Test anxiety is a challenge for many students, to varying degrees. It can take different forms, from a minor distraction and difficulty concentrating to — in serious cases — a severe level of worry that can prevent you from doing your best in your courses.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help eliminate or manage test anxiety. Here are some strategies that many people find helpful. Try combining several of these tactics to find the approach that seems to offer the best results for you.
Staying active lowers stress and can improve your overall quality of life, making you feel better mentally and physically. Exercise and other physical activity triggers the release of endorphins and other chemicals in your brain that help reduce anxiety (among other positive benefits). Regular exercise can also strengthen your mental skills, helping with concentration and focus — which in turn can help when you need to study for exams or complete assignments. Plus, focusing on a physical activity keeps your mind occupied, offering a productive distraction that keeps you from stressing too much about tests.
Action step: Try to incorporate at least 15 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine. Block it off on your calendar, just as you would an important meeting. If you like to multi-task, try power-walking while listening to an audio book or podcast.
Your body cannot function at its best if you’re operating on too little sleep. If you are well rested, you’ll be better able to prepare for your exam. There’s a strong connection between sleep and anxiety, and it can become a vicious cycle: if you don’t get enough sleep, that can cause (or worsen) anxiety, but it also goes the opposite way, because stress and anxiety can trigger insomnia, as well.
Action step: Analyze your sleep routine. Note what you usually eat or drink in the evening. (Caffeine and high-fat foods can often cause issues with falling asleep.) Avoid electronics when you’re winding down for the night, and make sure your sleep environment is comfortable and free from distractions. Meditating before bed may help you get into a restful state.
Practicing breathing techniques can help you learn how to maintain a calm attitude, and better manage anxiety. Meditation and breathing apps like Headspace and Calm can help.
Action step: Practice your deep breathing skills. There are certain breathing techniques that can have a calming effect, so try these breathing exercises when you start to feel anxiety creeping up on you.
You will feel more confident about your ability to do well on a test if you have prepared properly. Following a study routine, and compiling organized, detailed notes can be a big help.
Action step: Create a schedule that includes dedicated study and preparation time, so you’re not scrambling to do it all in a rush right before a test. Reviewing the syllabus or semester schedule for each of your courses may help you plot out specific milestones or tasks on your timeline for the next few months. Check out these study tips from other Penn State World Campus students that might help.
Developing and following a predictable routine helps you feel more comfortable in your study space. It lets you mentally get into a calm headspace that is conducive to studying productively. Establishing a routine also helps you reserve dedicated time to focus on studying, and helps you avoid distractions.
Action step: spend some time planning out a daily and weekly routine, so you get in the habit of doing course-related tasks on a regular timeline.
Your body — particularly your brain — needs the right fuel to perform at its peak. Good nutrition helps your mind stay alert and focused. What you eat affects how you feel mentally and physically in many ways. Be careful that you aren’t relying too heavily on “comfort foods” when you are stressed.
Action step: Keep a food diary to see if you can identify any connections between your eating habits and your anxiety level. Often, people find that certain foods tend to trigger stress.
If anxiety is a concern for you, there are resources available that can help. This is especially important if your test anxiety is interfering with your ability to function well or is making it difficult for you to perform at your best in your courses. Contact the Penn State World Campus Academic Support Team to learn about support services and resources available to you as a Penn State student.
We’ve also compiled some of these tactics in our video on ways to deal with test anxiety.