes.
- Make charts and outlines which organize the information in your notes and textbooks.
- Review texts, notes, and homework problems.
- Make your study setting conducive to studying and free from distractions.
- Engage in "thought stopping" if you find that you are worrying a lot, mentally comparing yourself to your peers, or thinking about what others may say about your performance in a course.
- Practice anxiety control strategies. As you study, deliberately induce anxiety by saying to yourself the negative thoughts you typically have during an exam (i.e., "I'm going to fail.") Remind yourself that you will probably experience some anxiety during tests, but the anxiety won't hamper your performance because you've practiced controlling it.
- Allow time for recreation and study breaks. When you schedule fun and relaxation, enjoy.
- Maintain a regular exercise program.
Several days before the exam:
- Spreading review over several days rather than cramming it in will aid memory development and retention and will reduce last-minute anxiety.
- Several days before the exam, discuss the test content with your instructor and study group or classmates.
- Combine all the information that has been presented to you in preparation for the exam and work on mastering the main concepts.
- If you are unable to review all the material the exam will cover, select important portions that you can absorb well.
- Set a goal of presenting your knowledge of this information on the test.
- When studying for the exam, test yourself with questions that may be asked and try to answer them by integrating ideas from lectures, notes, texts, and supplementary readings.
- If possible, take a practice test under exam-like conditions.
- Remind yourself that your entire future doesn't depend on this exam. There will be other exams and other courses. Many students fail a course or two but go on to graduate from Penn State and have successful careers.
- Don't give a test the power to define you. An exam won't tell you whether you're brilliant or stupid. Your performance on an exam mostly depends on how well you studied for the test, the quality of your prior education, and the test-taking strategies you use.
- As you anticipate the exam, think positively (e.g., "I can do okay on this exam. I've studied and I know my stuff."). Remember that the most reasonable expectation is to try to show as much of what you know as you can.
- Remind yourself of past successes. Think of a tough course in which you struggled but eventually succeeded. Tell yourself that if you did well on that past exam, you can do well on the upcoming exam.
The night before the exam:
- Visualize completing the test successfully despite your anxiety. Play the entire "tape" in your mind - from the moment you wake up on the day of the exam to the moment you finish the exam.
- Before you go to bed on the night before the exam, make sure to collect anything that you will need for the exam - pen, pencil, ruler, eraser, calculator, etc.
- Set the alarm clock and then get a good night's sleep. Don't go without sleep the night before an exam.