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Stress Management Techniques for Reducing Test Anxiety

Choose one or two of the techniques that you believe will be the most helpful to you. Use them for several tests this quarter. Not all techniques are successful for all people. If the ones you try donýt seem to work for you, try some of the others presented here.

“If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you have to fear.”
— Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

The way you think about a situation dictates how you will react to it. If you are thinking about test situations in a negative, worried, or fearful way, you will likely have a high degree of test anxiety. You are scaring yourself by telling yourself you cannot handle tests. These thoughts are self–defeating.

To challenge your self–defeating thoughts, first identify what you say to yourself about tests. These statements typically have “catastrophic” overtones. Once you recognize what you are saying to yourself, come up with a realistic coping statement. Coping statements allow you to problem–solve instead of panic.

Catastrophic statement Coping statement
“I could never study enough for this test.” “I have a lot to study for this test, but if I stick to my schedule, I can do it.”
“I have a lousy memory. There’s no way I can memorize all of the vocabulary for my Biology mid–term.” “I can do well on this test if I prepare ahead of time. I will need to make vocabulary cards and work with a study partner.”
“This test is worth 50% of my grade. If I don’t do well on this…”  

When you feel anxious, listen to what you are telling yourself. Interrupt your anxiety-producing thoughts by yelling “STOP” to yourself. Take a deep breath, and make yourself come up with a coping statement. Do this as often as necessary before and during a test. Use the following procedure to learn this technique.

Silent practice: Think of a recent test in which you experienced anxiety. Bring up enough of the details that you start to feel some discomfort and anxiety. Focus on what you are saying to yourself.

  1. Silently yell “STOP.”
  2. Breathe deeply several times.
  3. Come up with a coping statement.

Written practice: Think of a recent test in which you experienced anxiety. Bring up enough of the details that you start to feel some discomfort and anxiety. Focus on what you are saying to yourself.

  1. Silently yell “STOP.”
  2. Breathe deeply several times.
  3. Write a coping statement that helps you problem–solve instead of panic.

Oral practice: Think of another test situation in which you experienced anxiety. This time, practice the thought–stopping technique out loud, but away from other people.

Practice the thought–stopping technique any time you begin to feel anxious. Eventually, it will become a method that feels comfortable and almost automatic.

It is self–defeating to tell yourself that your test performance is not in your control. These thoughts create anxiety and prevent you from studying effectively. Focus on what you can do to improve your test performance.

There are many resources available at Utah State University to help you succeed in your classes and test situations. You can get information about these resources at the Academic Success Programs, Taggart Student Center, Room 304A, (435) 797-4027.

Deep breathing is one of the simplest techniques you can use to reduce anxiety before, during, and after a test. Breathing provides you with oxygen necessary to think clearly and releases physical tension at the same time.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Breath through your nose. Breathe in deeply into your abdomen. Pause before you exhale.
  3. Breathe out from your abdomen slowly.
  4. Use each inhalation as a moment to become aware of any tension in your body. Use each exhalation as an opportunity to let go of tension.
  5. Repeat once, then return to the test.

Use this technique before a test to calm yourself and improve your concentration. Create a visualization that works for you. Remember, the purpose of visualization is to help you relax and cope.

If you find it difficult to use relaxation strategies on your own, seek the guidance of a professional in the Utah State University Counseling Center Taggart Student Center, Room 306, (435)797-1012.


  • Imagine a scene that feels pleasurable and relaxing.
  • Let yourself stay with that scene for a few moments
  • Once you feel relaxed, imagine going in for your test.
  • Imagine yourself calmly sitting down, waiting for the professor to pass out the test. As you receive the test, you say to yourself “I am prepared. Relax. Concentrate.” You turn the test over and read the directions, planning your time carefully. You read and answer the first question…

Visualization: “Quick pics”

  • Think about something melting when you want to relax. “Melting” evokes many images:
  • snow melting in the sun
  • a flame melting candle wax
  • marshmallow melting in hot chocolate
  • butter melting in a pan
  • chocolate chips melting in Toll House cookies

Progressive muscle relaxation is a very effective technique, which you can use daily as well as before and after a test situation. Psychologists Steve Sprinkle and Bonnie Lambourn from Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Counseling Center have recorded two audio files outlining relaxation exercises that you can download for your own use.

Avoid people or situations that create anxiety.

  • Avoid discussing course material with other students immediately before the test. Last minute cramming generally causes more anxiety and concern about how and what you studied.
  • Pay attention to the time allotted for the test, but avoid excessive clock–watching
  • Avoid getting to the test “just in time.” Plan to arrive early to settle in and relax.
  • Avoid food or drinks that are stimulants and increase “jitters.” (This varies by individual).
  • Avoid believing rumors you hear about the test. Check it out with the person who really knows – your professor!
  • Avoid talking about your test grade with other students if this increases your anxiety. If you feel uncomfortable with being asked “How did you do”, respond with “I did as well as I expected.” or “I'd rather not talk about my grades.”
  • Avoid checking the progress of other students during the test. Remember: it doesn’t take long for someone to complete a test when he/she hasn't studied.
  • Conduct your post–test review by yourself if discussion with your classmates increases your anxiety.