Straight Up Guide To Managing Test Anxiety

These guides were born out of Noah and Christine’s frustration with overly complicated and jargon-filled articles, newsletters, books, and therapy websites. Our mission is to create clear and practical guides in order to learn, grow from challenges, and lead more meaningful and impactful lives.


Here are 5 Tips to More Effectively Manage Test-Taking Anxiety:



1. Use Your Breath: By controlling and slowing down your breath during high stress moments, you can activate the “rest and digest” calm response in the nervous system. The will help improve focus, memory retention, and decrease any symptoms of stress like tension, racing thoughts, and restlessness.


Try This… Inhale to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 5. Repeat 5 times or until you feel the “calming response” kick in


2. Relax Your Muscles: If you are finding it hard to calm your mind (i.e., racing thoughts, worry), you might find it more effective to work on calming and relaxing the muscles in your body. The mind and body are connected and a relaxed body and muscles equals a more relaxed, focused, and clear mind.


Try This… Tense and release large muscle groups in your body one at a time or all at once. For example, take a slow breath in; then clench your fists, shrug your shoulders, and squeeze your thighs and/or buttocks. Hold the breath and muscle tension for 5 seconds, then slowly exhale and let your muscles go limp. Repeat 5 times or until you feel enough  relaxation of the body and mind.


3. Imagine Completion: If you imagine failure, then you are more likely to experience it. Therefore you should allow your imagination to work for you versus against you in your attempts at achieving success. Let your imagination empower you to get the job done!


Try This… Try walking yourself through the test or activity in your mind and envisioning yourself completing all the steps to the very end. Close your eyes, then imagine as much detail as you can, from walking into the classroom, sitting in your seat, looking at the time, answering each imagined exam question, maybe feeling anxious or having doubts about answers and ultimately figuring it out, then completing the exam.


4. “STOP” Bullying Yourself: Anxiety and stress can activate the inner bully inside the mind – that voice that fills you with self-doubt and forecasts doom and gloom. That voice can destroy your confidence, interfere with your memory retention, and distract you from what you’re doing. While you can’t control your thoughts or that bullying voice in your head, you can control how you respond to those thoughts.


Try This… When a stressful or bully type thought pops up in your mind, then STOP what you’re doing (S), take a slow breath (T), observe/notice that you are having that thought (O), then proceed (P) to add “I am having the thought that…” to the beginning of it. For example, “I am having the thought that I will fail this exam, which will result in me failing the class.” An easy to remember acronym “STOP” gives you some options on how to make mental room to realize that it’s just a thought and not literal fact or truth. Then you can make a choice about how to respond.


5. Let Go of Perfectionism: Many of us hold standards for ourselves that are just plain unrealistic or unattainable. For example, striving to know ALL the information on an exam is just not realistic or practical in terms of preparing for it. Accepting and allowing yourself to make mistakes, and using these mistakes as an opportunity for growth will boost confidence, self-esteem, and create more effective study habits.


Try This… When preparing for an exam, be sure that you set study time limits for yourself to decrease burnout and anxiety. Study or rehearse only the most important concepts and facts. Accept that there will be things you may not know, but  are confident in your knowledge of the most important and meaningful pieces of the exam.


Christine Izquierdo and Noah Laracy are the co-founders of Straight Up Treatment, an anxiety disorder specialty treatment center. Straight Up Treatment utilizes a variety of cognitive-behavioral approaches to treat anxiety-based conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social and Performance Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Depression, and Generalized Anxiety.


You can learn more about them here.


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