For many students, test-taking is an extremely stressful experience- even if they’ve actually taken the time to study and prepare.

When that stress reaches a point of such severity that you’re not able to concentrate, it’s what’s known as test anxiety.

Many students with test anxiety often feel embarrassed, worrying that they alone suffer from it. But test anxiety is actually quite common.

Research has found that test anxiety affects between 10% and 40% of all students at any given time.

Most commonly, test anxiety is the result of:

- A bad memory of past experience: failing one test can throw off your performance in future tests.
- Fear of failure: fear of being “a failure,” tying your self-worth too closely to the outcome of a test.
- Imposter syndrome: a persistent feeling of inadequacy despite evidence to the contrary.

And it has tangible consequences. Students who experience test anxiety score 12% lower on average than those who don’t.

So what can you do about it? Here we’ll walk through six tips to help you manage your nerves and help you test with confidence.

6 Tips to Overcome Test Anxiety

1. Ask for help
Let’s kick things off with perhaps the most important tip: expect your anxiety.

If you’re someone who regularly experiences high stress before an exam, don’t just try to ignore it or hope it will go away. Expect you’ll feel it and put together a plan for when you do.

This means getting help in advance.

Try talking with a trusted teacher or professor. Often, they can provide a confidence boost or even provide tips to help you study for their specific test.

You can also reach out to your school’s guidance counseling program and testing centers, as they’re familiar with tips for handling exam stress.

If you’re a college student, you might even be able to speak to a stress management counselor through your campus health center. A licensed therapist or psychologist can help you determine the root causes of your stress. They can also help develop skills and strategies to overcome your stress.

There’s nothing weird about test anxiety and you should never feel like you can’t ask for help.

2. Get Enough Sleep
Pulling an all-nighter might be a rite of passage in college. But this tradition can actually do more harm than good.

In fact, studying instead of sleeping prevents your memory from storing the information that you’re trying to learn.

Sleep is incredibly important and has so many benefits. Without it, you’re automatically putting yourself at a disadvantage in ways like:

- Your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that makes decisions, can’t operate at 100%.

- You don’t dream. Dreaming helps you connect new information with the knowledge you already have and improves memory retention.

-Your brain doesn’t get to click “save” on new information you’ve learned.

So, make sure you’re fitting sleep into your busy schedule.

3. Practice. Then Practice Some More.
You know what they say: we learn by practicing. And test-taking is no exception to this.

Testing is a skill, and just as with all other skills, practice can help make you better. By repeatedly taking practice tests, you’ll grow more comfortable with them over time.

For example, the part of tests that stress us out the most are often the time limits. So practicing with the allowed time can ease the stress associated with it and give you one less thing to worry about on test day.

Additionally, practice tests can help you develop the skills you need to answer different types of test questions. Multiple choice, true/false, and open-ended essay questions all require different approaches. And practicing each type will help you approach all of them more confidently on test day.

This one is a personal favorite, not to mention one of the easiest tips to start implementing.

RTFQ: Read The F*****g Question!

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s normal for your mind to start racing. You may feel panicked or distracted.

All of a sudden, questions that you should - and actually do - know the answer to look completely foreign.

So, take a deep breath, slow done, and RTFQ!

5. Change your mindset
Memories of past bad experiences can affect how you feel going into new ones.

But honing in on negative thoughts will only make you less productive in your studying, increase your anxiety, and put you at a higher risk for earning a lower score.

To prevent your mind from spiraling to a distracting place, give one of these mindfulness exercises a try:

Meditation is a popular mindfulness technique, and many people take advantage of apps like Headspace and Calm to find guided exercises for managing anxiety, stress, and focus.

Alternatively, one handy app-free breathing exercise for anxiety is the 4-7-8 breathing method:

- Start by completely exhaling through your mouth

- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose, mentally counting to 4

- Hold your breath while you mentally count to 7

- Exhale completely through your mouth while mentally counting to 8

- Repeat as many times as you need

Visualization is another technique you can try and is, in fact, a type of meditation. Here, you’ll focus on a specific scene or even imagine an outcome you want.

Some popular visualization techniques include imagining:

- A serene outdoor scene, like a beach or a mountain
- A glowing blue light (or another color that you’re drawn to)
- Leaves flowing by on a stream
- The outcome you most desire (like acing your test!)

Try visualizing different things until you find what’s right for you. The ideal image should restore a sense of calm and evenness.

6. Try Beta-Blockers
Test anxiety goes beyond “regular” stress. It can actually cause your fight-or-flight response to kick in, spiking your adrenaline. This often triggers increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, nausea, and more.

Not only are these symptoms uncomfortable, but they can actually steal your focus away.

Propranolol, a type of beta-blocker medication, blocks the effects of adrenaline and helps prevent these physical symptoms from happening. So your hands will stay steady, your heart rate will be normal, and your breathing will remain regular.

In short: your body will stay calm.

Though beta-blockers are widely considered to be safe, keep in mind that they do require a prescription. So you’ll need to consult with a doctor to make sure they’re right for you.

Test anxiety is incredibly frustrating, especially when you know you’ve prepared as well as you possibly can. Still, you don’t need to resign yourself to test anxiety. The right strategies and tools can help you remain calm and confident, and deliver a score that reflects the student you actually are.

Author's Bio: 

Katy Tripses is a Growth Lead at Kick Health, a company that helps smart, capable professionals overcome the fears that hold them back from being the very best versions of themselves. Our personalized telemedicine service offers easy access to beta-blocker prescriptions, the insider's edge to blocking nervous symptoms like racing heartbeat, shaky hands, or trembly voice. Kick is partnered with leading experts from Stanford, Yale, and Harvard in psychiatry, medicine, and emotional fitness.