Kathleen Smith | Houston

Coping with Test Anxiety

Kathleen Smith is an LPC-Associate under the supervision of Jeff Brown LPC-S and Josh Berger LPC-S

Imagine, it’s time to take the big test you’ve spent hours studying for. You walk into the auditorium, and all of the sudden your heart starts pounding faster and faster. You sit down and as the proctor begins passing out the assessments your stomach starts to turn. Your hands are clammy as you rub then together. “I hate tests,” you think to yourself as the proctor counts down. “Open your assessments in 3, 2, 1.” 

As you open your assessment, laying your eyes on the first questions, your mind goes blank. You struggle to concentrate on the question in front of you. All you can think is “I’m going to fail! I never do well on tests like this. I studied so much for this and I still won’t do well.”

People who have experiences like this may blame themselves and conclude that they just aren’t smart enough. In actuality, experiences like this are extremely common and do not have anything to do with intelligence. This is an experience of test anxiety.

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is a psychological and emotional reaction that makes it difficult to perform well on a test. Those who experience test anxiety may find that they have a pattern of not performing well on tests no matter how much they study. Test anxiety causes cognitive, physical, and emotional thought patterns that can feel distracting and debilitating. 

Test anxiety affects your body and your mind. In your body, you may experience an increase in body temp, headaches, nausea, stomachaches, or racing heartbeat. Emotionally you may feel fear, frustration, disappointment, high stress, or shame. Mentally, you may have racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, repetitive negative thoughts, thoughts of comparison and putting yourself down. Behaviorally, some find themselves procrastinating or avoiding test preparation altogether.

How to cope your anxious thoughts

Given that test anxiety affects the body and mind, the best coping strategies are those that target the body and mind.


When dealing with test anxiety, the best thing you can do for your body is RELAX. Prior to sitting for your exam, practice relaxation skills such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. That way, when you’re taking your test you can regulate your body and your heart rate to control the physical symptoms of test anxiety.


Regulating your thoughts is critical when dealing with test anxiety and is just as important as regulating your body.  Avoid self-deprecating thoughts or thoughts of the worst outcome. These thoughts are unhelpful and only put your body in a state of anxiety and fear. Remember, criticizing yourself and/or thinking about the worst outcome while taking a test is only working against you by distracting you from the task at hand.

Focus only on the present. If you find thoughts about the past or future outcomes coming to mind, replace them with thoughts of the present. Even focusing your mind on what you notice (see, hear, smell, etc.) in the room can help ground you to the present moment and keep those pesky negative thoughts at bay.


Believe it or not, test anxiety can even start before the test. Therefore, utilize your time before the exam by making practical changes that can lessen your test anxiety. 



Test anxiety IS something that you can overcome. It may take practice calming yourself down, focusing your thoughts, putting forward the effort to prepare beforehand especially if you’re used to avoiding it altogether. You can do this. Give yourself a chance to try.

The goal is not to get rid of the feeling of anxiety all together, but to decrease its debilitating effects. So the next time you find your heart racing during an exam, take a deep breathe, fill up your lungs, and let it out. Remember that this experience is common. You are not alone in this. Anxiety does not have to stand in the way between you and your future.

References and Resources

Phan, H. (2016, August 1). A student’s perspective on test anxiety. UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools.

The Learning Center: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Test anxiety.

Ankrom, S. (2023, January 27). 9 breathing exercises to relieve anxiety. Verywell Mind.

Robinson, L., Segal, J., & Smith, M. (2023, November 8). Relaxation techniques for stress relief. HelpGuide.org.

Kathleen Smith | Houston

Do you feel stuck in old ways of thinking? Overwhelmed in your mind and not sure how to break free? In your past, you may have had to be the one to 'push through' difficult situations, even in childhood. You may have had to grow up fast, 'be self-sufficient' as a child, or be a 'parent' to your own parents or siblings