How to Ditch Test Anxiety with Strategic Preparation

(Psst–this is Part 1 in a 4-part series on overcoming test anxiety. )

Confidently approach exams like the exam slayer we both know you really are inside.

Imagine you have the final exam for your hardest class in 2 hours and 16 minutes. (But who’s counting?) Maybe you’re just waking up or you’re doing some last-minute review or busy work to keep your mind off the test. Perhaps you’re checking your exam schedule again to make sure you have the right time and room. Ugh, that room echoes. You’re packing your bag and remembering to bring extra pencils—or was it pen only?—just in case. And your water bottle, can’t forget that…. How are you feeling? Pumped? Full of energy or full of dread? Overwhelmed? Or feeling stoked to show what you know like a boss? Or maybe you’re thinking that if you had just a few more hours or days to study, or if your professor were actually able to teach, or if you didn’t waste half a day going to that study group, or if you didn’t have those other hard classes in the same semester, then you’d definitely be calm and collected for this test, right? We get it. It’s pretty common to be super anxious before a big exam, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Wait—what?

Yep, you can totally overcome test anxiety.

We know hundreds of students who used to freak out during exam times. We’ve seen everything from a little lack-of-sleep exam anxiety to full on panicking, office breaking-and-entering, self-sabotaging-for-a-medical-note level test anxiety. It ain’t pretty. But we’ve also seen these students through to the other side. It would be a lie to say they took a pill and—boom!—confident test taking machine. Overcoming test anxiety just doesn’t work like that. But it doesn’t have to be an epic UFC struggle either. Here are our tried and true ways to overcome test anxiety that we’ve tested over the years on our favorite human guinea pigs, first with friends, then students we tutored both off and online. The good news is that with a little upfront work and some mind-shifting tricks, you can learn to confidently approach exams like the test slayer we both know you really are inside.

Change your perspective from self-doubt to capable with solid preparation

A huge component of test anxiety is self-doubt, and there’s no better way to fuel self-doubt than to walk into a test completely unprepared. The good news is that lack of preparation is the easiest thing to change: prepare for your exam. It’s an action, not a mindset. Now, no one is born with the mad skills to study like a pro, but you can learn the tricks:

Get organized + plan your studying

Before you start studying it is mission critical that you create a game plan that focuses on key course content in a sensical way to get you dialed for an exam. Exam review needs strategy. This is what most students miss, and why they waste days, hours, and even weeks studying ad hoc, completely inefficiently on all the wrong topics. We don’t want that for you. Our free Exam Prep Guide can teach you how to prep for an exam quickly and efficiently.

Study strategically

Let’s say you have an awesome exam prep plan, so you know what you need to study and when. Virtual high-five! You’ve laid the ground work and also need to know how to study strategically and for an exam. And if you’re here, we’re likely talking about an engineering exam. Most students go through the motions trying practice problems, studying with friends, and generally crapshooting it. You, smartypants you, follow your study plan so you’re more strategic and use your time better, but you still might be studying instead of rehearsing for your big exam performance coming up. And you might know a little bit about how to problem solve in general, but you might not know how to problem solve on an exam specifically to maximize your points. An example of an engineering problem solving strategy is one that we developed called the Minimum Viable Solution framework. You’ll also find other non-engineering study strategies out there, if you do a little research. Having a successful strategy certainly deflates self-doubt.

Understand key course content

You might be surprised to find that course content knowledge is third in the preparation list. The reality is that content knowledge is only a piece of developing confidence for test taking, and it’s a piece that you can master if you have enough time or the right tools. A big part of studying for exams is developing content knowledge and understanding. (Problem solving strategies are the other huge part of studying in engineering.) Sometimes content absorption can be quick and dirty, and other times understanding your course content is an epic marathon battle. If you’re finding you just don’t have enough time, energy, willpower, or straight-up desire to muscle through your course content day in and day out, there are shortcuts – check out our Courses page and try out a course-specific Crammable. They’re specifically designed to get you from “huh?” to engineering exam guru for your engineering course in the quickest time known to mankind.

Bore your anxiety to death by rehearsing

Think of your test anxiety as a little kid. Little kids love novelty and get bored pretty quickly. So, when you bring your little, adorable Anxiety with you to exam day, he is all jazzed up and rowdy to go out to a big exciting event with you. Now, let’s imagine that you bring Anxiety out every day for a week. Every morning you get ready for your exam day, you get Anxiety all dressed up with his big boy undies, and off you go to your exciting event. How’s little Anxiety feeling? On day one he’s ecstatic! Day two, he’s happy. Day three, he’s a little slower at finishing his breakfast. Day four, he’s getting distracted by every puddle on the way to the exam. Day five, he’s in outright rebellion. Another exam day?! No way! Rehearsing for an exam builds on this idea: bore your little baby Anxiety to death before your real exams start. Make him want to stay at home while Confident You goes off to your test. Overcoming test anxiety might seem overwhelming at first, but its path is made up of totally doable steps. You can unquestionably learn how to prep, study, and rehearse with the best of them. In Part 2 in this test anxiety series, we’ll discuss how to shift your mindset about outside pressures to alleviate test anxiety. Until then, did you overcome test anxiety by prepping like an Olympian? Share your story with us!
You got this!
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