Overcome test anxiety

Many students encounter test anxiety during the course of their studies in school. I once had a middle school student ask me to sign a contract that I would not put long division on an upcoming test. He brought me the contract and supplied a witness to our contract. When I asked his mother about why tests stressed him out she said he had always been like that. The family never put pressure on him; he did it to himself.

There are many causes of test anxiety including the fear of failure, lack of preparation and a history of doing poorly on tests. Sometimes parents put pressure on students and sometimes, as I noted, students put pressure on themselves.
Symptoms of test anxiety may be physical, such as headaches and shortness of breath, emotional, such as feelings of anger and helplessness, or behavioral such as trouble concentrating and negative thoughts.

There are many techniques to overcome test anxiety. My favorite is deep breathing exercises taken from yoga. Before a test students should close their eyes, breathe deeply through their nose, and exhale slowly through their mouths. Repeat this process until they feel relaxed.

Another strategy involves positive thinking. The book What To Say When You Talk To Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, is an excellent source of information on how to turn negative thoughts to positive ones. We all talk to ourselves; stay positive. “I will do well in geometry!”

Good test preparation is another way to alieve test anxiety. Spend several days reviewing the test material. Don’t cram. Make up 3 by 5 index cards with plenty of formulas, key points of information and definitions. Review these cards at bedtime and several times a day. Seven times is a magical number to help remember facts and figures. Advertisers place seven ads to increase awareness of a product.

My favorite phrase from Doug Adams book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is DON’T PANIC. The quickest way to test failure is panic. Remember to skip the tough questions and do the ones you can do. Along the way you may remember how to do the tough questions. Time is your enemy on a test. Don’t waste time on tough questions.

Focus all your energy on the question. When you read it, hear it in your head. This helps improve concentration. Don’t let noise or other distractions in the class break your concentration.

As far as resources, The Anxiety and Depression Association discusses Test Anxiety on their website. Deep breathing exercises can be found on utube. And the books I mentioned are probably in local libraries.


I really appreciate your discussion of test anxiety.  Thank you for the info and references.


Marianne M.

Professional Tutor, Math Instructor, MBA

700+ hours
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