Overcome Test Anxiety With 5 Tips Backed by Research

If you’re facing anxiety and stress in the run up to an exam or test, you are not alone! Test anxiety is when you experience physical, emotional and/or mental symptoms in the lead up to an exam, and can have serious health implications, not to mention the likely effect on your academic abilities. In this article PerformZen looks at why we experience such extreme nerves and anxiety in the run up to exams & tests, and reveal 5 science-based techniques for getting past test anxiety and excelling in any exam.

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Maybe you’ve been there. You did everything you possibly could to prepare for a big exam. You went to class, took notes, studied hard, and maybe even sacrificed time with your friends and family. You didn’t want to leave any stones unturned because the test results could significantly impact your education or career.

But despite your preparation and diligence, when the time came to take the test, it’s almost like your mind went blank.

And because you couldn’t think of the answers, your anxiety got worse, and it became even more challenging to think clearly. You may also have experienced physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, racing heart rate, and even nausea.

If any of that sounds familiar, you may have experienced test anxiety.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at test anxiety – we’ll discuss what it is, what causes it, and who might be at a higher risk. We’ll also look at ten tips to help you overcome exam-related stress and fear in the future.

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is a condition that causes some people to experience stress and anxiety when they have to take an exam, which could end up affecting their test performance [1].

A little bit of nervousness before a test is entirely normal. Some people may even use the small spike in adrenaline to their advantage, and use it to intensify their focus during the test.

But for some, test anxiety is severe to the point that they might avoid taking tests or even drop out of school. Other people may turn to pharmaceuticals or alcohol to help them “relax” before a test.

Test anxiety falls under the broader category of performance anxiety of social anxiety disorder (SAD) [2]. It is the fear of a negative outcome or being judged for a bad “performance”, whether it’s during a test, a public speaking engagement, musical performance, or a social situation like a date or a party.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

Test anxiety, and performance anxiety in general, is a complex issue. The causes and symptoms may vary depending on the individual and the underlying causes that contribute to their stress. Test anxiety can have physical, mental, as well as emotional effects [1].

Physical symptoms of test anxiety

  • Trembling hands
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid and irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • Dry mouth
  • Nauseousness
  • Dryness in the mouth

Mental symptoms of test anxiety

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Not being able to think despite having prepared for a test
  • Use of substances like alcohol or beta-blockers
  • Racing uncontrolled thoughts
  • Increased anxiety

Emotional symptoms of test anxiety

  • Frustration
  • Feeling of helplessness when it comes to education or career
  • Low self-esteem
  • Tendency for blaming oneself for poor test performances
  • Negative self-talk, which makes test anxiety worse

What causes test anxiety?

Learning a little bit about how test anxiety works will help you better understand some of the tips on how to overcome it.

Like the symptoms, the causes of test anxiety can also vary depending on the individual. There can be both mental and biological causes of performance anxiety.

If you have a history of poor past performances, and especially if you were judged negatively for it by your teachers, parents, peers, etc., you might have a significant amount of stress and anxiety built up around the subject of exams [3].

You fear the negative experiences of the past may repeat itself, and you’ll have to face the disappointment and humiliation all over again.

Fight-or-flight response during test anxiety

Because of the fear surrounding exams, you most likely experience a good amount of stress when you’re about to take a test. This elicits a stress-response within your body, also known as the fight-or-flight response [4].

When in fight-or-flight mode, your body releases a stress hormone known as adrenaline. As we explained before, a slight adrenaline spike may even improve your testing abilities. But too much adrenaline puts your heart under increased pressure, resulting in the physical symptoms of test anxiety, like poor cognitive function, higher blood pressure, sweating, and more.

Test anxiety can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your test performance suffers due to worry, you might think that your fear was justified, to begin with, and you’re indeed bad at tests. The negative self-talk can increase your stress during future tests, or worse, stop you from pursuing your education or career advancement.

Who is at a higher risk of test anxiety?

Here are some of the possible factors that could increase your odds of experiencing severe test anxiety [1].

History of previous poor test performances

As we explained in the previous section, if you’ve had negative testing outcomes before, either due to anxiety or inadequate preparation, you might be fearful of a similar result. The fear of being judged makes your anxiety worse and affects your ability to perform during the exam.

Being too much of a perfectionist

If you’re too much of a perfectionist by nature, you might be more prone to test anxiety. You might fear that anything less than a perfect score will be considered a failure. The added pressure can exacerbate your stress.

If you had overcritical parents growing up, or if you were bullied as a child, you may be at a higher risk of social anxiety because of perfectionism.

Low self-esteem

If you have low self-esteem, you might already doubt your ability to do well in tests, which could cause you to feel nervous during an exam.

If your test performance suffers due to anxiety, it could hurt your self-esteem even further, potentially making the problem worse.

GABA imbalance

Not all causes of test anxiety are mental and emotional. Biology can play a role, as well. If specific neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in your nervous system) are out of balance, you’d be at a higher risk of mental health conditions, including test anxiety [5].

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one of the neurotransmitters that play a critical role when it comes to social anxiety. GABA reduces the level of activity in your nervous system and promotes alpha waves in your brain, both of which have been proven to increase calmness and relaxation.

In fact, one of the most effective ways to combat the symptoms of test anxiety is to boost GABA levels in your brain, as we’ll discuss further below.

5 research-backed tips to help you overcome test anxiety

Now that you understand a little bit more about why you may experience test anxiety symptoms, let’s talk about some things that you can do to overcome your test anxiety so you can take exams confidently and pursue your ideal life path.

Before we delve into the tips to overcome test anxiety, we should note that although all of these recommendations are natural, healthy, and backed by research, the person that can help you the best is a licensed therapist. He or she can evaluate your specific case and recommend a treatment plan based on your underlying issues.

That being said, all of the following six tips will help you develop a more resilient body and brain, so you can handle your stress and anxiety better.

1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for test anxiety

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy designed to modify your thoughts around the idea of taking a test to make it less stressful for you.

CBT aims to take an idea that you find overwhelming, such as taking a test for example, and break it down into smaller parts [6].

Instead of thinking of the entire exam process, which you may find scary, your therapist will help you identify various different aspects of an exam. He or she will then identify any negative thought patterns associated with each of the smaller elements, and work with you to replace them with more positive ones.

Your therapist might give you mental exercises for practice, or even homework as a part of the CBT process. Studies have shown that if you’re enthusiastic and positive about CBT, there is a higher likelihood that it will be useful for you.

CBT has also been proven to be one of the more effective long term solutions against mood disorders like anxiety and depression [7][8].

2. Improve heart rate variability (HRV) with yoga

Exercise in general, whether its cardiovascular or strength training, is an effective tool against anxiety.

Working out regularly strengthens your cardiovascular system, which could make you more resilient against the physical symptoms of test anxiety, such as higher blood pressure and palpitations. It also promotes overall wellness and promotes relaxation.

But yoga can be especially useful against test anxiety. Yoga increases your heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. HRV is also an indicator of your ability to respond to stress flexibly [9].

So, an increased HRV through yoga means that your body will be better equipped to handle the stress response, and combat the physical symptoms of test anxiety. If you can remain physically calm, you will be able to maintain focus on the exam.

Ideally, you’d include strength training, cardiovascular exercises like cycling or swimming, as well as yoga, in your training plan throughout the week. Having a well-rounded exercise routine will create a resilient mind and body that can combat stress and fight anxiety.

3. Reduce overall stress

Reducing your overall stress levels before an exam will leave you in a more relaxed state, and it will help you stay calmer and focused when it’s time for your exam.

Several relaxation techniques can reduce your stress levels. Meditation and belly breathing are two of the simplest tools you can use to calm yourself before a test.

Meditation is a practice where you focus your mind on a specific thought or activity (like breathing) to increase awareness of yourself and your environment. It is also called a mindfulness practice.

It induces activity levels in the brain that are associated with calmness and relaxation. It creates a state of wakeful alertness, which has a calming effect on your entire mind and body.

Evidence also suggests that a mindfulness practice may improve your self-esteem, which is one of the risk factors of performance or test anxiety [10].

Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is the process of taking long breaths in and out of your stomach instead of your chest. It is taught as a part of most meditation or relaxation techniques. Belly breathing can lower stress levels almost immediately, by shifting away from the part of the nervous system that activates the fight-or-flight response [11].

4. Visualize test success

You can use the process of visualization to “practice” positive test outcomes in your mind. Having already experienced the situation in your mind, you might be less anxious when you’re going in for the actual test.

Visualization can reduce your anxiety by helping you manage your negative emotions. You put yourself in a relaxed state through mindfulness practice, or guided imagery, and then imagine a positive outcome in your mind.

For test anxiety, you could imagine yourself in the testing room, getting the test, seeing the questions, and instead of stress, you feel confident as you calmly answer all of the questions.

Visualization may take some time and practice to get used to, but it can be a powerful tool [12]. Some of the most successful people in the world like Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Michael Phelps, have all used visualization to achieve success [13].

5. Try PerformZen for calmness and focus during a test

PerformZen is a natural supplement that is designed to promote calmness and mental focus, so you can perform at your optimal level, whether it’s during an exam, a performance, or at a social event.

PerformZen works primarily by boosting GABA levels in your brain.

As we mentioned before, GABA is one of the neurotransmitters that is closely associated with social anxiety. The primary function of GABA is to act as an inhibitor. It reduces brain activity by blocking specific signals [14]. The reduction in brain activity can have a calming effect, which is beneficial to someone who experiences anxiety during a test or a performance.

Evidence shows that low levels of GABA have been associated with a higher risk of anxiety and stress. On the other hand, boosting GABA can help reduce stress and anxiousness [15].

And it gets even better. PerformZen comes with a unique formulation of GABA that is designed to cross the blood-brain barrier, instead of having to be metabolized through the digestive system.

As a result, the effect of GABA in PerformZen is quicker and more potent, and it works just in time for your exam, performance, or speaking gig.

But that’s not all, other ingredients in PerformZen also boost the effects of GABA and improve cognitive performance.

L-theanine promotes calmness and boosts GABA levels

L-theanine is an amino acid that is most commonly found in green, black, and oolong teas.

Evidence shows that L-theanine promotes relaxation without making you tired. It is the ingredient that is responsible for the soothing effects of green tea [16].

One of the benefits of L-theanine is that it increases GABA levels in the brain. Combined with the 300 mg of GABA already included in PerformZen, you’ll get a significant boost which will keep you calm when you need it the most.

L-theanine also increases alpha brain waves, which promote relaxation, and it reduces beta waves, which have been linked with stress.

Besides boosting GABA and promoting relaxation, L-theanine also improves focus, which can help you perform better when you’re under pressure [17].

According to a 2013 study, L-theanine helped a group of young adults improve cognitive performance and focus as they were performing challenging tasks [18].

Magnesium and vitamin B6 improve mental focus and bioavailability of GABA

PerformZen combines magnesium and vitamin B6 for a robust cognitive boost to help you remain mentally focused on your test. Evidence has shown that the combination of magnesium and B6 helped improve behavior in kids with ADHD.

Although the study was focused on kids with ADHD, the mechanism through which magnesium plus B6 improved brain function would also benefit you when you’re trying to focus on answering a question in a test [19].

Additionally, magnesium helps your body better absorb GABA [20], and vitamin B6 helps naturally synthesize GABA in your body [21].

Ginkgo Biloba to manage stress response

Ginkgo Biloba has been traditionally used for healing purposes in Chinese medicine. It is an herb rich in antioxidants that has various benefits for brain health.

Evidence shows that Ginkgo Biloba can help you manage your stress hormone levels, which keeps your fight-or-flight response under control and prevents the symptoms of test anxiety [22].

All combined, PerformZen is a potent formula when it comes to fighting test anxiety. As a natural supplement, it promotes calmness, focus, and optimal cognitive performance.

Final thoughts on test anxiety

If you feel like test anxiety has been holding you back from pursuing the education or the career that you want, you should know that there are things you can do to overcome your fear of exams.

Ideally, you can consult with a licensed therapist who can recommend a treatment plan based on your specific needs, whether it is cognitive therapy or another method.

You can also try some of the research-backed tips mentioned in this article like yoga, relaxation, and visualization, to reduce your overall stress and promote calmness and confidence.

And be sure to check out PerformZen calm performance formula. It will provide your body with the additional support of natural ingredients to boost calmness and focus, so you can perform at an optimal level during an exam.


Agnit is a performance expert and the lead writer for PerformZen. As an avid health and fitness enthusiast, he is passionate about helping people take control of their health to live happier, more productive lives. Someday, he plans to listen to his own advice and drink less coffee.

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