I study so hard for my tests that I know I know the material, but then I always panic and bomb. How can I reduce my test anxiety?

Certainly, the fear of taking exams is not an irrational one; most everyone suffers from some form of test anxiety — a knot in the stomach, damp hands, dry mouth. But if you're so nervous that you can't collect your thoughts or feel doomed to fail, you've got to pull yourself together before test time.

First, reduce the worrisome thoughts that provoke test anxiety, which are almost always negative and self-defeating. "Everyone in this class is smarter than I am." "If I don't do well on this exam, I'll flunk the course." "These are trick questions." Don't sabotage yourself like this! Instead, dispute each negative thought with a positive statement. Encourage yourself as you would a friend. Don't try to eliminate fear totally; just keep it manageable.

Spread your review over several days rather than cramming the night before, doing the most intense review a few days before the test. Spend the night before the exam reviewing your text, notes and homework, but don't forget to eat well and get sufficient rest.

Finally, on test day, make sure you're wearing comfortable clothes; breathe slowly and deeply; and each time you breathe out, tell yourself to relax. Then,

  • Read the directions carefully.
  • Budget your test-taking time.
  • Change positions to stay comfortable in your seat.
  • If you go blank, skip the question and go on.
  • If you're taking an essay test and you go blank on the whole test, pick a question and start writing anyway. It will trigger your thoughts.

And finally, don't panic when others start handing in their papers. There's no reward for finishing first.