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Academic Coaching and Study Skills

Blog Post # 4: How Can I Manage Testing Anxiety? (Part II)

How Can I Manage Testing Anxiety? (Part II)

By: Chelsey Finney

Welcome back! As we mentioned in last week’s blog, it is estimated that anywhere from 20% to 35% of all post-secondary students suffer from various degrees of testing anxiety (McDonald, 2001). If you find that you sometimes (or very often) experience this form of anxiety at school, there are some strategies you can consider for combating it.​

Strategies for dealing with anxiety: Systemic Desensitization

This is a cognitive approach which can help you identify testing circumstances that provoke anxiety to you.

This self-reflection begins with writing each scenario out in a list format. I know this is the last thing you want to do. But it’s necessary – trust me. Working through this technique can help you pin-point the origins of your anxiety in the classroom during a test (Rajiah and Saravanan, 2014). Then, when you are experiencing the scenarios that cause you anxiety, you will draw on relaxation exercises such as deep breathing and/or grounding/mindfulness. Below is an example of what your hierarchy may look like:


Five = the lowest concern

One = the highest concern

  1. What If I don’t remember the answers for a lot of questions?

  2. What if I don’t have enough time to properly answer all the assessment questions, to the best of my ability?

  3. What if my pens run out of ink halfway through the test?

  4. What if the bus is running late and I miss my assessment?

  5. What if the classroom lights are not bright enough for me to read each question

Here is a step-by-step guide to the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.

You will want to draw on this exercise while picturing each scenario on the list. It will help you to bring yourself down to a relaxed state.

You can also try a Grounding Exercise along with deep breathing. Grounding exercises can help you to re-orient yourself to the present reality during a severe anxiety attack or flashback. This exercise can be sensory or cognitive driven, depending on what works best for you. Below there are questions you can ask yourself:

Sensory = visual, auditory, touch, smell, and taste.

  • What do I hear?
  • What do I see around me?
  • Is there someone beside me?
  • What does the air smell like?

Cognitive = place and time specific

  • What is today’s date?
  • What season of the year are we in?
  • How old am I right now?



Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. (2010). 4 -7- 8 Breath Relaxation Exercise: A Patient Hand-out [Brochure]. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from three/biofeedback-exercises-for-stress-2---fernances-j.pdf   

McDonald, A. S. (2001). The Prevalence and Effects of Test Anxiety in School Children. Educational Psychology, 21(1).

Rajiah, K., & Saravanan, C. (2014). The Effectiveness of Psychoeducation and Systematic Desensitization to Reduce Test Anxiety Among First-year Pharmacy Students. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 78(9), 1-7.