6 Tips for Fighting Test Anxiety

Today’s guest blogger is Ellen from Brain Leaders and Learners. She’s sharing her six favorite tips for helping students to overcome test anxiety.

6 Tips for Fighting Test Anxiety

Spring sends a refreshing new lilt into some students’ steps. Daylight stretches into late evening, outdoor events replace closed-in classes, and young friendships tend to blossom into new life for many students. Have you seen it?

Why, then, does winter’s melt into spring shoot test anxiety to cripple many students, as tests trigger stress?

STUCK as a Pack-rat?

Students come to tests weighted down by fear and panic linked to even tiny trip-ups from their past. When their brains’ basal ganglia storehouse overflows with past failures, anxieties, and unmet expectations, they resemble pack-rats whose excess rubbish slows down their progress.

SHAKE UP RUTS with cool test taking approaches in the following ways:

  • Store lively new study approaches, and your brain will begin to default to these new experiences. For instance, add classical music in the background to increase focus.
  • Sketch your main ideas from the text; then draw the same sketch in the margin of your exam page as a guide to writing from facts your sketch represents.
  • Go for a walk and ask yourself key questions about what you studied to see how well you can answer.
  • Teach a few main facts to your dog as a way to help you remember.

LAUGH Get Lost?

Tests tend to rob the sheer adventure of learning for some students. When serotonin (the brain’s well being chemical) gets depleted, learners lose their zest for test-taking. Serotonin regulates learning so that you can apply clear thinking in tests.

“ROMANCE THE JOY of learning,” Alfred Lloyd Whitehead said.

How so? Choices you make about contentment can amp up joy for test taking in the following ways:

  • Laugh at yourself and laugh whenever you make a mistake in order to fuel contentment and raise learning takeaways. Serotonin will do the rest!
  • Surround yourself with people who enjoy taking tests, and then copy or mimic what they do to make a difference.
  • Get enough sleep and stay calm before the test by doing something you enjoy.
  • Wherever you see a problem, jot down a possibility, since serotonin can be depleted by facing problems without sleep to help you reach for solutions.
  • Choose to enjoy the journey, and then list five ways you plan to make that happen.
  • Check off each adventurous choice that helps you laugh and play with facts before the test.

REBOOT Needed?

Every time a student acts on test anxiety, the brain rewires itself for more anxiety that night in REM sleep. A learner’s actions (such as panicked preparations for a test) literally reshape the brain mentally and physically for more of the same. Your brain’s plasticity reshapes your brain after each test preparation you do – good or bad.

ACT ON PLASTICITY (which is your brain’s ability to change itself), and improved results will come to test-taking in the following ways:

  • Play your way into understanding new facts that will change your brain!
  • Apply content in fun new ways for the best results, since that activates your brain’s plasticity.
  • Compete with teams to see who can come up with answers faster, draw the answers without using words, teach others as you learn yourself, rap the facts, or create a collage to engage parents.
  • Laugh to relax and boost enzymes, and log your progress in an interactive journal.
  • Tweet your answers to peers, build a mock-up to represent your ideas, pose two-footed questions to engage others in class, link to a listserv to build a community of ideas, and use good tone skills to engage opposing views.

BRAIN Too Small?

Too many facts with too few applications leaves you frustrated and overwhelmed. Your brain comes with a working memory, which is like a mental sticky note that holds a few ideas at a time until you apply them, play with them, use them to create a new innovation, and practice them. Working memory’s thimble-sized capacity holds few facts and lets these go when other facts arrive.

OUTSOURCE WORKING MEMORY with simply crafted cheat sheets to keep multiple intelligences fluid (See MI Chart below) and advance your test taking skills in the following ways:

  • Create recipe sized cards (with a few keys words only) to practice and apply significant facts.
  • Accept the discomfort in working memory to attain the thrill of inventors and innovators who learn to use mistakes as stepping stones to creative solutions.
  • Glance over key facts in your working memory just before taking a test.
  • Imagine you are the apple, or leader, in your lesson, and act as you would in that situation.
  • Create a story or sketch to help you outsource new facts by hooking them to what you already know so they stick.
  • Use working memory facts to help you integrate into bigger ideas.

FUELING for Stress?

Students fall into disadvantages daily whenever their brains fuel with cortisol, a stress chemical. Cortisol comes with and is exacerbated through fear, regret, stress, anxiety, or disappointment. The results? Learning shuts down, anxiety increases, and negative reactions replace risk and adventure that progresses learning.

CHASE AWAY CORTISOL that can literally shrink your brain, lead to illness, or shave years off your life by running from a desire to be perfect.

  • Avoid last-minute anything and plan ahead for the success you crave.
  • Surround yourself with people who focus on possibilities more and vent about problems less.
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh! Smile at flaws to chase away cortisol and refuel with chemicals for well-being.
  • Thank people, forgive missteps, and refuse to blame for mistakes or shortcomings.
  • Brainstorm for others’ ideas that help you to learn, practice body language for good tone that decreases cortisol, welcome others’ talents and offer yours in any group, choose to capitalize on all talents, and hook new facts to what you already know by creating charts and visual possibilities.


Students who enter class with an untamed amygdala (the seat of their emotions) will enter tests without the tools to succeed. The amygdala stores all past responses, such as bullying, cheating, worrying, or rejecting help that would help you enjoy tests. This tiny sac of neurons acts like a lightning rod for some students who have met many test-taking failures.

RAISE EMOTIONAL IQ by altering what you store in your amygdala.

  • Hang out with friends with good moods, and try tone skills, such as thanking others, disagreeing respectfully, listening to and learning from others who differ.
  • Act in opposite directions of anger, moodiness, displeasure, and your amygdala learns to relax and tackle problems with positive moods.
  • To act on moods that create possibilities for all is to tame amygdala reactions that create emotional panic, anxiety, or discouragement.
  • The key to a tamed amygdala is to act on good moods. Observe and copy those you respect to learn how they store healthy emotions. Play with healthy responses and ignore mistakes to reach for confidence that embraces risk.

Try one or two of these test preparation approaches with MI tasks listed below.

With the ever-increasing emphasis on testing, so too rises test anxiety. Help your students overcome their test anxiety with these brain-based tips.
Think it’s possible to go for gold and yet run from gloom? A related brain-based product is at Test My Brain – Don’t Test Me! Namungo Brain Game to Reduce Test Anxiety.


This post is written by Ellen Weber from Brain Leaders and Learners!

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