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Reducing Test Anxiety

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 an exam well in advance.
  2. Know Your Limitations.  Don't be embarrassed about asking for help if you can't solve a problem on your own.
  3. 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 you body feels when it is relaxed. Practice saying your magic word in different situations, and try to recapture the bodily feeling of relaxation. With continued association, you can use your 'magic word' if you discover yourself becoming anxious during a test.
  4. Relax.  Do something that is relaxing for you before you go to an exam.
  5. Be Punctual.  Don't show up for an exam early or late. If you come early, you can 'catch' other people's anxiety. If you show up late, you start out under pressure.
  6. No Last Minute Review.  Don't go over your test material immediately before an exam. You can always find something you don't know, no matter how well you have prepared.
  7. Eat.  Skipping meals before an exam makes one more anxious.
  8. Sleep.  Plenty of rest will allow your body to more effectively manage the added stress of the examination. Sleep tends to clear the mind as well.

Things to do during an exam:

  1. Calm Yourself.  Identify several calming phrases (e.g., "regardless of how I do on this test, I'm going to be okay...I'll just do my best"). Try to become aware of when you are thinking negatively and stop. Substitute positive thoughts.
  2. Snack.  You may want to take a small snack with you to the exam (make certain your professor is comfortable with this). If you find yourself getting anxious, put aside your test materials and take a minute to eat your snack. Eating the snack helps to temporarily remove you from the stressful situation, and also serves to increase your energy.
  3. Build Your Self-Confidence.  Scan the whole exam and pick out the questions you know the answers to. Answer these questions first, even if they are only worth a couple of points.
  4. Keep Your Mind on the Task.  Try not to compare yourself to other people during the examination.

Things to do after an exam:

  1. Have a Good Time.  Regardless of how you think you did, reward yourself for surviving the experience.
  2. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses.  Try to figure out what you did well, and what you could improve upon, during the exam. Look for information you can use as you prepare for your next exam.
  3. Analyze Your Performance.  Try to identify reasons why you performed the way you did on the exam (e.g., "I studied the right material"). Be careful not to draw false conclusions about the class or yourself (e.g., "I am incapable of passing this course"). Remember, we all have the potential to do just about anything we want. We succeed or fail mainly on the basis of whether we worked 'with' ourselves or 'against' ourselves.


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