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7 Ways to Control Your Test Anxiety

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest taken between two deep breaths -Etty Hillesum

It's test day, you studied all night and you walk into the class confident to pass. You sit down, you see the paper placed on your desk and suddenly... nothing. "What? I'm supposed know this. Why can't I remember this?" You think. You try your hardest, but it's been 5 minutes and you're still spinning your pencil, and the answer is still empty. How will you finish on time? Do you even know the rest? What was the point of studying? You may feel a fast heart rate, faster breathing, and emotions such as anger or hopelessness. The hour passes, you finished on time, but you leave a lot more nervous than before. We've all been there, we all work through it: Test Anxiety.

Luckily for you, Nucleus Tutoring is here to help you both prevent and counter it when you encounter it.

What is Test Anxiety?

Test Anxiety is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in relation to high expectations and performance pressure related to academic tests. This can occur for any type of test, from a simple weekly quiz to a full SAT or MCAT formal test. It typically manifests at younger ages, but can occur at nearly any age (Zeidner, 2007). Testing anxiety is incredibly common, one study quoting 38.5% of university students experiencing anxiety at some point during their college years (Gerwing, 2015). Luckily for us though, there are many strategies to address test anxiety, and so Nucleus presents our top tips at stopping Test Anxiety.

Tip 1: Get Ahead of the Game

One of the top causes of test anxiety is unpreparedness, and understandably so. Make sure to study well in advance of the test. If you want tips on crafting efficient study techniques, check out our guide and hit the books!!

Tip 2: Embrace the Practice Questions

Many students make the common mistake of only studying the topics without putting it to practice. Studies show that practice questions greatly improve memory retention when compared to simple additional study of topics or lectures (Roediger III, 2006). Practice questions can be found nearly anywhere, many of those resources being free as well. Additionally, tutors at Nucleus Tutoring are more than happy to help tailor practice questions for you to perfect your confidence.

Tip 3: Practice Self-Care

Especially if the test is incredibly important, we sometimes tend to prioritize it on an unhealthy level. Wake up, study. Eat, study. Sleep (while studying). This study tactic is called "Overlearning" and not only is this constant barrage unhealthy, it actually negatively affects both retention and your test score (Rohrer, 2005). So, for the good of your life and your future, take a break or 4. Study of course, but sleep when it's time to sleep and eat when it's time to eat.

Tip 4: Trick Your Instincts

Your body wasn't built for tests, but it was built for pressure. Anxiety is a result of our body's response to stress, and this type of stress was a lot more decisive back in our hunter-gatherer origins. Luckily, we can use this same system to cool it down as well in the testing room. Try these two methods of "forcing" your body to calm itself quickly during the test.

The Gum Trick: Simple, Easy, Effective. Few people feel hungry during high-stress periods, so if we're chewing something then we can't possibly be stressed, right? We know that isn't always always the case, but our body doesn't. Chewing gum during a test activates our "Rest and Digest" nervous system, which works to counter the "Fight or Flight" of testing anxiety (Smith, 2009).

Square Breathing: Similar to the Gum Trick, our body thinks we can't possibly be stressed if we're not breathing fast. The trick involves inhaling, holding your breath, exhaling, and resting for 4 seconds at a time. It can quickly and easily calm your nerves in the midst of test anxiety and is a method I myself used both during my MCAT and my STEP 1 tests. Check out this image from Zencare for a visual idea of the trick.

Tip 5: Positive Self-Talk

Whether it's during your studies or in the test itself, it can be so easy to spiral down the funnel of negative self talk. Interestingly, studies show just the belief that you'll do well on the test (whether you're prepared or not) can significantly improve your test score (Komarraju, 2013). Now, can this belief turn an F into an A? Likely not, however it can definitely help push your score over the border if it needs that push. Examples of positive self-talk include:

  • "Even if I don't know this completely, I can definitely do this"

  • "I'm smarter and stronger than I think, and I'll prove it now"

  • "Regardless of what happens, I will do my best"

Tip 6: Never Compare

You're halfway through the test and someone just turned theirs in. First, how? Second, does this mean I didn't prepare enough? We're commonly comparing ourselves to others, but keeping comparisons at bay will greatly help both your score and your anxieties. Some people are simply naturally fast test-takers, and it's not a bad thing to take things at your own pace. Watch the clock, slow your breathing, and focus on you. You'll thank yourself later, I promise.

Tip 7: Have Something to Look Forward to

Whether it's a full family/friends dinner or just a little ice cream treat, have something to look forward to after you've finished your test. Having a fun post-test routine can help you not only destress after the test, but can help you lift your test anxieties during the test. Life goes on after the test, and having more than one reason to be happy the test is over can help your emotions surrounding the test as well.


There you have it, some of my favorite test anxiety tips that I myself use often. I hope these tips help you greatly when it comes to your next big test day. If you want professional help with testing anxiety or acing your classes, you'll find great help with our expert tutors at Nucleus Tutoring!

Additionally, if you'd like to talk with a professional about your testing anxieties and/or other learning or emotional barriers, please reach out to us and we can get you connected to one of our local mental health partners free of charge. Mental health is important, both in class and out, and we at Nucleus Tutoring want you to feel as best as possible going into the future.

We'd love to hear about your successes at Nucleus as well! For more information about Nucleus Tutoring and how to boost your grades, feel free to check out the rest of our website or schedule your free consultation today!


  1. Zeidner, Moshe. "Test anxiety in educational contexts: Concepts, findings, and future directions." Emotion in education. Academic press, 2007. 165-184.

  2. Gerwing, Travis G., et al. "Perceptions and Incidence of Test Anxiety." Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 6.3 (2015): 3.

  3. Roediger III, Henry L., and Jeffrey D. Karpicke. "The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice." Perspectives on psychological science 1.3 (2006): 181-210.

  4. Rohrer, Doug, et al. "The effect of overlearning on long‐term retention." Applied Cognitive Psychology 19.3 (2005): 361-374.

  5. Smith, Andrew. "Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test." Nutritional Neuroscience 12.2 (2009): 81-88.

  6. Komarraju, Meera, and Dustin Nadler. "Self-efficacy and academic achievement: Why do implicit beliefs, goals, and effort regulation matter?." Learning and individual differences 25 (2013): 67-72.



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