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Test Anxiety Strategies—A Practical Guide to Overcoming Exam Stress

Test Anxiety Strategies—A Practical Guide to Overcoming Exam Stress

Exam nerves are a common phenomenon experienced by students worldwide. While a little nervousness can sharpen focus and improve performance, excessive anxiety that often manifests as heightened worry or unease can have the opposite effect. Performance-related anxiety can cloud judgment, hinder performance, and lead to a cycle of fear and self-doubt, affecting your academic progress.

The fantastic news is that with the right techniques, you can manage and even overcome this problem. In this article, we’ll show you helpful test anxiety strategies to conquer exam stress and do your best.

Recognizing Your Test Anxiety Triggers

Recognizing what triggers exam nerves is crucial for developing effective test anxiety coping strategies. It entails knowing the following:

  1. Causes of test anxiety
  2. Common symptoms of test anxiety

What Causes Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety typically stems from several factors, such as a fear of failure or poor past performance. It’s not only about the test—it’s about the high-pressure situations that exams can represent. When faced with such circumstances, our bodies respond by releasing stress hormones like epinephrine, leading to physical changes that can trigger anxiety.

The physiological response is part of our body’s natural fight-or-flight mechanism, which typically kicks in when we face threatening situations. In the context of an exam, heightened arousal can become counterproductive, making it difficult to concentrate and recall information.

Common Symptoms of Test Anxiety

The symptoms of test anxiety typically fall into two categories: 

  1. Physical symptoms
  2. Psychological symptoms

Check out the table below for more details:

Physical Symptoms

Psychological Symptoms

  • Excessive sweating

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Stomach pain

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Headaches

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint

  • Muscle tension

  • Feelings of fear, self-doubt, and dread

  • Hopelessness

  • Feelings of inadequacy

  • Anger

While these symptoms result from elevated adrenaline levels, they can also intensify nervousness or contribute to panic attacks. Most techniques for coping with test anxiety entail alleviating these symptoms. 

Short-Term Methods To Reduce Test Anxiety

Knowing quick techniques to manage anxiety is crucial as they can provide immediate relief during potentially stressful situations like exams, interviews, or public speaking. Five ways to cope with test anxiety in the short term are:

  1. Breathing techniques for immediate relief
  2. Guided imagery for instant calm
  3. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) for physical relaxation
  4. Mindfulness exercises for grounding
  5. Beta-blockers as a temporary solution

Breathing Techniques for Immediate Relief

Breathing techniques can provide immediate relief from test anxiety. They slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, alleviating physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. 

One method that can be effective is 4-7-8 breathing. To use it, follow these steps:

  1. Breathe out until you feel you’ve expelled all air from your lungs
  2. Breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds
  3. Hold your breath for seven seconds
  4. Exhale forcefully through the mouth while pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound for eight seconds
  5. Repeat the cycle up to four times

Guided Imagery for Instant Calm

Guided imagery can help create a sense of calm, reducing physical and psychological symptoms of test anxiety. Visualizing a peaceful setting can distract your mind from the stress of the exam and induce a state of relaxation.

To leverage guided imagery to alleviate the symptoms of exam nerves, follow these four steps:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable place
  2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to start relaxing
  3. Visualize a peaceful, calm setting, such as a garden, lake, or a place by the sea
  4. Picture the scene in detail, imagining the colors, sounds, smells, and textures around you

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) for Physical Tension

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. It can be effective in alleviating physical tension and promoting a state of relaxation. To use PMR to calm nerves before an exam, follow these steps:

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place
  2. Tense the muscles in your feet while you count to ten
  3. Relax your feet, feeling the tension flow away
  4. Breathe deeply and slowly, staying relaxed
  5. Shift your attention to your calves, repeating the tension and release
  6. Continue this process with all muscle groups in your body

As you become more aware of physical sensations and learn to distinguish between tension and relaxation in your body, you’ll find it easier to handle anxiety.

Mindfulness Exercises for Grounding

Mindfulness exercises ground you in the present moment, preventing you from getting caught up in anxious thoughts about the exam. To practice a basic mindfulness exercise, follow these five steps:

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place
  2. Take a few deep breaths with your eyes closed
  3. Focus on the sensation of your breath
  4. Gently return your focus to your breath if your mind wanders
  5. Continue for a few minutes until you feel calm and centered

Beta-Blockers as a Temporary Solution for Exam Nerves

Beta-blockers are primarily prescribed for heart-related conditions, such as:

  • Angina
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat

These drugs block beta receptors in the heart, suppressing the release of adrenaline and reducing its effects on the body. They can help alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shaky voice and hands

Due to these effects, beta-blockers can be used off-label to cope with test anxiety. 

Check out the table below to learn about the drugs typically prescribed to people with occasional anxiety:


Available Doses

Typical Dose for Anxiety

Recommended for People With Respiratory Issues


  • 25 mg

  • 50 mg

  • 100 mg

25–100 mg

Yes—only at lower doses


  • 10 mg

  • 20 mg

  • 40 mg

  • 60 mg

  • 80 mg 

  • 120 mg

  • 160 mg

10–40 mg 


When Should You Take Beta-Blockers To Help With Test Anxiety?

You should take beta-blockers for anxiety only when needed. These drugs are meant for short-term use, so you may need comprehensive treatment if your exam nerves stem from chronic issues.

The specific dose may vary depending on several factors, such as your health status. To benefit from these drugs, you should tell your doctor about the particular anxiety issues you’re facing. With the use of beta-blockers for performance anxiety somewhat stigmatized, that can be easier said than done.

The good news is that telemedicine platforms like Kick let you consult healthcare professionals and get beta-blockers for anxiety prescribed while maintaining confidentiality.

Kick—A New Approach to Managing Test Anxiety

Source: August de Richelieu

Kick’s performance anxiety program eliminates the long waiting times and stress of visiting a healthcare provider in person. The consultation happens online, and you get medications delivered to your doorstep in discreet packaging, maintaining privacy.

Kick’s medications for performance anxiety include:

  1. Propranolol
  2. Atenolol

The drugs come with clear instructions on how to use them, ensuring you can use the medications safely and effectively.

Kick’s doctors also provide ongoing support. If you have any questions, you can text your doctor via the platform, and they’ll reply with specific answers.

How Kick Works

To get started with Kick, follow these three steps:

  1. Sign up to start your 10-minute consultation
  2. Complete the form to help us understand your health status and anxiety issues
  3. Provide your delivery and payment details

Our team will review your medical information and prescribe the most appropriate medication for you. If you’re not the best candidate for the program, you won’t pay for the initial consultation, according to our Doctor Guarantee.

Kick’s program has numerous positive reviews on Trustpilot, demonstrating our commitment to helping patients overcome situational anxiety.


Common Side Effects of Beta-Blockers

While beta-blockers can be effective for anxiety, they carry the risk of side effects, such as:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Mood changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

This list isn’t exhaustive. Inform your doctor immediately if you experience unexplained bodily changes while on beta-blockers.

Long-Term Coping Strategies for Test Anxiety

Long-term strategies are essential for managing test anxiety, especially if it stems from chronic issues like social or generalized anxiety disorder. These strategies can help address the root cause of exam nerves, helping you reach a lasting solution.

Four ways to cope with test anxiety in the long term are:

  1. Study and revise regularly
  2. Engage in regular physical exercises
  3. Maintain a balanced diet
  4. Get 7–9 hours of sleep

Study and Revise Regularly

Regular study and revision involve systematic learning and practice. This approach can reduce test anxiety by increasing your familiarity with the material and boosting your confidence in your ability to recall the information during the test.

Some tips for making the most of your study sessions include:

  • Allocate specific times for studying each day—This helps establish a routine and ensures that you have enough time to cover all the material
  • Break the material down into manageable sections—This can make studying less overwhelming and more productive
  • Engage with the material—Make flashcards, summarize information in your own words, or present the material to someone else
  • Take regular breaks—You could study for 25 minutes and take 5-minute breaks to improve information recall
  • Practice under test conditions—This can help you get used to the pressure and improve your performance on the actual test

No matter which of these test anxiety tips you try, the key to effective studying is consistency. Regular, focused study sessions are much more effective than last-minute cramming.

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko

Engage in Regular Physical Exercises

Studies suggest that physical exercises can boost self-confidence, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive performance. Aerobic exercises such as brisk walks, bike rides, or dance classes can help release your tension and stabilize your mood.

Regular physical activities can also improve sleep and boost mental health. These benefits contribute to a reduction in overall tension and anxiety, providing a long-term solution for managing test anxiety.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Proper nutrition provides the brain with essential nutrients, which can enhance cognitive function and mood. Enriching your diet with whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels, preventing spikes and crashes that can exacerbate anxiety.

Foods rich in magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to lowered anxiety, so you should include them in your diet as well. Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can worsen anxiety symptoms.

Get 7–9 Hours of Sleep

Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can impair cognitive function, concentration, and mood, contributing to anxiety. To maintain healthy sleep hygiene, aim for 7–9 hours of sleep per night. You should also try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Create a sleep-friendly environment that’s dark, quiet, and comfortable, and avoid looking at a screen 30–60 minutes before bed to help your mind wind down.

These strategies can also be helpful if you need to calm nerves in other situations, including interviews, on-stage performances, or even public debates. For lasting results, consider combining them with anxiety medications meant for long-term use, such as antidepressants.

Supporting Others—How To Help Someone With Test Anxiety

Source: Christina Morillo

If someone you know often experiences test anxiety, you can help them cope with the situation. Some helpful tips for supporting others with exam nerves include:

  • Encourage self-care—Remind them of the importance of taking time for activities they enjoy to help reduce stress
  • Practice patience—Help them understand that progress may be slow and that that’s okay
  • Advise them to set realistic goals—Setting achievable goals can boost their confidence and reduce anxiety
  • Encourage open communication—Let them know it’s okay to talk about their fears and concerns
  • Provide a quiet study space—If possible, help them create a calm, quiet space where they can study without interruptions
  • Remind them of their value—Let them know that their worth isn’t determined by a single exam score

Keep in mind that it’s always best to visit a healthcare professional to get the best treatment, regardless of how supportive friends and family members are. 

Featured image source: Andy Barbour