Tips, strategies to minimize test stress

Testing season is upon us. But for a lot of students, that means test stress is creeping in, as well.

Although experiencing stress during an exam in college is completely normal, there are some strategies to keep in mind during the exam to minimize anxious feelings and stay focused.

“The most important things for me on test day are planning in advance, giving yourself enough time to be calm and sitting where you won’t be distracted,” said Antonina Shachar, a graduate student who works for the Center for Academic Success.

Shachar, who runs workshops and tutors students on research and study strategies, said keeping these tips and strategies in mind will help you succeed on test day:


  • In the weeks prior to the exam, plan time to visit the Center for Academic Success. There you can meet with tutors specializing in your areas of need and learn test-taking strategies that work for you.
  • Be sure to attend class in the days leading up to the exam. The professor will likely use this time to review, answer students’ questions and explain the format of the exam.
  • When studying, give yourself breaks to prevent burnout. Read a section at a time, and then reinforce the information learned by summarizing it, asking yourself questions about the material, and looking up visual aids like charts or concept maps to help organize the information.
  • If you having testing anxiety, research some calming exercises, such as breathing techniques, to use during the exam.
  • The night before, make sure your car has enough gas in it and that you have all materials you will need for the test, including your Panther ID, a blue book and pencils for the answer sheet.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter. Budget time to study in advance, and then get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping helps to consolidate memories in the brain.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast before the exam to stay focused. Remember to include fats, like those found in avocados and nuts, in your breakfast to help you stay focused. Stay away from junk foods that day, which can make you crash mid-test.
  • The morning of the exam, allocate extra time to get to campus and get settled. Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so be prepared. You don’t want to miss the first half of the exam because you’re stuck behind an accident on the Turnpike.
  • Dress in layers because you never know if a classroom at FIU is going to be hot or freezing, and you don’t want the atmosphere to distract you from the test.
  • Go to the bathroom before the exam.

When you get to the test:

  • Look over the exam before starting to help budget time efficiently. Make note of any essays and other questions that will take longer to answer, and consider making a pacing schedule for each section to keep you on track.
  • Write down key ideas, formulas and mnemonic devices in the margins so you do not forget them later.

During the test:

  • Don’t worry if others finish before you, and don’t race to finish first. Focus on the test in front of you, and take your time.
  • Always read the whole question carefully. Don’t try to guess what a question may be asking. Note any signal words like “except” or “compare” to ensure you answer the question in the way the professor wants.
  • On reading comprehension tests, read the questions first, if allowed, so you know what to look for while reading the passage. Highlight or underline key elements in the passage to easily identify them later while answering questions.
  • Outline an essay response first to ensure all aspects of the questions are answered and to help craft a clear and concise response.
  • On multiple choice questions, eliminate choices you know are wrong to increase the probability of choosing the correct answer.
  • If you come across a word you don’t know, look for context clues like prefixes, suffixes and sentence usage to help deduce its meaning.
  • If you do not know an answer, skip the question and come back to it. You may find clues to the answer later in the exam. But make sure to carefully note which questions you’ve skipped on your answer sheet so you don’t accidentally fill in the wrong bubbles on later questions.
  • When possible, show all work on math problems. Even if your final answer is incorrect, you may still earn partial credit for following the correct procedure.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the professor questions during the exam.

This article is part of our Secrets to Success series.