Managing Test Anxiety: Empowering Yourself with Consistent Study Habits, Relaxation Skills, and Positive Thinking

Portrait of shocked student taking a test

When I was young and in school, I experienced intense test anxiety, primarily due to the fact that tests were administered in small print and with very limited time to complete them. As a visually impaired test taker, I found myself constantly having to advocate for my rights and request reasonable accommodations from teachers, professors, and school administrators. With exam season in full swing for high school seniors and university students finishing their spring semester classes, I can’t help but be reminded of that challenging period in my life when taking tests felt like an insurmountable task. To cope, I turned to relaxation techniques and sought the support of allies who understood my needs and were willing to assist in ensuring that accommodations were in place. Today, as I sit down to write a blog post about test anxiety, I reflect on how far I’ve come and the importance of self-advocacy, resilience, and the power of allyship in overcoming such challenges.

Unveiling the Secrets to Overcoming Test Anxiety

As a student with a physical disability, my test anxiety was high, often due to tests being administered in small print and with limited time. I had to constantly advocate for myself and seek support to obtain reasonable accommodations from teachers and administrators. It’s essential to recognize the importance of self-advocacy, relaxation techniques, and allyship in overcoming test anxiety. In this guide, I’ll share with you various strategies to help you tackle test anxiety head-on.

The Truth Behind Test Anxiety: How It Impacts You

Test anxiety is different from the normal stress you might feel while preparing for an exam. While some stress can help you stay motivated and focused, test anxiety involves excessive worry and stress that can negatively impact your test performance and overall well-being.

Test anxiety can manifest in physical and mental symptoms, such as sweating, nausea, shaking, muscle tension, nervousness, feeling overwhelmed, and experiencing a blank mind during the test.

Navigating Test Anxiety and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Test anxiety can significantly impair academic performance, preventing students from demonstrating their true abilities. Some degree of anxiety is normal in demanding situations with uncertain outcomes. Common stress indicators include physical shakiness, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, “blanking out,” panicking, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Seeking accommodations is an essential step for students with disabilities to ensure that they have the support and resources necessary to succeed academically. To begin this process, students should contact their school or university’s disability services office or access center to discuss their specific needs and request appropriate accommodations. It’s crucial to provide documentation from a qualified healthcare provider that outlines the nature of the disability and its impact on the student’s functioning. The disability services office will work with the student to develop a tailored accommodation plan, which may include extended test time, alternative testing formats, assistive technology, or additional academic support. By proactively seeking accommodations, students with disabilities can create an inclusive learning environment that allows them to demonstrate their true abilities and reach their full potential.

Mastering Practical Skills to Tackle Test Anxiety

Developing good study habits and test-taking skills can help you reduce test anxiety and feel more confident in your abilities.

Top Study Tips to Keep Test Anxiety at Bay

  • Establish a study routine: Create a consistent schedule for studying, such as dedicating an hour after dinner or a half hour each morning.
  • Create a dedicated study area: Choose a space free of distractions and keep your study materials organized in that area.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity of studying: Space out shorter study sessions, rather than cramming all the information in one sitting.
  • Make studying a priority: Treat studying as seriously as you would a job, ensuring you’re giving it your full attention.
  • Set specific study goals: Break your study objectives into smaller, manageable tasks that can be accomplished in a single session.
  • Write down what you learn: Engage in active learning by taking notes, creating flashcards, or summarizing chapters.
  • Quiz yourself: Use practice tests or chapter discussion questions to reinforce your understanding of the material.
  • Change your study scenery: If you’re feeling unfocused or bored, try studying in a new environment, like a library or coffee shop.
  • Take care of your mind and body: Maintain a healthy balance with good sleep habits, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet.

Essential Test Day Preparations for a Calm and Confident Performance

  • Get enough sleep: Prioritize rest over cramming to ensure you’re well-rested for the test.
  • Avoid caffeine: Although it may seem like a good idea, caffeine can actually worsen anxiety.
  • Arrive on time: By being punctual, you can avoid anxiety-inducing situations and last-minute stress.
  • Get comfortable: Have a good meal before the test, wear comfortable clothes, and choose a seat that makes you feel at ease.
  • Utilize test-taking strategies: Employ strategies such as doing a “memory dump,” considering point values, guessing when needed, and checking your work before submitting the test.

The Art of Relaxation: Skills to Defeat Test Anxiety

Relaxation skills can help you manage test anxiety before, during, and after a test. These techniques help calm your nervous system, reduce stress, and refocus your mind, allowing you to perform better and feel more in control.

Breathing Your Way to Success: Mastering Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing is a simple and effective technique to alleviate anxiety. It helps slow down your heart rate and relax your muscles, promoting a sense of calm.

How to practice deep breathing:

  1. Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  3. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs and allowing your abdomen to rise.
  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen lower as the air leaves your lungs.
  6. Repeat this process for several minutes, focusing on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body.

Embrace Progressive Muscle Relaxation to Melt Away Test Anxiety

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups to release tension and stress.

How to practice progressive muscle relaxation:

  1. Find a quiet space and sit or lie down comfortably.
  2. Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths.
  3. Begin with your toes, tensing the muscles for a few seconds, and then releasing the tension as you exhale.
  4. Move on to your feet, calves, thighs, and continue working your way up your body, focusing on each muscle group individually.
  5. Finish with your face muscles, scrunching them up and then releasing the tension.
  6. Take a few more slow, deep breaths, and enjoy the feeling of relaxation throughout your body.

Rewiring Your Thoughts: Cognitive Restructuring for Test Anxiety Relief

Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts and beliefs that can negatively impact our emotions and behavior. In the context of test-taking, examples include catastrophizing (“If I fail this test, my life is over”), overgeneralization (“I’ve always been terrible at math”), and mind-reading (“My teacher thinks I’m stupid”).

To challenge cognitive distortions, you can use techniques such as:

  1. Socratic questioning: Ask yourself questions to explore the validity of your thoughts. For example, “What evidence do I have that failing this test will ruin my life?” or “Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?”
  2. Decatastrophizing: Break down catastrophic thoughts by considering the likelihood of the worst-case scenario, and develop a plan to cope with it. This can help you realize that you can handle the situation even if it doesn’t go perfectly.
  3. Putting thoughts on trial: Examine your thoughts as if they were on trial. Identify evidence that supports and contradicts your thoughts, and then determine if they are rational or irrational. This can help you gain a more balanced perspective and reduce anxiety.

Boost Your Confidence with the Power of Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool to improve test performance and overall well-being. It involves using encouraging and affirmative statements to counteract negative thoughts and beliefs. By consciously practicing positive self-talk, you can develop a more optimistic mindset, increase your self-confidence, and reduce test anxiety.

Examples of Positive Self-Talk Statements

  1. “I am well-prepared for this test.”
  2. “I can handle any challenge that comes my way.”
  3. “I believe in my ability to succeed.”
  4. “Mistakes are a part of learning, and I can learn from them.”
  5. “I am calm, focused, and ready to do my best.”

Tips on Practicing and Using Positive Self-Talk

  • 1. Identify negative thoughts: Before you can replace negative thoughts with positive self-talk, you need to recognize when you’re engaging in self-defeating thinking. Pay attention to your internal dialogue, especially during times of stress or when facing challenges.
  • 2. Develop positive statements: Create a list of positive affirmations that resonate with you and address your specific areas of concern. Make these statements personal, believable, and solution-oriented.
  • 3. Practice regularly: Incorporate positive self-talk into your daily routine. You can say these affirmations out loud, write them down, or repeat them silently in your mind. The more you practice, the more natural and effective positive self-talk will become.
  • 4. Use positive self-talk during tests: In moments of anxiety or self-doubt during a test, remind yourself of your positive affirmations. Take a few deep breaths, and repeat the statements to yourself to regain focus and confidence.
  • 5. Monitor your progress: Keep track of your thoughts and emotions over time, and observe how practicing positive self-talk impacts your test anxiety and performance. Celebrate your successes and continue refining your self-talk to better support your growth and development.

By integrating positive self-talk into your life, you can develop a more resilient and optimistic mindset, ultimately improving your test performance and overall well-being.

Bringing It All Together: A Toolkit for Triumphing Over Test Anxiety

In this blog post, we’ve explored several strategies to help you overcome test anxiety and improve your performance. By focusing on practical skills, such as good study habits and test-taking strategies, and incorporating relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, you can manage your anxiety effectively. Additionally, cognitive restructuring and positive self-talk can help you challenge and replace negative thought patterns, fostering a more optimistic and confident mindset.

Remember that practice and consistency are key to mastering these techniques. Be patient with yourself and don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or professionals if needed. Most importantly, always advocate for yourself and cultivate resilience in the face of challenges.

By implementing these strategies and maintaining a proactive approach to self-improvement, you can significantly reduce test anxiety and unlock your full potential. Keep believing in yourself, and you’ll be well on your way to conquering test anxiety and achieving academic success.


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How to succeed on university tests and exams. The University of Waterloo. Retrieved from

Test and Exam Study Tips. University of Toronto Student Life. Retrieved from


Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.