How to Manage Test and Exam Anxiety

Jamie McMahon

Do you ever feel that you forget everything before a test begins because you are so nervous? Do you ever feel physical symptoms such as nausea before taking a test? Do you have intrusive thoughts before writing an exam? If so, I promise you that you are not alone. Many university students experience test anxiety for a number of reasons. I am going to share with you some of the strategies that have helped me, and many other students manage our test anxiety.

University can be difficult. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all of our commitments which can make exam season quite stressful and nerve-racking. This resource is to help you manage feelings of anxiety in relation to test taking (anxiety disorder is different from testing anxiety).

Ted Rogers School’s Academic Success Centre offers many different learning resources, programs and supports that will help you reduce your test anxiety. You can book an appointment with a Peer Academic Coach or the Learning Strategist to discuss strategies to reduce your testing anxiety. The ASC’s Train to Learn Workshop will help you gain the edge on your online exams so that you can best prepare for your exams to reduce your test anxiety. Ryerson also provides counselling services to provide you with mental health resources and support to help reduce your anxiety, stress, etc.

Why do we experience test anxiety?

Students experience test anxiety for a number of different reasons. Understanding the roots of our test anxiety can help us determine how we should go about managing it. Some of the key causes of test anxiety include:

Student writing an exam at a desk
  • A history of poor testing results. This can make us anxious about the future process of test taking no matter how prepared we are.
  • A feeling of lack of control over the testing situation.
  • Pressure from the test taking environment, and/or fear of not finishing the test on time.
  • Lack of preparation, and/or feeling that our study skills are poor.
  • Do not feel that we truly understand the material.
  • Fear of failure. We may have high expectations for ourselves, or we may associate our grades with our personal worth.

Many of these causes relate to our test preparation strategies and our mindset towards test taking. It is important to remember that test grades do not reflect our personal worth or intelligence. Rather, they reflect our behaviour and the actions that we take to best perform on our tests.

How can we proactively manage test anxiety before exam season begins?

Although test anxiety might appear right before taking a test, the strategies that we use throughout the whole semester can help us proactively manage our test anxiety before exam season approaches.

In the past, I would cram a few days before each exam. This made exam season very stressful because I had to spend the whole day trying to learn a full semester’s worth of material. Because I was cramming in such a small period of time, I was not able to truly understand the course material. I subconsciously knew that I did not fully understand the course material, so I lacked confidence before and during my exams. On top of that, I also figured that because I would perform poorly on other exams, the same would happen for this exam. All of this made me very anxious right before I wrote my exams.

Open book

What many students do not realize, is that we can proactively manage that horrible feeling of testing anxiety from day one of the semester by changing our study habits and strategies. Take my experience as an example: One semester, I decided to stop cramming and began reading the textbook and lecture slides before class, attended class and then reviewed my notes later on that week.

I would ensure that I understood everything from each week so that I did not have to try to learn or understand it when exam season creeped up. I also made a condensed document with all the key concepts that I thought was needed for each test.

Then, once exams came around, I did not have to cram because I already knew and understood all of the course material; I only had to review most of the material. Once I realized that this method increased my grades dramatically, I began to continue using it, and my testing anxiety began to disappear because I became confident in my test taking skills. Although this exact strategy may not work for everyone, it is quite likely that it will help with reducing your test anxiety.

How can we manage test anxiety before and during an exam?

Even if we have spent the entire semester preparing for a test, we can still experience feelings of anxiety before taking a test. And that is OK! Here are some strategies that you can use to manage some of that anxiety:

  • Get enough sleep to help with concentration and memorization.
  • Eat nutritious foods before the test to fuel your brain so that you achieve your top performance. Avoid eating too many carbs as they may make you tired.
  • Prepare your testing space early. Feeling rushed to organize your space and log onto D2L can escalate your anxiety.
  • Accept your emotions; you are likely feeling anxious because your grades are important to you.
  • Turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Treat yourself as you would your own friends. What would you tell your friends to ease their test anxiety?
  • Breathe deeply and focus on your surroundings. Think about the things you can see, smell, feel, hear and taste to calm yourself down.
  • Carefully read instructions and questions.  Do not rush.
  • Do not pay attention to what others are doing during the test. Focus on your own test and pace. 
  • Once the test is done, reward yourself for your hard work with a treat, a walk, etc. (have this in mind before the test starts so you can focus on the reward after the test).
  • When you are ready, reflect on your test experience.


Student smiling at her laptop

Test anxiety is a completely normal feeling that many university students experience. We can proactively manage our test anxiety by studying course material throughout the entire semester rather than attempting to cram a whole semester’s worth of material within a few days. We can also manage our feelings of test anxiety before and during a test, by getting proper sleep, nutrition, turning intrusive thoughts into positive thoughts and by ignoring what others are doing during the test.

Ryerson provides many resources that you can use to manage your testing anxiety. Booking an appointment with a Peer Academic Coach will help you form an efficient study schedule to help you prepare for finals. In addition, attending T2L workshops will help you learn how to best prepare for your exams, and reaching out to counselling resources and supports will help you manage your stress and anxiety. I encourage you to use these resources as they will help you improve your academic performance while managing your testing anxiety.


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Norquest College (2019), “Reducing Test Anxiety”. Retrieved from

RU Connected Learning (2019 July 26), ASC Coaching Circle: Managing Test Anxiety :