Test Taking Anxiety – Part Four: Test Taking Tips

This is the last installment in our four-part series on test taking anxiety.  I certainly hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.  If you have any suggestions for future series topics, please let me know!



You have finally arrived – the day of the test!  While you may feel like your test taking anxiety is about to shoot through the roof, the reality is that you are nearly done.  The end is near and you are approaching the finish line.

The morning of the test, be sure to eat a well-balanced breakfast.  Avoid the sugary PopTarts and opt for some whole grain oatmeal, fresh fruit, and maybe some toast.  It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day…and it is true.  Make sure you do not skip breakfast on such an important day!

Make sure to prepare for the testing facility.  Some rooms are freezing cold and others can be unbearably warm depending on the time of year and the amount of people in the room.  The smart thing to do is to dress in layers.  Pick clothes that are comfortable, but will also allow you to focus.  (In other words, skip the pajama bottoms.)  Opt for a comfy shirt and a jacket or a sweatshirt.  Pull your hair back so you will be less likely to fiddle with it.  You will not be able to use your phone as a clock, so make sure to wear a watch.

You will want to arrive at the testing facility early.  However, arriving too early may make you even more nervous.  Figure out how long it will take you to get there and give yourself about 15-20 extra minutes.  Make sure you bring your bag you packed the night before (see Part 3).  On the road, you can practice some relaxation exercises to help you calm down.

When you arrive at the testing facility, check in and get your room assignment.  Choose a seat away from distractions.  Yes, your teammates may be in your room, but this is your time to focus and concentrate.  (You will have plenty of time to talk on breaks and after the test.)  Try not to sit under an A/C vent or in the path of a fan.  Also, avoid sitting by the windows – you may have a tendency to look outside and get distracted.

Spend your last few minutes before the test practicing your relaxation exercises.  Take ten nice, slow deep breaths.  Practice positive thinking.  I can do this.  I am prepared.  I am ready.  I will succeed.  If you have any doubts, turn them into positive thoughts.  Close your eyes and truly relax.  Try to find some inner peace and solitude.  Instead of focusing on the noises around you, focus on your breathing.  (One of my favorite quotes on peace is from a Star Wars novel – “The words flowed over him like rainwater.  He did not have to listen.”)

When it is time to begin the test, make sure you listen carefully to all the instructions.  If you missed something or need an explanation, do not be afraid to ask your moderator.  This shows that you are genuinely concerned and want to succeed.  It is better to verify the directions than to guess.

The first thing you should do on the test is to write down any important equations, formulas, or facts you are afraid of forgetting.  There should be scrap paper available, or you can even write in the margins.  The likelihood of remembering those facts after reading the test is slim, so write everything down first.  This way, you won’t forget any details.

Before you start to answer any questions, skim the test.  Take a look at the road before you start the drive.  By doing this, you avoid any unpleasant surprises later.

Use your time wisely.  Focus on the easy questions first.  Underline any key phrases, terms, or information.  See if you can answer the question before looking at the options.  When you look at the answers, rule out any that are clearly wrong or misleading.  You can normally rule out two options right away, leaving you with a 50/50 chance of getting the question right.

If you do not know the answer to a question, skip it.  Make sure to mark the question (circle it, put a star by it, etc.) in your test booklet and on the score sheet.  If you have any free time, go back and answer the difficult questions.  This way, you do not waste time on your test.  (Just make sure to go back later and erase the marks.)

Make sure you are marking your score sheet correctly.  You should check your score sheet every ten questions or so to make sure you are answering the right question.  It is very easy to accidentally shade in the wrong oval.  If you did make a mistake, make sure to correct it right away.

When it comes to essay questions, consider making an outline to organize your thoughts.  The more detailed you make your outline, the easier it will be to answer the question.  Be sure to rephrase the question in your opening statement.  For example, if the question is “What is the main idea of the story?”, your response should start with “The main idea of the story is…”

Spend your break time productively.  Get up and stretch and walk around.  Your body will be more likely to get restless if you do not move at least a little.  Take a walk down to the water fountain, or even around the classroom.  Eat a healthy snack such as trail mix or a piece of fruit.  Avoid stopping by the vending machines for soda and candy.  Your brain needs strong fuel to help you focus and concentrate.

Once you finish your exam, make sure to go back and check your answers.  Remember, there is no bonus for finishing first.  In fact, the smart thing to do is to use your time effectively and look for mistakes or missed questions.  Focus only on yourself and doing your best.

Hand in your test with a smile and a sense of satisfaction.  You did it!  It is time to breathe a sigh of relief and reward yourself.  Go out and celebrate (responsibly) with your family and friends.  Do something special just for you.  You earned it!


Miss a part of the series?  Click below to read the entire series on Test Taking Anxiety.

Part One: Identify and Plan

Part Two: Relaxation Techniques

Part Three: Pre-Test Taking Techniques

Did you enjoy our series on test taking anxiety?  What other series would you like to see?  Let me know in the comments above!

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About the Author

Dave Hoffman