Test anxiety and I have a long and complicated history. I’ve always had performance anxiety. It stems from the agonizing pressure I’ve always felt to execute everything perfectly—coupled with a fear of failure. These insecurities go back as far as the first grade. Remember that classroom game, “Around the World”? Every time we played it, my anxiety would go through the roof! What was frustrating was that I KNEW the answers, but was so intimidated by the time pressure and having to answer in front of the entire class, that my confidence would dissolve and render me a sweaty, jittery ball of negative emotions. When I wasn’t focused on biting back nervous tears however, I would almost always answer correctly before my opponent. The problem was never my ability to answer the question, it was my crippling fear of being put on the spot. Test taking was little different. If anything, it was probably worse.
I’ve always been driven academically, but tests had invariably stood in my way as necessary evils. Like so many others struggling with test anxiety, I just pushed through every assessment, hoping that my intellect would prevail over my nerves in the end. I did overcome the anxiety, but it was difficult soldiering through the process without guidance or help. Once I became a tutor who specializes in testing, I realized that many of my students were struggling with the same anxiety that I had. I was determined that this mental obstacle should not continue to manifest as physical problems for them as it had for me. Putting my degree in Psychology to good use, I’ve worked with my students who struggle with test anxiety, and developed ways to help them overcome their fears so that they (and students like them) can perform better on test day.
How to Beat It
Anxiety can be undone with careful planning.
Of course, every student should prepare ahead for the exams, but when you’re struggling with anxiety, you have to take extra steps to ensure that angst doesn’t stand between you and success. If you are taken aback by any surprises on test day, you can become unsettled and anxiety will take over. On the other hand, if you know exactly what to expect from your testing experience, then you can go in prepared and feeling confident.
Timing is the number one enemy of any test taker.
It creates added pressure and tends to come across as a bigger bully than it needs to be. If you’re studying the structure and format of the test, then you can plan your time accordingly. Know the timing of each section of the test, how many questions you have to answer in that time, and the length and frequency of the breaks. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to plan and manage your test sessions. Take control of the time, and the clock becomes an ally instead of an adversary.
As an extension of knowing the test inside and out, you should also know what material the test will cover. Make sure you are studying the content as thoroughly as possible, so you aren’t caught off-guard by the test questions. If you know what type of questions you will be tested on, you can study all of the relevant aspects of the content. Check out our free study guides for quick AP®️ content review.
Take practice tests—as many as you can get your hands on!
But don’t just take them. Make the most of every practice session. It’s crucial that you replicate the test’s timing and the testing environment to overcome your anxiety. You’ve got to desensitize yourself to the test by taking it multiple times. Each time you go over the answers, don’t just score yourself. You should study the question types and the answers that appear on the test. Look for common devices meant to trick you so you can avoid them. Use the test to show you areas you still need to improve upon.
You can also feel better prepared by using a checklist to gather everything you need to bring with you into the testing site.
If you’re studying for AP®️ Exams, this test-day checklist has everything you need to get ready for your exam. At the top of the list: Get good sleep; eat a good breakfast; relax!
From there, you can focus on the psychological aspect of test preparation. Once you’ve done everything I’ve suggested to prepare yourself, be confident in your ability to conquer your test. Affirm yourself. Be sure to actively push away negative, worrisome thoughts and fill your mind with positive assurances. You’ve done all that you can do, and negative thoughts will only stand in your way.
If you follow these tips and your anxiety persists or is debilitating, then it’s time to talk with your parents and your guidance counselor about getting extra help. This problem is more common than you think and nothing to be ashamed of. Severe anxiety is normal, but isn’t anything that you want to try to resolve all by yourself, and that’s okay!