Woman stressing out with books

The classroom is filled with tense silence as the professor hands out the midterm exam. The ticking of the clock sounds impossibly loud and seems to match your thudding heartbeat. With sweaty palms, you pick up your pen and read through the first few questions – only to be filled with an overwhelming panic as your mind goes blank.

Test anxiety can range from extreme to moderate and includes three components: the physical, emotional, and behavioral/cognitive. The physical part of test anxiety includes symptoms that arise due to our aroused physiological state, such as increased perspiration, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. Typical emotional responses include feelings of fear, helplessness, and frustration. Finally, test anxiety impacts our cognitions, typically leading to negative thinking. Behaviorally, we may shut down or lose our ability to concentrate.

If these scenarios are all too familiar, read on for some tips on how to manage that dreaded exam-day anxiety.

  • Prepare thoroughly for the exam and overlearn the material. Spend extra time on concepts and information that are more challenging. Good preparation will not only increase your knowledge, it will increase your confidence.
  • Take some time to learn a relaxation technique or two and practice them daily so that the activity becomes familiar enough that you can draw upon it when under stress. Some simple relaxation techniques are deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. For an online audio library of relaxation exercises, visit https://www.dartmouth.edu/~healthed/programs/relaxation/index.html.
  • Take care of your body. The night before an exam, make sure to get plenty of sleep. Fuel your brain with a healthy meal and be sure to stay hydrated.
  • Exert as much control over your environment as you can by arriving early enough to get your bearings in the classroom and choose a comfortable seat where you will be free from distraction.
  • Choose a positive coping thought, or mantra, that you can mentally recite to yourself during anxious moments. For example, “I’ve got this” or “I’ve prepared all I can; I’ll just let it be and do my best.”
  • Consider making an appointment with the counselor for additional support. For more tips on managing test anxiety, visit CSM’s Counseling Services web page at https://www.csmd.edu/student-services/student-affairs/personal-counseling/