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Stress Less Over Tests

Do you feel ‘butterflies’ in your stomach as your teacher hands out a test? You’re not alone. A lot of people feel stress when it’s time to take a test.

Those ‘butterflies’ are a sign of your body’s stress hormones at work. When you face a challenge (like a test), a little burst of stress helps you be more alert and focused. And that can help you do your best work.

But it’s up to you to keep your stress at a level you can manage. If you stress too much over tests — or if you get stressed about feeling stressed — it’s harder to do well. Getting too caught up in stress can distract you, keep you from preparing well, and lower your confidence.

How Can I Manage Test Stress?

How can you handle the stress that comes with tests? How can you use it to do well? And if you’re stressing too much over tests, how can you stress less? Try these tips:

  • Know that stress is natural — and can be helpful. It’s OK to feel stress when you have a test coming up. A little stress makes it more likely you'll put your effort into doing well. It can prompt you to prepare ahead of time. It can keep you on your toes when it’s time for the test.
  • Think of stress as a mental boost. A little stress is a good thing — if you think of it that way. Instead of trying to push stress away or getting upset that you feel it, notice how it makes you more alert and focused. Learn to put that mental energy to work.
  • Let stress prompt you to study. You may not want to think about the test you have next week, but ignoring it won’t make it go away. Instead, let stress push you to study.
  • Focus on what matters to you. When you feel stress, it’s a signal that something matters to you. If you’re stressed about a test, it means you care about doing well. Remind yourself, “I want to do well. So I’ve got to study well.” Then put your effort into what matters to you.
  • Be prepared for the test. Don’t wait until the night before the test to study. It’s best to study and review a few times in advance — and again the night before. If you need help with study skills, ask a teacher for tips. Or ask a classmate to be a study partner. If you've studied, you’ll feel more confident — and less stressed — when it’s time for the test.
  • Learn to use breathing to lower your stress. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. Let it out slowly. Do this a few times. Notice how it calms your body and clears your mind. Any time you feel stressed, take a moment to notice your breath. Let it be slow and steady, in and out. You can do this when you’re stressed over thinking about your test, studying for it, or when you’re getting ready to take it.
  • Get enough sleep the night before the test. Your mind is sharper when you've had enough rest. Getting enough sleep the night before a test will help you more than if you stay up all night studying. Make it a habit to get the sleep you need. It's a great way to keep stress low.
  • Smile, encourage yourself, and expect the best. When it’s time for the test or time to study, a positive outlook helps you perform. Think of stress as a way to power up to do well. Tell yourself, “I've got this.” As you start the test, remind yourself, “I studied, and I’m ready to do my best. Let’s see what I can do.” Then, take a breath, and go ahead.
  • Know that you can handle stress. Plenty of life’s everyday challenges prompt a bit of stress. Tests, tryouts, performances. Competing in sports, recitals, giving a talk in class.

    Sometimes, stress makes people feel like backing away from these challenges. But when you know you can handle the pressures that come with everyday stress, you can step up to the small challenges you face. Each time you do, you get a chance to grow in your ability to handle the next challenge. You might be surprised at what you can do.

What if My Test Stress Is too Hard to Handle?

For some people, test stress can feel overwhelming. This is sometimes called test anxiety. If you’re dealing with stress or anxiety that’s too hard to handle alone, ask for help. A parent, teacher, school counselor, or therapist can help you learn ways to overcome test anxiety.

When people learn and practice skills to lower test anxiety, they can learn to take tests with more calm and confidence.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date Reviewed: Dec 9, 2022

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