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9 Ways to Manage Your Test Anxiety

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Feeling nervous as you prepare for the GMAT or another important test is totally normal.

Standardized tests have a lot riding on them, and a touch of test anxiety is to be expected. Test anxiety symptoms can range from a mild case of the butterflies to more severe manifestations such as sweating, a racing pulse or nausea.

But sometimes, this anxiety can get in the way of your performance. If you find that negative emotions, racing thoughts, and physical symptoms are preventing you from fulfilling your potential, it’s time to tackle that test anxiety.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to manage your nerves and get the test score you’re hoping for. Here are nine tips to help you stay calm and focused.

Nine Tips to Manage Test Anxiety Like a Pro

1. Channel your nerves

It might sound counterintuitive, but your nerves can sometimes help rather than hinder you.

“Channel your natural nervousness into fully preparing, allowing you to feel confident when you are ready to test,” Jamie Nelson, a GMAT instructor at Manhattan Prep, advises.

“Not to feel some level of anxiety would be the exception, not the norm. A slight amount of anxiety can be positive if it increases your test performance by inspiring you to study and prepare more,” she says.

Start your preparation early, and you’re much more likely to enter the final test feeling familiar with the material and ready to tackle it.

2. Have a practice run

Completing a full practice test can also help you stamp out the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.

“Once students have taken some practice tests, they’re often amazed at how much their anxiety levels decrease,” Jamie notes.

To prepare yourself fully, try to complete a practice test in the same conditions you will experience during the real thing. Find a quiet place to focus, and time yourself. Getting comfortable with testing conditions and practicing your timing strategy this way can help you feel more at ease when test day arrives.

Why not incorporate the optional 10-minute break into your practice test routine? The break offers an opportunity for a mental recharge. And if you’re preparing for an online test, like the GMAT Online, this practice run is a valuable opportunity to get to grips with the software you’ll be using on the day.

3. Try breathing or mindfulness exercises

Many people turn to calming practices to handle their nerves – including nervousness about tests.

“Some test-takers find that breathing exercises and mindfulness meditations are helpful when handling test anxiety,” Jamie explains.

One simple exercise you can try is breathing in through your nose for the count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling slowly for a count of eight. This can be repeated a few times.

Deep breathing is a simple way to signal to your brain that you are safe and there’s no emergency, which dampens symptoms of stress.

Among her top tips for GMAT Online test-takers, Bara Sapir, of City Test Prep, says candidates should embody an optimal mindset. “Incorporate holistic and mindful techniques to increase focus, improve confidence, promote perseverance, and eliminate anxiety,” she says.

4. Talk to someone

As the old adage goes, "a problem shared is a problem halved", and this holds true for the problem of test anxiety.

Sharing your fears with a trusted friend or family member can help put things into perspective. Because they know you well, they can help challenge the negative thoughts about yourself and the world that fuel anxiety.

They might even have experienced test anxiety themselves and could offer some helpful tips for handling the situation. If they have performed poorly on a test before, they can also offer reassurance that one failed test is not a life sentence.

For more severe cases of test anxiety, you might consider speaking to a professional for further guidance. “You could work with a performance coach, who can prescribe special cognitive behavioral approaches to managing anxiety,” Jamie suggests.

Speaking with a licensed therapist could also help you get to the root of your anxiety and develop longer-term coping strategies.

5. Allow time for rest

Finally, simple acts of self-care can go a long way toward reducing anxiety. Studies show that adequate sleep is linked to emotional wellness, since well-rested people are better able to manage difficult emotions like stress and nervousness.

Finding time to rest can be tricky when you have an important test coming up, but it’s a crucial component of your overall prep strategy. Consider scheduling some relaxing activities you enjoy, whether that’s a long walk, a bath, or movie night.

Taking a few hours to wind down the night before your test could also ease your nerves, while promoting the sound sleep that will sharpen your focus on the day.

6. Be positive

Remind yourself of past successes and exams and remind yourself that you can do it! Having a positive mindset will help you manifest a higher score. An exam won't tell you whether you're the most brilliant (or least brilliant) student in your class.

7. Be mindful about what you eat and drink on exam day

Sometimes stress can make you stress eat and feel sick. High anxiety can also magnify the impact of caffeine, making you jittery. Be mindful of what you eat on test days help yourself feel good and perform better.

8. Get to the test site early

The last thing you want to do on your exam day is already be stressed before you start the test. Driving and parking can be stressful events so plan to get to the test site early. When you get to the site, engage in a calming routine such as walking, meditating, breathing, or listening to music and avoid talking with other test takers whose anxieties may impact your own.

9. Manage your test anxiety during the test

Last but not least, you want to have an anxiety control routine for if your anxiousness starts peaking while you’re taking your exam. A few quick and simple exercises can help get you back on track if you feel yourself spiraling.

  • Close your eyes.
  • Inhale for seven counts.
  • Exhale for seven counts.
  • Repeat for two to four sequences until your body starts releasing tension.

This routine should only take about a minute and will help you relax and refocus.

Everyone is different, and stress reduction techniques that work for one person might not work for another – but we hope these tips are a jumping off point toward finding the best strategies for you. Good luck!