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Avoiding Test Anxiety

TIP Sheet

~~ Why am I NERVOUS? ~~

Test Anxiety is a very real stress that affects some students' ability to perform to the best of their ability on a test or exam. While most people experience some level of anxiety in a testing situation, we don't have to be debilitated by it. Learning to expect and manage test anxiety is an important skill for successful students.

Thinking about Test Anxiety
As a student, you will likely not be able to avoid tests. Knowing this, take some time to think about the causes of test-associated stress, and work to develop coping mechanisms so test anxiety doesn't impede your success.

Identify the causes:

  • Not doing well threatens self-image.
  • Poor test grades pose a threat to your future goals.
  • Lack of preparation increases stress. Some students underestimate how much time they need to prepare for a test. (Keep in mind that those students who say they "never study" are probably not telling the whole truth.)

Develop coping mechanisms that may lessen your anxiety:

  • Develop successful study skills. Be realistic with yourself about how much time you need to study and prepare for a test.
  • Learn relaxation and visualization techniques.
  • Avoid negative self-talk.
  • Avoid procrastination. It is a rare student who succeeds on an exam by cramming the night before without other preparation.
  • Identify and use resources.
  • Practice! Develop test-taking strategies that work well for you and work with review material in practice tests.

Successful Test Takers . . .

Study Smart!

  • Be realistic with your time. Set time aside for work, socializing, class time, and relaxation. Then, schedule in times you will study for each class. As a general rule, a class requires two hours of study time for each hour you're in class. For example, a 3-unit class would require 6 hours of study time per week.
  • Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal clues given by the instructor. He or she will tell you which information is most important by:
    • Writing notes on the board or overhead,
    • Repeating the same information within a lesson or over a period of time,
    • Saying "This is important" or "You'll see this again,"
    • Using a raised voice or emphatic gestures,
    • Providing review sheets or printed study guides,
    • Assigning specific textbook pages, review questions, or other references.
  • Take notes and use them. Rewriting class notes shortly after the class session will help you keep them clear and organized, and will reinforce the information, making it easier to remember in a test situation. Indicate information the instructor paid special attention to, as you'll likely see this on a test. Some students use different colors or symbols to represent different topics or types of information in their notes. Such clues can help you link information together for easier recall.
  • Find and use available resources. The Center for Academic Success (CAS) offers a variety of ways for students to develop smart study habits. Check out some of these services:
    • Critical Skills Workshops: Drop-in workshops that support skills in a variety of writing, computer use, and study-skill areas.
    • Tutors: For a student to become a tutor, they have to show that they are successful in their subject area and that they can help others develop study habits. In addition to their own strategies, tutors are trained to identify student's learning preferences and can help them develop study habits that work for a specific course.
    • Study Groups: The Group Study Room in CAS offers a quiet, comfortable space for you to meet with others in your class. Working together to identify important points, clarify questions, or review for an upcoming exam is a powerful way to learn material in a relatively short period of time. Check out the TIP Sheet Working Successfully with a Study Group to ensure that your study group is productive.
    • The CAS staff is friendly and always willing to offer suggestions and help you find a service that best suits your specific needs. Contact Ann Shannon, Learning Resource Specialist, for information on any of CAS services and other resources:, 895-2306.
    • Students who qualify for special services should contact the service provider on campus and investigate other resources specific to their program (for example, EOPS, DSPS, MESA, Veteran's Office, etc.)

Employ Effective Test-Taking Strategies

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before a test.
  • Stay away from stimulants (but don't make a huge change in your habits).
  • Eat healthy food on a regular basis. Your brain needs good fuel, but do not change your eating routine just prior to a test.
  • Sit in the same seat you sit in during class.
  • Wear comfortable clothing, bring water, and BREATHE!
  • Do not pick up your pen or pencil until you've skimmed the entire test to get a feel for what it contains. Surprises on the last page are extra-stressful!
  • If the instructor permits it, jot down important formulas, vocabulary, or rules in the margins or on scratch paper. Getting this information onto paper makes it easier to concentrate on the test questions. Refer to these notes as needed.
  • READ THE DIRECTIONS. Read them again. Many points have been lost due to lack of attention to directions.
  • If a question stumps you, skip it and move on to the questions you are more sure of. Put a mark by the questions you skip so you can find them easily later on. Sometimes other questions will give you clues to the ones you thought you didn't know.
  • If a question is confusing, ask the instructor for clarification.
  • Read each question thoughtfully, as it relates to the course and the instructor's emphasis.
  • Budget your time according to the point value of each question or section. Don't waste time on 1-pointers if you know the 10-point answers!
  • Try any extra credit problem you're given. These are freebies and any information you can get down may help your overall score.
  • If time permits, check your work.
    • If you're using a Scantron answer sheet, make sure you've filled in the correct bubble for each response. Double-check that all erasures are complete.
    • As a general rule: If you studied, go with your first response. This is most often the best answer. Be careful about second-guessing yourself.
    • Guess at any items you're still not sure of at the end of the testing time, as long as you are not penalized more for incorrect answers than for blanks.

Know the different types of items that may be on the test and how to best approach them:

  •  Completion or Fill-in-the-Blank
    • Be sure your response fits grammatically in the sentence.
    • If you don't know the exact answer, make your best guess.
  •  Essay
    • To study for essay exams, use mnemonics to memorize key points about your topic.
    • Spend the first few minutes of the test brainstorming and creating an outline for your response.
    • Save yourself 5 minutes at the end of the test time to read your essay and make minor corrections.
  •  Matching
    • Complete the easy items first.
    • Mark items off the list as you complete them, eliminating some choices (unless the instructions say an item may be used more than once).
    • Save the ones you don't know for the last.
  •  Multiple Choice
    • Read all choices given and select the best.
    • If all choices seem to be correct, select the most complete.
    • If you're unsure of which choice is best, eliminate those that seem wrong, then select between the remaining choices. You can double your chance of getting a right answer by using this tactic!
  •  True or False
    • If any part of the item is false, then it is a false statement.
    • Watch out for words such as "All," "Only," "Never," and "Always." Statements with these words are often false.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

  • Take a look at the examples of negative vs. positive statements below. Keeping a positive attitude during a testing situation can make a huge difference in your stress level and success. 
Negative Self-Talk Positive Self-Talk
"I'll never get finished." "Just take it one step at a time."
"If I miss this, I've really blown it." "Some tension is inevitable; no need to worry about it."
"Why am I so nervous? I hate feeling like this. I know I'm going to fail." "I studied and I am confident I will do my best."
"Everyone else is doing better than me." "I'm doing fine. I am only concerned about myself." 
"If I fail this test, my life will fall apart." "Even if I don't do as well as I'd like, it's not the end of the world."
"I've got to rush. Everyone else is finishing before me." "I'm going to take all the time I need. If I am the last one finished, that means I will do better than everyone else."
"Oh no! I studied this one but my mind is just going blank!" "I'll skip this question and go on to some easier ones. I'll come back to it later."
"I know I missed the last answer. I should have gotten it!" "Even if I miss a few questions, that doesn't bother me. I can still get a good grade."


Practice Makes Perfect
Like any skill, test taking requires practice. If you're worried about test anxiety affecting your success in school, make your own quizzes as part of your study strategy and take them with a time limit. Some instructors will even give you sample problems or old tests to practice with. Have a friend, roommate, or tutor set you up in a practice test setting and try the strategies introduced above. By developing a plan that you follow each time you take a test, you can overcome test anxiety and all your hard work will pay off!

Good luck!

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This TIP Sheet was adapted from material written by: Janice Watson, Northeast Gifted Education Center, Washington, and Donna Lenhoff, Butte College Learning Center, Oroville, California.







Butte College | 3536 Butte Campus Drive, Oroville CA 95965 | General Information 530.895.2511

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