A Psychological Approach for Dealing With Test Anxiety

Test Prep & Grades
February 4, 2020
Tests Are An Inevitable Part Of The High School Experience…

Even so, every time we have to take a test, anxiety seems to creep in at the last minute. You’d think that high school seniors would be test-taking pros, but new research suggests that test anxiety is still a struggle for every student, regardless of their grade level.

If you’re a high school senior and test anxiety is a hurdle for you and your progress, don’t panic! Test anxiety warrants genuine concern, but it can be conquered with the right mindset. By understanding the basics of this psychological hurdle and how it can be beaten, you can learn how to handle your test anxiety no matter how difficult it may seem.

Keep reading to find out how to overcome test anxiety for good!

What You’ll Find In This Article:

What Is Test Anxiety?

Imagine this scenario: you sit down to take a test, whether it be a midterm, final exam, or the SAT. Your heart starts to beat a little faster, you feel butterflies in your stomach, and all of a sudden your brain starts to swim. You can’t think clearly, and sooner or later, you find yourself lost in test anxiety.

According to psychology professor Jerrell Cassady, 25 to 40 percent of students experience high school test anxiety. If you’ve tried to overcome your test anxiety in the past, but it somehow managed to get the best of you anyways, you’re not alone. Test anxiety is a silent threat to most students. Unfortunately, no one talks about it enough, making it seem like something unavoidable for students.

The causes of test anxiety can come from an external source, like pressure from parents and teachers, classmates, and looming college applications. Sometimes, students experience anxiety over a test that has a lot riding on it, like raising a low GPA, determining your college test scores, or qualifying for graduation. Either way, pressure from outside the classroom may sometimes obstruct your focus on test day, causing you to feel distracted, nervous, and unsure of yourself.

Test anxiety can be triggered by feeling inadequately prepared, scared that you didn’t study a certain topic enough, or even comparison. Silly as it may feel, you may compare yourself to other students in the room, wondering why they finished before you or how they’re already on the second page.

Silly as these fears may be, if it causes test anxiety it’s a legitimate hurdle, and you must learn some practical tools to combat it on test day.

Is It Possible To Overcome Your Test Anxiety?

During important exams, test anxiety can feel unstoppable. Rather than you overcoming test anxiety, test anxiety feels like it’s overcoming you, completely halting your progress on a test and often resulting in a poor grade.

However, even in the most severe cases, test anxiety can be beaten.

As long as you take a smart approach and are open to receiving help, being able to take a test without experiencing any anxiety is yours for the taking.

A small percentage of students who have high school test anxiety may find their symptoms are linked to an underlying clinical anxiety condition; if this is the case, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional. For the majority of students, however, there are some simple tricks you can apply to your daily study routine that can help you feel confident and at ease on test day.

5 Tricks For Dealing With Your Test Anxiety

While test anxiety is a large issue, the steps to overcoming it are small. By making these small changes in the way you approach tests, you may start looking forward to test day, rather than dreading it.


The first step towards changing your mindset about test-taking is to understand the difference between nervousness and excitement. While these two emotions are different, surprisingly, they share the same symptoms: quickened heart rate, butterflies, and sometimes, sweaty hands. This similarity in symptoms gives you an easy way to re-define “nerves”.

Even by thinking “I’m not nervous,” you’ll still feel on edge because of the negative connotations attached to the word “nervous”. However, if you simply change the thought around and think, “I’m excited,” you’ll be bringing some positivity into a previously negative emotion.

Instead of trying to suppress your symptoms of nervousness, use them to your advantage. By changing your vocabulary from “nervous” to “excited”, you’ll be redirecting the energy to serve you in your test rather than hold you back. Use your new “excited” energy to narrow your focus, breathe, and fire up your memory and creativity.


On test day, you won’t have a reason to feel nervous if you’ve prepared adequately. In the weeks leading up to test day, use your time in class and at home wisely. Join study groups and enroll in study strategy classes. These kinds of classes train you to study smarter, not harder.

Many students waste their time and energy by using ineffective study techniques. Longer study sessions aren’t equivalent to being prepared. Instead of memorizing information, focus on understanding the topics that will be included in the test.

Some teachers hand out test outlines or give you specific textbook chapters to study so you can feel prepared for the test. Use these resources to your advantage!

If you think you studied well enough but still feel anxiety on test day, then trying something new could be helpful. Changing up the way you study for a test could be a nice break from your mundane routine, too.


Just like elite athletes have a routine for game days, students should create a routine that helps them succeed on test days too. Your routine should include activities before and after you take your test, to balance your preparation with a reward.

The foundation of your test day routine should include a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and avoiding certain foods or habits that could spike your anxiety. For example, pulling an all-nighter followed by drinking too many cups of coffee will leave your brain tired but the rest of your body on edge from the caffeine.

Your post-test routine could include fun rituals like a trip to your favorite coffee shop, watching a movie, or treating yourself to a special meal or dessert. Test day has enough stress of its own, so you might as well plan to enjoy it when it’s over!


On test day, try to show up at least 15 minutes before the test is set to begin. Do everything you can to make sure you won’t be rushing to your test; set as many alarms as you need to wake up on time, make sure you won’t have to stop for gas, or pack your backpack the night before.

Rushing will spike your anxiety because you’ll be too focused on not being late. After rushing to your test, you may forget to take a minute or two to slow your breathing so you can have a clear mind while taking your test. You can easily avoid this road block by planning ahead of time.


Most people don’t spend enough time focusing on the breath and understanding the power that deep breathing has on our bodies. Focusing on inhaling and exhaling is a tool that many anxiety-sufferers use when they feel an anxiety attack coming on. Long, deep breaths direct your focus away from whatever is causing you anxiety and provides your brain with a reset.

A good breathing exercise you can use to combat your test anxiety is inhaling through your nose for seven seconds, pausing for a brief moment at the top, and exhaling for another seven seconds. Concentrate on keeping your breaths even, and repeat this pattern for one to two minutes.

This breathing technique is particularly useful during a test because it’s silent and can be done right where you’re sitting. It will slow your heart rate, help you re-focus, and relax your muscles. Deep breathing has even been shown to help people recall information quicker, so after a couple minutes of deep breathing, you may remember the answer for that one question that stumped you.


Lastly, before you begin any test, spend some time devoting your focus to the paper in front of you. Many students lose focus when they get distracted by other students finishing early, writing rapidly, or asking questions.

Remember that the only thing you can control on test day is your performance. Don’t worry about what other students are doing; focus on you. By dedicating a few moments to hone your focus before you start, you’ll be blocking out any temptations to compare yourself, which wastes time and draws your focus away from your test.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a problem that many students silently battle on test day. By adjusting your mindset and applying some useful tools to studying, you can start approaching test day prepared and well rested, rather than nervous.

Remember to change your mindset; learn to translate your nerves into excitement, and use this energy for your benefit! Try new study tactics, develop a routine, and show up to your test early. Preparation is key when it comes to overcoming high school test anxiety, so in the weeks leading up to a test, use your time wisely. While you’re in a test, practice purposeful breathing and activate your tunnel vision skills. Keep your eyes focused on your test to avoid comparing yourself to other students.

A large factor that contributes to your success in overcoming test anxiety is your openness to being helped. If you need help developing a routine or learning about new study techniques, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted teacher or counselor.

This is exactly what WeAdmit’s professional counselors are here for; whether you need help studying for your SATs or for a final exam that could boost your GPA, our counselors can give you the right tools to boost your preparation skills and increase your focus on test day!

Once you find that overcoming test anxiety is possible, you’re free to begin working towards more goals, like researching your ideal colleges! A good place to start searching for colleges is by using WeAdmit’s College Guides. These specific articles outline everything you need to know before you apply to a college like average GPAs and scores, academic programs, campus culture, and career connections. Above all, remember:

You’re Not Alone In Your Struggle With Test Anxiety; With These Tools, You Can Be One Step Closer To Overcoming It For Good!



Need more Information?

Gain all the information you need by getting in touch with our admissions team or booking a free 30-minute counseling session.