Many students face some degree of test anxiety. For some, it’s a nagging, nail-biting concern that they won’t perform up to their own expectations, even if they’ve diligently studied for the exam. Others face test anxiety at deeper levels, which can range from a tendency to second-guess each answer they submit, to a fear so gripping that they panic and “go blank,” unable to write down their responses or complete the test on time.

Given the stakes of exams, it’s no wonder that students experience test anxiety. However, they don’t need to suffer to the degree that they may currently experience. In her text FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition, Dr. Constance Staley provides readers with some advice that can help them ease their test anxiety. First, she lists four different (yet interrelated) components that comprise the anxious experience that many students have at test time:

  • Cognitive: What you’re thinking (“I never do well on tests… I think I’m going to fail this one”)
  • Emotional: Your feelings around the test (e.g., nervousness; frustration; annoyance)
  • Behavioral: Movements and “tics” that you engage in as you take the test (e.g., drumming your pen on your desk; twirling your hair; tapping your feet)
  • Physiological: physical reactions that you can’t seem to help (e.g., sweating; rapid heartbeat; faster breathing) (Staley, 301)

Once students recognize these as symptoms of their test anxiety, they can begin to address them. Staley follows up these observations with strategies that help students mitigate the effects of these reactions. We’ve adapted them below:


  • Acknowledge your strengths. Some of us feel that we perform better on multiple-choice or essay exams; others excel at solving equations. Recognize this about yourself, while still preparing yourself to do the best you can. (You might also want to practice your test-taking strategies as part of your studies.)
  • Don’t automatically assume the worst. Keep things in perspective, and don’t allow thoughts of failure, doom, or disaster to bring you down.


  • Know that rest will help you keep a positive attitude. A sacrifice of sleep—especially when paired with a diet of those sugary, fatty snacks you’re so tempted to eat when you’re stressed—can take a heavy tool on your moods and mental outlook.
  • Discard distracting thoughts. To the best of your ability, don’t let concerns about unrelated issues crowd your head as you complete the exam. Endeavor to stay focused on the task at hand and keep your desire to succeed at the front of your mind.


  • Get your exercise. Even moderate activity (walking, jogging, swimming) can be a great outlet for stress relief.
  • Step outside for a while. Whether you play in the park, hike in the hills, or stroll on the beach, taking the time to enjoy nature can give you some fresh air and a fresh outlook.


  • Breathe deeply. Slow, deep breaths and other relaxation techniques can help you calm your nerves (and carry more oxygen to your brain).
  • Seek help. If you’re still experiencing serious anxiety, talk to a counselor or campus adviser, who can arm you with some additional strategies for reducing your stress and anxiety levels. (Staley, 302)

Within the Instructor’s Edition of FOCUS on College Success, Staley also suggests a related class activity that can facilitate shared learning among your students:

Divide students into four groups and ask each group to focus on the cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or physiological aspect of test anxiety. Ask the groups to come up with five suggestions on how to deal with this area of anxiety. Share the suggestions with the group. (302)

As students adopt these strategies, they’ll likely feel less anxious and more prepared to succeed on their exams.


Reference: Staley, Constance. 2015. FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition.Boston: Cengage Learning.


How do you encourage students to address their test anxiety? Discuss your strategies in the comments section below.