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How to Defeat Test Anxiety

How to Defeat Test Anxiety | Michael Mantell | Exam Preparation Blog | 1/16/2012


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Prepare, stay organized and practice.” You have probably heard those three pillars of how to pass any of the ACE certification exams before.

But somehow, no matter how much you follow that advice, there’s still that fear of mentally blacking out, those racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts about past performance, the “what if’s,” the nausea, sweating, headache, fast heartbeat — well, you get it. It’s test anxiety and it happens to the best of us. The good news is you can do something about it!

Let’s begin defeating test anxiety by understanding there are two types of anxiety: anticipatory and situational.

The first, anticipatory anxiety, is the distress — physical or mental — you feel while you are preparing for the exam and it floods your mind with negative, perfectionistic, self-critical thoughts that interfere with your ability to concentrate.

The second, situational anxiety, can occur while you are taking the test and causes physical and emotional distress that impacts your performance.

I’ve found that people who are prone to worry and think negatively are those who pressure themselves to perform perfectly, are truly unprepared, procrastinate, and erroneously believe that last minute cramming will help. And those are the most likely to suffer with test anxiety.

2 Ways to Rid Test Anxiety:

There are two primary methods to tackle test anxiety: relaxation methods and eliminating negative self-talk. Here is how you can do both to eliminate test anxiety.

1. Relaxation Methods

  • Tensing and Relaxing: Sitting on a chair, grab underneath the chair, and while pushing down on the floor with your feet, pull upon the chair for ten seconds. Then, let go and relax your body for ten seconds, repeating for two or three “reps.”
  • Palming Method: Closing your eyes with the palms of your hands and fingers on your forehead, imagine your most relaxing scene with as much detail as possible for one to two minutes.
  • Deep breathing: Sitting or lying down, slowly inhale “relaxation” through your nose, hold your breath for a count of three, and then slowly exhale “tension” through your mouth. Count twenty of these deep breaths.

2. Eliminating Negative Self-Talk

Outside events, such as tests, do NOT MAKE you feel anything. Instead, your thoughts about events, such as tests, create your feelings. Don’t like feeling anxious? Change what your tell yourself about the testing, your performance, the outcome, or what you predict will happen.

Here are some examples of erroneous, irrational, unproven negative beliefs and how to change them underneath.

  • DON’T: “I always do poorly on tests”
  • DO: “I’ve taken the exam review course, read the material, and have a better study approach to this test than any I’ve ever taken before.”
  • DON’T: “If I don’t pass this certifying exam, then I’m a failure”
  • DO: “I’ll pass, but if I don’t, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s not more than 100% bad, and I will learn how to pass it for the next time. This is not a test of my ‘self’ — it’s a test of my knowledge.”
  • DON’T: “No matter what I do, I can’t pass this test”
  • DO: “I have no proof that I ‘can’t’ pass this test — that’s just a thought I have. With the right preparation, just like others who have studied, I certainly can pass this test.”
  • DON’T: “There’s just too much to learn. It’s impossible”
  • DO: “There is a lot to learn, but I don’t need to know the answer to every question — I just need to pass.”

Catch the irrationality of your thinking by asking yourself:

  • What’s the evidence for and against my thoughts that are making me feel anxious? 
  • What’s the worst that could realistically happen? How bad would that truly be?

Final Suggestions

You might find it helpful to study with a buddy, a group, a class, or use a coach to help you rid yourself of test anxiety.

When I coach people for test taking on Skype, the phone, or in person, I have them write down their specific fears, the specific steps they will take to rid themselves of their self-created fears, and specifically how they will use relaxation, exercise and/or cognitive methods to avoid acting on these invented negative predictions. I also suggest establishing a “test anxiety reduction study schedule” as part of test preparation to work on anxiety reduction in a careful and precise manner.


Quick Tips to Defeat Test Anxiety:


  • Forget to breathe properly during the test!
  • Ignore your own regular workout schedule while preparing for the exam
  • Worry about questions that you don’t know—you may get a clue from other questions later in the exam
  • Believe that cramming will help. It won’t
  • Hang around with those who are anxious or filled with stress before the test
  • Give the test the power to define you


  • Remind yourself “it’s only a chance to show what I’ve learned,” “I know the material,” “I can pass this just like so many others who have prepared well like I have”
  • Eat a small handful of nuts and raisins before the test if it’s part of your healthy diet – this will give you a boost of energy
  • Work on the easiest portions of the test first
  • Avoid increased levels of caffeine, sugar and of course alcohol
  • Get sufficient sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly before the test
  • Be sure you relax before the exam and include dynamic stretching
  • Remind yourself that you can only do your best, and avoid being “the best”
  • Remind yourself of past successes
  • Visualize completing the test successfully
  • Use deep breathing, relaxation methods, stretching and cognitive self-control during the test
  • Take a short sanity break every ten or fifteen minutes during the test