How To Reduce Exam Anxiety


Exam anxiety is a problem felt by students everywhere. In fact, according to the American Test Anxieties Association, as many as 18-40 percent of students experience moderate-high levels of test anxiety, and few of those students ever seek help in reducing their anxiety symptoms.

With help and proper preparation, students can reduce their exam anxieties significantly, enabling them to take exams feeling entirely more confident.

For professors hoping to make a difference in the study routines of students’ whose college experience is plagued by test anxiety, there are a number of test taking strategies that you can implement in order to best help your students. Once put into practice, students will feel more confident and at ease when taking pop quizzes, weekly tests, and even midterms and finals.

Here are a few tips professors and students can use to survive their exams.

Consider Using Technology to Help Students Prepare

It goes without saying, technology has truly transformed today’s classrooms. There are a number of applications that teachers can utilize in order to help students in their classrooms, especially when it comes to studying for exams.

One of the most common feelings that students have during test taking is that they are ill prepared. Even students who peruse and agonize over the material before testing often report feeling unprepared during exam time.

One way this can be overcome is through online exam testing software. Software of this nature enables students create a bank of questions, and software algorithms will randomize questions that students can use to quiz themselves and better prepare for their exams.  

By repeatedly self testing, and completing these tests, students can feel confident walking into their exams.

Encourage Students to Share their Exam Preparation Strategies with Each Other

Constance Staley, who authored the Fourth Edition of Community College Success, suggests that professors make time for their students to share their own study techniques with each other.

As students listen and share, they’re bound to pick up a new study tactic that could help them better prepare for their tests and ease their performance anxiety.

“Put students in groups of three for about five minutes to discuss their best ideas about how to prepare for tests,” Shaley suggests. “After five minutes, come together as a class, and go around the room and ask each student to explain one technique. Students cannot repeat techniques. What may come out of the discussion is that different techniques work for different students, but that particular themes emerge that hold true for everyone.”

While this may not be an ideal solution in large lecture classrooms, small group breakouts and study sessions can prove beneficial to a number of students.

Help them to Unlearn Behaviors that Hinder Test Taking

As Linda Wong notes in her book, Essential Study Skills, there are a number of sources of stress that students attribute to their test taking anxiety:


  • Under-Preparedness
  • Past Experience
  • Fear of Failure
  • Poor Test-Taking Skills

Wong suggests that by giving students the ability to talk to other students, they can come up with strategies to overcome those attitudes and behaviors that are hindering their exam success.

Remind Students that Self Care is Important During Exam Time

While studying is certainly one factor to success when taking exams, self care is an equally important aspect in reducing test anxiety. Students may feel pressure to spend every waking moment studying, but it’s highly important that they allot time in their busy schedule to rest, reconnect with their classmates, and remove themselves from a stressful study environment. This doesn’t mean that students should procrastinate–rather, this downtime is to be used as a prescription to put in more focused work at the appropriate times.

Eating well and sleeping well are also important test factors that students often neglect when exam season rolls around. Although all-nighters are touted as popular study techniques, in truth, studying and not sleeping only makes anxiety more severe. Eating well is also an important factor, so make sure students know that nutrition is a vital key to their brain function during exams.

Test taking anxiety is a problem for a number of students of any age. As such, it’s important that professors are aware of how to best help those students who are easily overwhelmed during exams, and provide practical tips to help them better succeed in college.

Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl

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