Test Taking Anxiety – Part Three: Pre-Test Taking Techniques

Welcome to part three of our series on test taking anxiety.  The first two parts were addressed to the parents and educators.  These last two sections are addressed directly to the student.  In this post, we will discuss effective study habits and techniques to help before the test.  Remember to subscribe to the blog — the last post will be delivered right to your e-mail box!



When most people think of preparing for a test, they think of just the test itself.  However, preparing for an exam is more than just studying.  Yes, it’s important to devote time to hitting the books, but there are other things a student can do to get ready for an exam.

Students, in part one of the series, I listed a tip that came directly from Education Testing Services (ETS): create a studying schedule and stick with it.  In addition to creating the schedule, I suggested to get a journal and write the schedule inside.  The hardest part is following the schedule.  You should leave the journal somewhere you can see it as a reminder.  Tell people that you will be studying tomorrow to hold yourself accountable.  If you commit to your schedule, you have a better chance of success.

Next, find a study spot where you will be able to focus and concentrate.  That does not mean getting comfy on the couch with your feet up and your cell phone and the remote by your side.  Pick a spot with limited distractions where you will be able to focus.  If you cannot focus in your bedroom, find another place in your home or try going to your local library.  When the weather is warm, I like to go outside.  Once you find a spot, get rid of all possible distractions.  Set an alarm on your phone for a break, but then put it away.  Turn off the television, too.  However, you can add elements to your study space to help you focus, like candles or instrumental music.  Don’t forget a water bottle.

Before you sit down and crack the books, take a few minutes to practice the relaxation techniques I discussed in part two.  Sit up straight with both feet on the floor and take some slow, deep breaths.  Prepare yourself for studying instead of diving in head first.  You will retain more information.

Once you are relaxed, spend a few minutes and focus on the task at hand.  All of your focus should be on what you hope to accomplish – passing your exam.  Psych Central published an online article with “12 Foolproof Tips for Finding Focus”.  My personal favorite is to “keep two to-do lists”.  One list is for things that come to your head that you need to get done eventually – like laundry, cleaning, or a biology assignment.  The other list is for three productive things to get done immediately, but you can only add something to that list when you finish another one.1

After you have relaxed and focused, it is time to hit the books.  Do more than just highlighting important information.  Create flashcards, copy down formulas, and write down important information in your own words.  Make sure you take a few breaks.  According to MIT, you should plan on 50 minutes of studying and then a 10 minute break.  During your break, do not sit and watch TV, pick up your phone, or go online.  Instead, stretch your legs, take a walk, or enjoy a small snack.  When you resume studying, your mind will be more alert – the perfect time to tackle your most difficult subjects.2

In addition to following your study schedule, make sure you plan aside some time for exercising, a little relaxation, and plenty of sleep.  Exercise will not only keep your mind and body alert, but it will help relieve some of your unnecessary stress.  Relaxation is important so that your mind can take a break from studying.  Plan an outing with friends, sit and chat, or play a board game.  Make sure you get plenty of sleep.  This is especially key.  Cramming at the last minute may seem like a good idea, but your brain needs to rest, too.

The day before the exam, devote a little extra time to your studying.  Have someone help you review your flashcards and any other important material.  Make sure you do not forget to take your breaks.  When you are done studying, take a longer walk – maybe 20 or 30 minutes.  Relax your mind and put it completely at ease.

To make the morning of the test easier, pack what you need the night before.  Most exams have a list online of supplies that you should and should not bring.  Make sure you have your photo IDs, test registration, several sharpened pencils, a good eraser, and the appropriate calculator (if necessary).  Check to see if you are able to bring a bottle of water – if so, add one to your bag.  Also, add in some healthy snack options, like apples and granola bars.  Avoid packing soda, sugary candies, and salty chips.

Last, but definitely not least, get a full night’s sleep – at least 8 hours.  If you prefer, review some of your flashcards before bed.  Once you are done, lie completely still and practice your breathing exercises a few more times.  You are nearly done.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the final part of the series — Part Four: Test Taking Tips!

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

Part One: Identify & Plan

Part Two: Relaxation Techniques




1 Tartakovsky, Margarita. “12 Foolproof Tips for Finding Focus.” Psych Central.com. Psych Central, 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://psychcentral.com/lib/12-foolproof-tips-for-finding-focus/0006092

2 “Tooling and Studying: Effective Breaks.” MIT Center for Academic Excellence. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://web.mit.edu/uaap/learning/study/breaks.html

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Dave Hoffman