While it’s normal to feel some anxiety on test day, it’s important not to let it become so overwhelming that it takes control of your performance. Fortunately, there are a number of effective strategies for managing test-day anxiety.
Before the Test
If you know you worry a lot when taking important tests, consider writing out your worries on a piece of paper for ten minutes the day before the test. Although it might seem counterintuitive, a number of studies have shown that this exercise reduces performance anxiety and improves cognitive performance in high-pressured settings.
Another helpful writing exercise to complete the day before the test involves writing for ten minutes about your self-worth and diverse attributes. Explore all your activities, strengths, and positive attributes. This helps reinforce the reality that your identity can’t be boiled down to something as narrow as a test score, which in turn takes pressure off your performance on the test.
One of the best ways to handle test-day pressure is by simulating that pressure as often and as realistically as possible. Take full-length practice tests as they are officially administered – timed, whole, and with the officially allotted amount of breaks. Practice taking the test at the same time you’ll actually be taking it on test day. For paper tests, use an official bubble sheet to fill in your answers and the same type of pencil you’ll be using on the test. For computer tests, practice using the official computer platform. Try taking some of the practice tests in unfamiliar locations. The more you’ve simulated the pressures of test day, the better prepared you’ll be to handle them.
If you’re feeling very anxious on test day, you can turn this energy around to your advantage. Tell yourself that you’re merely feeling excited about how well you’re going to do on your upcoming performance. By reinterpreting your bodily reactions you can downplay anxiety and sharpen both your confidence and performance.
If you find yourself thinking a lot of worried or negative thoughts, acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go. In other words, play the objective outside observer to your thoughts rather than the subjective participant. Sometimes visualizing a red light can help prevent further anxious thoughts from intruding.
Finally, don’t put too much importance into the test. You’ve prepared well and you will do your best – that is all that matters. The less important you imagine the test to be, the less anxiety you’ll face.