The day of the exam:
- Begin your day with a moderate breakfast and avoid coffee if you are prone to "caffeine jitters." Even people who usually manage caffeine well may feel light-headed and jittery when indulging on the day of a test.
- Double-check the time and location of the exam. Get to the exam on time - not too late but not too early. Getting to class TOO early may cause anxiety. Relax, and don't talk about the test with friends; frantic reviews are often more confusing than helpful.
- Stop studying an hour or so before the test and relax and compose yourself.
- If waiting for the test to begin causes anxiety, distract yourself by reading a magazine or newspaper.
When you arrive at the location of the exam and begin the exam:
- Bring everything you will need with you (scratch paper, pencils, calculator, etc.) so you won't be frantically trying to borrow things.
- Sit in a location in the exam room where you will be distracted as little as possible, where there is good lighting, and where you feel comfortable. Avoid positioning yourself near doors or other high-distraction areas.
- As the exams are distributed, calm yourself down by taking some slow, deep breaths. Some initial tension is normal. Remind yourself of how hard you studied, how well you did on another exam, and how you've practiced anxiety control.
- When you receive the test, stop for a moment, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly, relax, and then start reviewing the directions and test items.
- Make sure to carefully read any instructions on the exam.
- Don't hesitate to ask for clarification from the professor, teaching assistant, or proctor if you have questions about the directions or procedure, rather than letting anxiety build up because you aren't sure about what you are expected to do.
- Budget your test-taking time. Read over the test and plan your approach. Ascertain point values per part, time limits for each section, which question you'll start with, etc.
- In a timed test, make a schedule for answering questions. Allow more time for higher-point questions. Pace yourself to answer as many questions as possible.
- Develop an aggressive, yet realistic attitude. Approach the test vigorously, determined that you will do your best, but also accept the limits of what you know at the moment. Use everything you know to do well, but don't blame yourself for what you don't know.
- Calm yourself by saying a couple of sentences like: "This test will not permanently affect my life. I'm going to feel calm and relaxed."
During the exam:
- Pay attention to the test, not to yourself or others. Don't waste time worrying, doubting yourself, wondering how other people are doing, or blaming yourself. Don't worry about what you should have done; pay attention to what you can do now.
- Direct your focus to the questions. Try to link questions to their corresponding lecture and/or chapter.
- Don't spend too much time on any one question. If you can't come up with the answer quickly, move on to questions you can answer. This will get your mental processes and concentration ready for more difficult questions. You can always come back if you have time. Higher scores will usually result from trying all the items.
- If you're taking an essay test and you go blank and can't think of anything to write, go on to another question or another part of the test. Pick a question and start writing. Jot down anything you can recall on scratch paper to stimulate your memory and get your mind working. It may trigger the answer in your mind.
- If the exam is more difficult than you anticipated, try to focus and just do your best. It might be enough to get you through, even with a reasonable grade!
- Do not obsess about running out of time on the test. Check the time periodically (say, after you've finished a third of the test), but avoid checking too frequently, as this will only distract you and make you more anxious. Remind yourself that it's better to miss a few points by not quite finishing the test than to lose your concentration and thus miss many points.
- Practice visualizing a calm, soothing scene (such as a beach or mountains) and use this when you feel anxious.
- If you notice that you are not thinking well, you are worrying excessively about one problem, you are not reading carefully, you are forgetting information you know, or your muscles are tight, try this anxiety control procedure:
-Turn the test paper over and close your eyes.
-Change positions to help you relax. Stretch your arms and legs and then relax them again. Tense and relax muscles in several parts of your body, then take several deep breaths with your eyes still closed. Breathe in slowly to the count of seven and exhale to the count of seven. Concentrate on your breathing.
-If possible, do something different for a few seconds. For example: get a drink, sharpen a pencil, eat a snack, ask a question.
-Turn the test paper right side up, and give yourself a positive self pep talk (i.e., "You're sure to do well. You studied hard and remember, you got an A on that final in physics.") This whole procedure should take only about a minute to do. It's well worth the time!
- Think of the test as a game. Your goal is to collect as many points as you can in the time available. Don't worry about a particular question. If you're unsure of the answer, guess and move on. Remind yourself that you can miss a few questions and still get an A.
- Don't panic when students start handing in their papers. There's no reward for being the first one done.
After the Exam:
- When the exam is over, reward yourself.
- If you don't have any other commitments, maybe you can go to a movie, go out to eat, or visit with friends.
- If you have to study for other exams, you may have to postpone a larger break, but a brief break can be the pickup that you need.