Test Taking Strategies

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a physiological experience with memory loss, negative thoughts, stress, and worry during or before a test. It can come from past failures, low self-confidence, a negative attitude, or a lack of preparation.

The first step to reducing test anxiety is to evaluate your attitude, level of commitment, and feeling of control. Realize that tests do not have power over you, and do not define you. They are not a measure of your intelligence, creativity, or self-worth. Tests are just a measure of how you performed in one day. They cannot hold you back from reaching your goals.

Test anxiety can lead to:

  • Blanking on a test
  • Low grades
  • Dropping the course
  • Low morale
  • Avoidance of work
  • Racing, negative thoughts

Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety

  1. Belly breathing reverses the effects of adrenaline. Take deep breaths in your nose and out of your mouth.
  2. Create control and increase preparation through improving study and test taking skills.
  3. Focus on your proven strengths and traits: To fight against self-doubt, list your proven personal traits and strengths to boost confidence.
  4. Visualization and guided relaxation: Before the test, envision yourself answering questions correctly with confidence. Visualize a situation you find challenging and successful. Then, switch your mental image to the testing room and imagine yourself feeling the same way. Counteract the negative by visualizing positive feeling and thoughts. Think of an activity or place that makes you feel motivated and excited. Overlay those emotions and thoughts to studying, answering questions, entering the testing room, and completing the exam.
  5. Reduce new stressors: If you are taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room in advance.
  6. Exercise is proven to reduce anxiety. Get your heartrate up before going to the test.
  7. STARS Sequence: Stretch-Tense-Air-Release-positive Suggestions.
  8. Fake it until you make it.
  9. Positive self-talk: “You are safe. You are smart. You have special gifts. You are accepted. You are going to reach your goals. Just focus on doing one thing at a time.”
  10. Focus on the task at hand and not the anxiety: “All I can do is my very best, and that is all I can do.” Focus on what is the most important thing to do right now, and do one thing at a time.
  11. Writing about how you feel right before and exam. Take 10 minutes to write what is causing the fear, emotion, and worry. By writing worries down it clears the mind, and allows you to focus on the task at hand (Ramire and Beilock, 2011).

Writing prompts include:

  • What are you feeling due to test anxiety?
  • What negative thoughts are you having?
  • Are you concerned about not being prepared?
  • What distractions are keeping you from performing on this test?
  • Do you worry about what other’s are thinking about you?
  • Are you worried about the future and how this grade will impact it?

Some students that experience ongoing anxiety are more prone to test anxiety. HCC students can see Counseling Services for additional support or assistance.


Ramirez, G. & Beilock, S. (2011). Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. Science. Vol. 331, January 14, 2011, pp. 211--‐213.