Student Care Network offers tips on test preparation and managing test anxiety

The Student Care Network, in partnership with a variety of campus partners, offers resources and services to help students prepare for final papers, examinations and presentations.

“Test anxiety manifests in two ways: a concern founded in under-preparation, and a somatic experience of anxiety tied to the experience of taking a test,” said Samantha York, academic skills coach at the Center for Student Wellbeing.

“I recommend that students consider both their preparation strategies and ways to reduce the sensations of anxiety associated with the test-taking experience,” she said.

Here are some resources, tips and strategies to help you do your best this exam season.

Services and resources

  • Tutoring services are available for both one-on-one STEM tutoring and group support opportunities.
  • The Writing Studio offers appointments with writing consultants who are trained to discuss any writing project at any point in your writing process.
  • Use weekly well-being practices from the Center for Student Wellbeing, which offers well-being support resources, including academic coaching, and meditation and yoga to help you de-stress.
  • Utilize Headspace, a mindfulness tool available for free to Vanderbilt students.

Tips for exam preparation

  • Make a plan. The feeling of being overwhelmed by final exams and papers can often make doing any of the work seem impossible. Start by making a list of everything you need to do and when it has to happen, then map out a daily plan to get it done. Be specific to the day, but not to the minute.
  • Spaced practice: When you’re making this plan, remember that breaking up study time is more effective for learning than working in large chunks. So, rather than spending five hours the day before an exam, consider an hour a day each day leading up to it. Obviously, your specific numbers will vary. We also tend to learn more deeply by moving between several topics in a single study session rather than focusing on just one thing for a long time, and by changing up the order each time those intermingled topics are reviewed.
  • Don’t lose track of well-being behaviors. Sleep is not wasted time. Sleep is when your brain consolidates all of that learning you’re doing—and only when you’re well-rested will you have access to retrieve all of it. Reserve time to connect with family and friends, too—even if it’s virtually. These practices fuel us through challenging times.
  • Make a plan for your written assignments. When it comes to completing your final essay assignments for the semester, the Writing Studio’s advice is to give yourself enough time to finish a draft, set it aside for a bit, then read it over later with fresh eyes. If you have time, share it with a friend or schedule a Writing Studio appointment for feedback. If not, take the time to read the draft aloud to yourself. You might be surprised how much it helps!

Tips for managing exam anxiety

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Repeat four times. They don’t have to be full seconds; what matters is the relationship between the breaths. By making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, you reduce the stress response in the brain. A bonus of this method: Counting to 4, 7 and then 8 is more challenging than just counting to 10 and can help interrupt any internal narrative that’s interfering with information retrieval. Practicing this technique when you’re studying is great, too!
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Starting with your toes and feet, tense and then relax muscle groups. Do this all the way up your body, including your face, to help release the physical tension caused by the experience. End with a full-body stretch. This practice is best immediately preceding an exam period.
  • Practice a positive mindset. Test anxiety can be experienced when there is fear of scrutiny or criticism. Precious time is spent getting angry or anxious about what someone may say about our work, which distracts us from the exam. Test anxiety also can happen when people have an anxious and negative view of the world, their life, or their performance on the exam. It can be detrimental to expect bad things to happen. The trick here is to remind yourself that a test is now, and any previous negative experiences are in the past. Practice having a positive mindset and focus on doing your best.
  • Acknowledge that some test anxiety can be helpful. Test anxiety not only is common, but also can help aid performance on exams. It is possible to achieve good grades while experiencing test anxiety.
  • If your emotions are limiting your academic engagement or performance, reach out to the Student Care Network for support.