7 Tips to Overcoming Test Anxiety

test-anxiety

This article is an update from the last published article on How to Overcome Test Anxiety in Nursing School, published May 12, 2014.

You’ve been diagnosed with test anxiety. The fear of failure and the dreadful nervousness that builds up as the test day looms are just some of the symptoms you have experienced among others such as the inability to recall important information and complete unconsciousness. Taking a test is stressful and the desire to do well is broken down by the fear and anxiety of not receiving a passing grade. Even before the test, the anxiety you feel conflicts with the retention of information, creating a more challenging task of learning the concepts. Many learners experience test anxiety, so you are not alone. To refuse treatment and allow test anxiety to consume you is detrimental in nursing school and in your career as a nurse.


To help alleviate the symptoms and reduce the effect of test anxiety, it is recommended to seek treatment and follow the steps outlined by the Learner Advising and Life Resources (LALR) department.

  1. Be prepared! This may seem obvious, but the more prepared you are for an exam, the less anxious you will be.  Having good study habits and being organized when studying will help you feel more prepared and build your confidence.  Remember, don’t cram right before a test.  Plan out your study time so when it gets down to the last minute, you don’t have to cram!  For tips on how to effectively study, please contact the LALR department.
  2. Use relaxation techniques.
    1. Deep belly breathing: Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your belly; focus on your breath. Spend a few minutes practicing your deep belly breathing before you study and after. Do the same before and after an exam.
    2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is when you tense your muscles then relax them. Start at your arms, hold for seven seconds, then release. Next do the same with your abdominal muscles, and so on.  This creates a deep relaxation sensation in the muscles.
    3. Visualization: Find your happy place. Close your eyes and think about a place you feel most relaxed.  Think about the details of this place, the smells, what it looks like, how you feel when you are there, etc.
  3. Eat a good meal before your exam. Fruits and vegetables are known to reduce stress.  Stay away from processed foods, red meats, preservatives, and spicy food. Tip: It is also helpful to snack on fruits and veggies while studying and eat those same foods right before your test.
  4. Get a good night sleep. Try to use the relaxation techniques above to clear your mind so you are able to fall asleep.  Try not to think about the exam.  Feeling well rested will help you stay focused on your exam.  If you do not get a good night sleep, don’t worry.  Try to do some relaxation techniques in the morning, go on a walk, or do yoga to help you feel refreshed.
  5. Reward yourself. Using positive reinforcement can be a great way to help with test anxiety so you have something to look forward to after the test.  Plan on treating yourself to a tasty treat or a gift after the exam, if you were able to complete it to the best of your ability without stressing too much.  Even if you do stress and find the test was way too difficult, reward yourself anyway for staying calm and pushing through.  You deserve it for working so hard.
  6. What to do during the test:
    1. Read the directions carefully.
    2. Budget your test-taking time.
    3. Change positions to help you relax and feel more comfortable.
    4. If you go blank, skip the question and move on. You can come back to it later.
    5. If you are taking an essay test and go blank on the whole test, just pick a question and start writing. It may trigger the answer in your mind.
    6. Don’t panic if other learners finish their test before you. There is no reward for finishing first.
  7. What to do after the test:
    1. List what worked for you and hold on to these strategies.
    2. List what did not work so you know what needs improvement.
    3. Celebrate that you are on the road to overcoming this obstacle.

It is possible to manage test anxiety. You don’t have to go about it alone.  Studying with other learners and sharing your tips could be extremely helpful and beneficial.  For more information and tips on test anxiety and overcoming test anxiety,  please contact Sam Hanlon with the LALR department at shanlon@nightingale.edu.