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10 Tips for Test-taking Anxiety

November 2021

You’ve studied and prepared, you’ve taken multiple practice tests and now it’s the moment of truth. This is the real deal and it feels like your grad school fate is riding on how well you do! No pressure …

Naturally some anxiety is going to surface, but there are also ways to manage it so that you can be in the best possible state of mind when you take your test.

  • Be prepared. Sure, taking the practice tests and prep courses won’t alleviate all your anxiety when the actual day arrives, but practicing will certainly help versus just going in blind and hoping for the best.
  • Eat a light meal and don’t drink alcohol the night before the test. Alcohol works as a depressant and the last thing you want to do is go to the test hungover.
  • Get a good night’s rest. This can be easier said than done if you’re worrying about a test, but there are ways to help clear your mind before going to bed.
    • Shut off the television. Watching TV before bed tends to stimulate the mind, not relax it.
    • Read a book (not a test prep book). This will take your mind off all things test related and helps to induce a state of relaxation and sleepiness.
    • Write down all the things you’re worried about on a piece of paper or in a journal and put it away. Some people call this a “brain dump,” but getting those thoughts out of your head and onto physical paper actually helps.
    • Do some deep breathing. This is a proven, effective method of relieving stress. Just a few minutes of this practice can significantly reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Change your point of view — instead of worrying about failing, visualize yourself passing the test.
  • On the day of the test, do the deep breathing exercises again that you did the night before.
  • Perspective is everything. One test won’t determine your entire future. Most tests can be taken more than once, and most schools are putting more weight into all your other worthy qualifications. Just relax and take it one question at a time.
  • Don’t tell anyone you’re taking the test, if possible. Having a bunch of people ask you about studying, giving you unsolicited advice and asking if you’ve gotten your results back every day just puts more pressure on you. And if you don’t do as well as you would’ve liked, you won’t have the added pressure of feeling like you let people down. Just move on to the next one.
  • Make sure you arrive early so you can mentally and physically prepare (keep doing those breathing exercises) and don’t feel rushed.
  • Be present. When you sit down to finally take the test, clear your mind and just focus on the task at hand. There’s no point in worrying about whether you studied enough (too late for that) and don’t get wrapped up in all the “what-ifs” of not passing. There’s no point in that either.
  • Give yourself a reward afterwards. Regardless of how you think you did, you worked hard, and you deserve a little treat — whatever lifts your spirits.

Taking a standardized test is probably not on anyone’s bucket list, but these tests help to paint a significant part of the self-portrait of qualities you want to present to graduate admissions committees. Plus, once you employ the anxiety reducing tools outlined above, your sigh of relief when you get the score you wanted will be audible.

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