Black girl in school uniform with face in hands in row of desks taking a test

4 Mindful Ways to Combat Your Test-Taking Anxiety

Academic test-taking can be super stressful! Take a few thoughtful steps to make yourself more comfortable and at ease for less stress and a better grade.

Beads of perspiration start rolling down my neck, my hands become oddly clammy, my stomach feels light, and I begin murmuring the few Hindu prayers I know by heart. Despite having only a few months of school left before graduation, I’ve never been able to keep test-taking anxiety at bay. I struggled with this internal conundrum during the SAT and my final exams. Sometimes, the stress can feel like an uncomfortable knot in the pit of your stomach during the exam. For high school seniors, semester exams often contribute to a large portion of your marks and are vital components of your college admission, so it’s perfectly reasonable to feel this way. Words of encouragement may not always be an effective way to pacify someone who has anxiety, but here are a few steps you can take toward combatting it and putting your mind at ease.

1. Make your environment comfortable

You have to learn how to get to this stage in your own way. Try to sit in the most comfortable, well-lit spot in the room if you’re allowed to choose your place for the test. Have a bottle of water or your favorite energy drink handy so you can take swigs between questions to clear your mind. Bring a sweatshirt if you know the room tends to get cold. It also helps if you can picture your environment differently for a little while. Try to imagine that you’re sitting at your desk at home writing the same paper and thinking the same thoughts. Visualizing your literal comfort zone can ease your nerves during the exam so you can finish without constantly worrying about the questions.

2. Get all your essentials

Be well-prepared with all the stationary and any other items you need for the day of the exam. For example, always have a backup calculator (if it's a math test), extra pens and pencils, keep the extra paper with you, and any materials you may be allowed to use during the test—a reference book, certain notes, etc. This can help diffuse some tension while you’re answering questions, as it can be emotionally settling to know that you’re amply prepared. This can even start to ease your stress long before you step foot in the classroom if you prep your backpack the night before; going to bed prepared may help you sleep better and feel more refreshed for test day.

Related: 9 Weird Test Prep Techniques That Actually Work

3. Keep to yourself

Before every exam, my class is in an uproar. People get tense and impatient and begin aggravating one another. The class is just a buzz of arguing and fidgeting as we wait for the teacher. Keep yourself out of everything for your stress levels and sanity. The tense atmosphere and negative energy used to impact my emotional and mental faculties before an exam. Instead, I just keep to myself before an exam so I can think and review. Use this time to focus on filtering out the white noise of what everyone is saying around you, that way during the exam, things you hear won’t derail your train of thought, sending. Having that “alone time” before the test will help you perform to the best of your ability instead of letting external influences affect you. I follow the same habit between the essays and during the breaks between subjects for SATs.

4. Think positive thoughts

This doesn’t necessarily translate to believing all those proverbial exam quotes we often desperately look to for comfort. It’s more about altering your perception of test-taking. Don’t see the test as a giant hurdle that could hinder you, focus on doing your best and not worrying about the outcome. Stay positive about what you’ve written even if a question is a bit confusing. For example, if you’re taking a math exam, remember to show all your work correctly and write out all the steps so you’re able to maximize your score. Putting down all your thoughts on the exam paper can help a lot with clarity. Even if you’re unable to get the answer, just knowing that you have something substantial can give you the confidence to proceed to the next question. 

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Make Your Semester More Mindful

Test-taking comes with its own stress unrelated to the stress to feel studying for it or in a regular class. Changing your approach to your test day planning can ease your disposition toward it and improve your performance in the future. Even in your senior year, you have many chances to prove yourself and excel—there’s still time to crumble that mental wall you built for yourself and take on your exams with confidence.

You never have to feel like you're alone in your anxiety! The CollegeXpress student community is here to help you learn how to cope with alleviating stress and anxiety.

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About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so the experience feels less daunting for other students. I'm currently preparing to study Political Science for my undergraduate degree while trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I'm a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I'm also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.


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