The following guidelines are designed to help manage the anxiety that may begin to develop a couple of weeks before any intense testing period.  This anxiety is encountered by everyone to some degree, so rest assured that you are having "normal" reactions to test taking. The purpose of this guide is to help you keep your stress level within manageable limits.


The answer to this question varies from person to person, and therefore each person will subsequently develop his or her test day rituals or patterns. The key issue is to discover those that work best for you.

1. How early should I get up?

Some people find it comforting to get up early on test day and prepare mentally for the exam. Others find it helpful to get up just before the test to avoid thinking about the test. Figure out ahead what works best for your anxiety. It may be best to get up early and do some yoga to stimulate blood flow and get relaxed. Research shows that anxiety interferes with recall so you want to be relaxed during your exam.

2. Is it productive for me to study on the day of the test?

The old saying goes that "if you don't know it by now you won't ever know it" is probably true in a strict sense. However, it may be helpful to review notes in a relaxed fashion or be quizzed by a classmate to get into a mental set for test taking. You should be aware if your testing patterns indicate you need a warm up session prior to testing by using an Exam Analysis (I will write more about this in a future blog). However, these same activities can also be negative if they only serve to remind you of what you don't know or what you are unsure of. Trying to learn an entirely new body of material on the day of the test may be ill-advised because it often results in panic or confusion.

3. What can I do to feel more comfortable during the exam?

Do some relaxation exercises before the exam to help you stay calm. Many students like to establish a ritual before an exam to help them feel relaxed. Be careful what you eat and drink before going to the exam. If you normally have a cup of coffee, that will probably be fine, but be aware that caffeine is a stimulant that will increase the anxiety response to situation perceived as threatening. Also, carbs and sweets may make you feel immediately calm and comfortable, but if your exam is long, you may find yourself becoming sleepy as your sugar levels drop an hour into the exam. Some students have a particular kind of clothing they like to wear, like a lucky sweater, necklace, shirt, etc. Wear what will make you feel positive and relaxed.

4. How early should I get to the test room?

Some people like to get to the room early to get physically situated, and get relaxed in their seat if possible. However, this same early arrival for others may be extremely anxiety-producing because they think about the impending exam and build up anticipatory tension. In addition, they talk to other students and compare notes on what others have studied and learned, which can also create anxiety.

5. Is it best for me to talk to fellow students before the test or be by myself?

This is connected to number 4 above, but you don’t have to physically be at the test early to talk to classmates before the exam. You can also call or text before the exam; for some this is calming and for others it increases that stress level beyond productivity. Many find that this activity only accentuates their anxious feelings and prevents them from focusing on the upcoming exam.

6. What if I hit a question that I don’t know and panic?

If you feel yourself becoming overly anxious and panicky during the exam, you can cope with this by closing your eyes and taking very slow deep breaths. To make sure the proctor knows you are handling panic, turn your exam over and put your pencil down and close your eyes instead of staring off into space. Say the words “calm, relaxed, and peaceful” over and over as you breathe in and out. Take 10 breaths slowly. Make sure your shoulders are down in a relaxed position rather than up around your ears. Circle the problem and come back to it at the end.

Most of the guidelines spelled out in the answers to the last six questions represent extremes on a continuum. Your maximum comfort area will probably fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

How do I know when I'm becoming overly anxious during a test?

Common indicators are:

1. Physical discomfort (i.e.: queasy stomach, shortness of breath, tight shoulders and neck, headache, shaking)

2. Increase in negative self-talk

3. Significant increase in respiration rate

4. Not remembering material of which you are sure

If test anxiety continues and is getting in the way of maximum performance, see a counselor on campus that can help you with relaxation exercises and ways to talk you through your anxiety.

Please also see Guidelines to Managing Test Anxiety (Part A)

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