Posted by: bclawrence | July 4, 2011

Conquering Test Anxiety Strategy

Am I experiencing test anxiety?!

(Answer yes or no to the following questions)

  1. I have a hard time getting started studying for a test.
  2. When studying for a test, I find many things that distract me.
  3. I expect to do poorly on a test no matter how much or how hard I study.
  4. When taking a test, I experience physical discomfort such as sweaty palms, an upset stomach, a headache, difficulty breathing, and tension in my muscles.
  5. When taking a test, I find it difficult to understand the directions and questions.
  6. When taking a test, I have difficulty organizing my thoughts.
  7. When taking a test, I often “draw a blank.”
  8. When taking a test, I find my mind wandering to other things.
  9. I usually score lower on a test than I do on assignments and papers.
  10. After a test, I remember information I couldn’t recall during the test.

You are probably experiencing test anxiety if you answer YES to four or more of the following


Description of the strategy:

  • Overwhelming anxiety about a test is commonly referred to as test anxiety. Feeling nervous when preparing for and taking a test is perfectly normal. In fact, an optimal level of stress is important for performance and can increase motivation. However, too much anxiety (and on the contrary too little anxiety) can interfere with your studying. Drive/motivation/stress has an inverted-U shaped relationship to performance.

  • When you experience too much stress or anxiety you may have difficulty learning and remembering information that is important for your test. Further, too much anxiety can interfere with your performance during the test. For example, you may have difficulty demonstrating what you know during the test.
  • Test anxiety has two aspects: worry (cognitive) and emotionality (experience of emotions and physiological reactions).
  • To combat test anxiety it helps to increase cognitive control over what you know and how your body reacts. Relaxation can also lower access stress.

When should you use this strategy? For what kinds of goals is this strategy particularly useful?

  • Use these strategies in combination with test preparation strategies and while taking your tests. Then, after the test evaluate how helpful the strategy was and what you could do in the future to make work better for you.
  • This strategy is useful in decreasing stress during studying and tests.

Explain how to apply the strategy step by step.

Successful approaches to reducing test anxiety include manipulations in the environment (e.g. see Study Place Structuring) and monitoring cognitive study skills instruction (e.g. see Preparing for Essay Tests and Preparing for Multiple Choice Tests). Also, you may want to check your time management skills to reduce “last-minute-panic”.


Here are some things you can do before, during, and after a test to reduce your test anxiety.


1. Know when all your tests are for the term. Create a calender and create weekly TASC goals for studying the material that will be included on the test. Practice time management strategies.

2. Monitor your goals. Aim for cognitive mastery of the material that will be covered on the test. Monitor your strengths and weaknesses and evaluate the test preparation strategies you use. Also, seek feedback from the instructor or your peers about your mastery of the material. Mastery of the material will help you to approach the test with confidence; hence, decreasing stress.

3. Employ a task analysis of the upcoming test. For example, find out: where the test is; how long the test is; the format of the test (i.e. multiple choice or essay?); and the content of the test (i.e. what chapters). Also consider the operations and products the instructor is looking for on the test.

4. Practice the operations that you believe will be on the test. Also practice the operations in the testing format (i.e. if you know the test is all multiple choice ensure to practice multiple choice questions). Using old tests can be helpful. You can often get old tests at ZAP in the SUB.

  • You could also create “practice tests” where you pretend you are in the testing situation and sit in a quiet classroom for the amount of time (50 minutes) and write your practice test. Grade the test yourself after and notice what information you need to go back to and study.

5. Maintain a positive attitude as you study and put the test into perspective. Think about doing well, not failing. Think of the test as an opportunity to show how much you have learned.

  • It can be helpful to calculate your grade up to the point of the test – eliminate the “unknowns.” Also make sure you know what percentage of your final grade the test is worth.

6. Get regularly exercise and sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. Regularly eat healthy food. Decrease drug use (includes alcohol and caffeine).

7. Practice relaxing – use diaphragm breathing.



8. Follow a plan for taking the test such as the DETER strategy we describe at A Strategy for Taking Tests. Don’t panic even if you find the test difficult. Stay with your plan!

9. Stay relaxed during the test. Use your diaphragm breathing that you practiced during studying – taking slow, deep breaths.

10. Focus on positive self-statements such as “I can do this.”

11. Sometimes it’s NOT helpful to sit hear your friends so you don’t worry about other students finishing the test before you do. Take the time that you need to do your best.


12. Once you finish the test and hand it in, forget about it temporarily. There is nothing more you can do until the graded test is returned to you. Turn your attention and effort to new assignments and tests.

13. When the graded test is returned to you, analyze it to see how you could have done better. Learn from your mistakes and from what you did well. Apply this knowledge when you take the next test.

14. Important – evaluate the strategy! Record what courses or tasks you used the strategy and complete the questionnaire provided below.

Why does this strategy work? Explain the theory and concepts underlying this strategy (justification).

Systematic studying decreases test anxiety because it reduces your worry (cognitive) as well as adapts your body to performing on a “test-type” task. If you also work on your goal setting, of both mastery goals and performance goals, and monitored and self evaluate these goals often, you will likely reduce text anxiety (e.g. Reaching Your Goals; SREP)

For your self-monitoring information:

1) List examples of when you have tried this strategy:

2) List courses or tasks for which I have used this strategy:

3) Questions I can ask myself to evaluate how effective this strategy is, or criteria for evaluating this strategy:

How helpful was this strategy in helping me (0=extremely ineffective, 1=ineffective, 2=effective, 3=extremely effective)
Questions should target thinking processes or main purposes of the strategy.

4) Did this strategy help me to…?

























5) General comments about your experiences with this strategy:

References and empirical support for this strategy:

Printrich & DeGroot, 1990; Pintrich et al. 1994

Flippo, Becker, & Wark, 2000

Shih, 200


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