University of Minnesota Duluth
MyU | Search | People | Departments | Events | News

Managing Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety, in and of itself, is not a disability and does not qualify for test accommodations.

That said, test anxiety can be difficult. It can make you feel uncomfortable, muddle your thinking, and deflate your test scores. But test anxiety can be understood and managed. This page will give you some tips on controlling your test anxiety.

What does test anxiety feel like?

Over the centuries we have became programmed to respond to stressors by 'fight or flight'. When our ancestors were threatened by a large animal, thinking was not important; running and fighting were. Unfortunately, today when we feel threatened, our response is the same. Our bodies prepare us to run or fight by increasing the blood supply to our arms and legs. Less blood is sent to the brain, making the clear thinking needed for the exam very difficult. When this happens, anxiety levels escalate further.

  • Some students experience mainly physical symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, faintness, feeling too hot or cold, racing pulse, etc.
  • Others experience more emotional symptoms, such as crying easily, feeling irritable, or getting frustrated easily
  • The major problem of test anxiety is its effect on your thinking ability. Instead of clear thinking and making good decisions, we struggle with racing thoughts or 'blanking-out' or are just not able to remember.

It's normal to feel some level of anxiety when writing exams. Most students can cope with the anxiety and bring it down to a manageable level. If you consistently experience high levels of anxiety prior to and during tests and exams, you are strongly advised to seek assistance at UMD's Counseling Services.

Causes of test anxiety

The most common reason for test anxiety is procrastination. Procrastination leads to lack of preparation for your exam. For the underprepared student, anxiety is a normal and rational reaction. To control your procrastination, try these tips:

  1. Schedule specific study times and stick to them.
  2. Learn how to divide large projects into managgeable units.
  3. Scheduling study time with a group can be helpful.

If you are adequately prepared but still panic, blank out, or otherwise overreact, you need to determine why. The most common reason is perfectionism. Perfectionism makes you believe that you can never quite do well enough - that you can never quite measure up. This attitude puts enormous pressure on your performance. To control your perfectionism, try:

  1. Don't study the hour right before the test. Do something enjoyable (and physical if possible) to ease anxiety and clear your mind.
  2. Ten minutes before the test, quickly look over your notes to bring the material into "memory recall". Don't cram, or try to learn anything new, or discuss possible test items with others.
  3. Don't compare yourself to your classmates. Learn to compete with yourself and be happy with your progress.
  4. Stop any negative thoughts as soon as you are aware of them.
  5. Reinforce yourself with positive statements.


Some other strategies to manage test anxiety


  1. Get a good night's sleep the night before the exam.
  2. Eat a good breakfast (include some protein) and drink extra water on exam day.
  3. Don't talk to the other students about the exam immediately before the exam.
  4. Before you go to bed on the night before the exam, make sure to collect together everything that you will need for the exam -pen, pencil, ruler, eraser, calculator, etc. Double-check the time and location of the exam.


  1. Sit in a location in the exam room where you will be distracted as little as possible.
  2. As you anticipate the exam, think positively, e.g., "I can do OK on this exam. I've studied and I know this stuff."
  3. Take a few deep breaths as the exams are being handed out.
  4. if you are worried about forgetting things, jot down the terms as soon as you get the test paper to allow you to think more clearly.
  5. Answer easy questions first to build your confidence. Then go back and answer the harder ones. Leave the hardest for last, but be sure not to leave any unanswered questions.
  6. Engage in "thought stopping" if you find you are worrying a lot, mentally comparing yourself to your peers, or thinking about what others may say about your performance on this exam.
  7. Be positive and emphasize what you remember, not what you forgot. View the test as a challenge to show your teacher what you know.
  8. If you feel very anxious in the exam, take a few minutes to calm yourself down. Stretch your arms and legs and then relax them again. Do this a couple of times. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Do some positive internal self-talk; say to yourself, "I will be OK, I can do this." Then direct your focus on the questions; link questions to the corresponding lecture or chapter.
  9. As you work on the exam, focus only on the exam, not on what other students are doing or on thinking about past exams or future goals.
  10. If the exam is more difficult than you anticipated, try to focus and just do your best. It might be enough to get you through, even with a reasonable grade!


  1. Do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself to ice cream, spend some time with friends, or rent a movie.
  2. Forget about the exam for a few days.
  3. When you get the results, get the right answers from your notes or from your professor. Analyze your errors and look for patterns.

General strategies that can help on nearly every test

  • Read the directions.
  • Take the time to skim the exam and get an overview.
  • Write key information on the test as soon as you get the questions.
  • Work from the easiest question to the hardest.
  • Keep track of time as you work.
  • Learn to guess intelligently.
  • Check numbers machine-scored tests often.
  • Use critical thinking to avoid errors.
© 2016 University of Minnesota Duluth
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Last modified on 11/08/12 04:21 PM
University of Minnesota Campuses
Crookston | Duluth | Morris
Rochester | Twin Cities | Other Locations