Eliminating Exam Anxiety: How To Relax In Test Environments

By Julia Dunn on July 8, 2015

The testing feeling.

Not the most pleasant, if anxiety usually causes the test answers to flee your brain.

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Oftentimes, you know more than you think you know. You have the answers to this test hidden somewhere in your consciousness, but the anxiety of 400 stressed-out students surrounding you in the lecture hall seeps into your mind and zaps your confidence right when you need it the most.

Considering the high-stakes nature of large college midterm and final exams, as well as longer, more future-determining career based tests such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) or MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), we all wish we knew how to tame testing fears, insecurities, and general apprehension that blocks your brain from working most optimally.

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There are a number of tricks you can use for your next big exam that will loosen you up and keep you relaxed, allowing you to proceed through the test efficiently and calmly. Whether it be a statistics final in college, an MCAT for your future nursing career, or that pesky GRE for graduate school, try these tricks to shut down testing anxiety and power through difficult tests like nobody’s business.

1. Sit in the front row (or 2nd/3rd rows).

If you will be taking your test in a large lecture hall or large classroom, and if being close to the professor doesn’t make you nervous, choose to sit as close to the front of the room as you can. When you’re about to take a final along with hundreds of other classmates, sitting in the front row of the lecture hall restricts your vision to just the front, making the huge room appear much smaller.

This effect will remove the claustrophobic stress of feeling like you can’t escape other people’s anxiety–if you instead choose to sit in the very back row where you can see hundreds of other test-takers in front of you, the weight of everyone else’s panic will manifest into a heavy physical and emotional feeling. This feeling is much more unproductive than efficient, and it may cause you to doubt yourself. You don’t need to doubt yourself!

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Additionally, sitting in the front few rows will likely mean you’ll be first to receive testing materials, giving you a few more seconds with the test compared to those stuck in the middle of the lecture hall who receive tests a minute or two later than those in the front area. Even though you likely won’t be allowed to start until everyone has received a test, having it will give you more peace of mind than having to wait longer.

2. Bring snacks/treats for yourself.

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Allow yourself a piece of chocolate (or 3) every 10 questions, or snack on a banana and some cookies as you go through the exam. Not only will eating brain foods help you relax by normalizing the environment, but it will also give you energy and an extra dose of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy!).

Just be aware that you might not be able to bring food into the room if you’re taking tests like the GRE or MCAT, so fill yourself with yummy food before the test. However, if they schedule a few breaks into the test, you may be able to bring some snacks for these.

3. Practice until your brains come out (figuratively, of course).

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The more you utilize practice tests beforehand, the less likely you’ll freak out when the real test comes around. For college exams, professors often post a few midterms or finals from previous years that you can use to practice real exam questions, and for the huge standardized tests, there’s an entire industry of test prep materials for the GRE and MCAT including workbooks and classes both online and in-personKaplan is a fantastic resource for this!

My original quote, “prepare as though your test is life-changing, but take your test like it’s a worksheet,” applies here. Calling an exam something other than “exam” (that’s too scary of a word) will allow you to succeed on the test by tricking your mind into thinking it’s simply working on a homework sheet, which is normally less of a big deal.

And, as most of us know, practicing and testing yourself on the material before the test will lead to a less anxious test day, because there’s no way you won’t know the answers after all that studying you did!

4. If music settles you down, “play” music in your head while taking the test.

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Imagine a song that makes you feel unstoppable. Think through that song as though you were actually listening to it while taking the test. This will increase your efficiency both by making you happier, and by filling you with powerful energy you can use to blast through the test. Beyonce never disappoints!

5. Use colored markers on your exam paper/scratch paper (for tests in college courses only–GRE and MCAT are taken on a computer).

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For finals or midterms in complicated, detail-based classes where formulas and variables are everywhere, use different colored pens to keep track of what you’re calculating or solving for. You’d be surprised how much a little color can do for both your understanding and organization. Plus, a rainbow test can’t be that bad … right?

6. Read. The. Questions. And identify the real question within the question.

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This is especially relevant to the extensive MCAT and GRE exams which are designed to be tricky at times.

The hardest part about taking such long high-stakes tests (other than not knowing the answer) is knowing what the question is. What is the question actually asking beyond all the extraneous, “fluffy” words? Oftentimes, test questions are phrased in such an unnecessarily complicated manner that it’s much easier to generate the answer to the question than to make sense of the question itself.

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Treat yourself well before, during, and after exams, and you’ll do wonderfully on tough exams. Good luck! (You won’t need it, though. You’re lucky this article is over … now you’ve got more time to study!)

By Julia Dunn

Uloop Writer
A writer, editor and educator based in Northern California.

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