Test Anxiety

The MSU Counseling Center is a great resource for providing strategies to combat test anxiety.  Below, you’ll find some of these suggestions, but if you feel that you need more help, please feel free to contact them for additional assistance.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE AN EXAM:

1. Don’t cram. Cramming is probably better than not studying at all, but the best way to reduce test anxiety is to prepare for the exam well in advance
2. Develop a “Magic Word”: Get in the habit of doing something relaxing each week. While you are doing this activity, say to yourself “relax” (or some other calming word) and notice how your body feels when it is relaxed. Practice saying your ‘magic word’ in different situations. Try to recapture the bodily feeling of relaxation. Use your ‘magic word’ if you discover yourself getting anxious during a test.
3. Relax: Do something that is relaxing for you before you go to an exam.
4. Be Punctual: Don’t show up for an exam early or late. If you come early, you will “catch” other people’s anxiety. If you are late, you start out under pressure.
5. Don’t review: Do not go over your test materials immediately before an exam. You can always find something you don’t know no matter how well you have prepared.
6. Eat: Skipping meals before an exam makes one more anxious. Exam time is no time for a starvation diet.
7. Be Comfortable: Dress in layers to make sure you will be comfortable during the exam.

THINGS TO DO DURING AN EXAM:

1. Calm Yourself: Identify several calming phrases – e.g. “Regardless of how well I do on this exam, I am going to be okay.” Try to become aware of when you are thinking negatively and stop it as well as substitute with more positive thoughts.
2. Read the directions carefully: This may be obvious, but it will help you avoid careless errors.
3. Build your self-confidence: Scan and pick out the questions you know the answers to; answer these first even if they are only worth a couple of points. This will help build self-confidence and mentally orient yourself to concepts, potentially helping you to make associations with more difficult questions.
4. Snack: Take a small piece of wrapped candy or fruit with you to the exam. When you find yourself getting anxious, put aside your testing materials and take a minute to eat your snack. Eating your snack helps to temporarily remove you from the stress situation and to increase your energy.
5. Keep your mind on the task: Don’t “second-guess” spending time changing answers unless you can do so with certainty that your first choice is incorrect as research indicates that your first hunch is more likely to be correct. Review for any missing answer. Try not to compare yourself to other people during the exam.

THINGS TO DO AFTER THE EXAM:

1. Reward yourself: Regardless of how well you think you did, reward yourself for taking and surviving the test!
2. Later On: Identify your strengths and weaknesses trying to figure out what you did well and what you didn’t do well during the exam. Look for strengths and weaknesses that you can use to prepare for the next time.
3. Know your limitations & Seek additional support as needed: Don’t be embarrassed about asking for help if you can’t solve the problem on your own.
4. Analyze: Try to identify reasons why you performed as you did on the exam, e.g., “I studied the right material.” Be careful not to draw false conclusions, e.g., “I failed because I am incapable.” Remember, we all have the potential to do just about anything we want. We succeed or fail mainly on the basis of whether we work with ourselves or against ourselves. Develop an improved plan and begin studying for your next test!

Test anxiety has two basic components: physical tension (which can be decreased by relaxation techniques/training) and negative thinking patterns which test-anxious students have learned. You have probably learned these patterns so well over the years that they have become automatic, and you don’t realize that negative thoughts are going through your head as you prepare for or take a test.
We are all “saying” things to ourselves all the time, whether we realize it or not. The problem for text-anxious people is that their negative self-statements, such as “Man, am I dumb!” take up most of their attention during a test. If your attention is focused on those negative thoughts, you will be distracted from the task of thinking about the test items. So your goal is to:
1. Recognize your negative self-statements.
2. Develop some positive self-statements to replace the negatives.
3. Practice substituting positive self-statements whenever you notice yourself thinking a negative statement.

In doing this, you will be refocusing your attention from anxious thoughts to productive thoughts.
Here are some examples of negative and substituting positive self-statements:

pos vs neg