When it comes time to take the exam for your home study course, you should obviously study as much as you can to guarantee the best chances of success. But sometimes you can study your butt off and still do poorly on an exam—and it’s not because you’re a bad student. Many people are simply not good at taking tests, and this is often due to anxiety, a lack of familiarity with test-taking skills or both. 

Although most tests don’t feature authentic trick questions, certain types of exams, such as true/false and multiple choice, can be difficult to answer correctly if you aren’t aware of the common strategies test makers use to make the questions more challenging. Similarly, if you suffer from test-taking anxiety and fail to adequately address your nervousness, you’ll be more likely to make careless errors, fail to recall what you’ve memorized and/or not finish the test within the required time period.

Fortunately, there are several easy ways to minimize test-taking anxiety and prepare for the most challenging types of questions. This series of articles will provide you with a variety of tips and strategies for doing both, while also offering advice for making educated guesses when you’re faced with exam questions for which you have no answer. This first article will focus on how to significantly reduce test-taking anxiety.

Tips for overcoming test-taking anxiety

  • Don’t cram. Make sure you give yourself several days—or even a week—to study the material before exam day, so you’re not spending long hours the night before to get ready.
  • Take practice exams if they’re available, or quiz yourself on the material.
  • Find out if you can take the exam more than once. Some home study courses give you more than one chance to pass the test, and if so, this knowledge should significantly ease your anxiety.
  • The night before the exam, do a quick review of the material, but use the rest of your time to relax and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Also on the night before, gather all of the materials (books, notes, pencils, etc.) you’ll need for the test, so you have them ready to go on exam day and don’t have to frantically search for them at the last minute.
  • Take the exam early in the day. Most home study programs allow you to take your exam at a time that’s convenient for you, so schedule your exam in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Eat a light meal a few hours before taking the exam, so you have adequate energy but aren’t so full you get drowsy.
  • Relax. About 30 to 45 minutes before the exam, do some stress-relieving exercises, such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation, to calm yourself and focus your concentration.
  • When you start the exam, first carefully read all of the instructions, so you’re clear on exactly what the test is asking you to do and how to do it.
  • Next, briefly glance at all of the questions on the exam and figure out how much time you can spend on each section to ensure you have plenty of time to finish the entire test.
  • Start the test, answering all of the easy questions first. This will not only boost your confidence, but it will also give you more time to answer the more difficult questions.
  • When you get to the harder questions, figure out how much time you have left, and then allot yourself a maximum time limit for answering each question. If you haven’t come up with an answer when that time is up, move on to the next question and come back to that one at the very end.
  • If you’re totally stumped by a question, don’t just leave it blank; always answer every question, even if it’s just a guess (we’ll offer advice on educated guessing later in the series).
  • Try to save a few minutes to review all of your answers at the end, but at the very least, go back to double check you’ve answered every one of the questions.

Check back next week to read a list of strategies for taking objective-style exams.

Chris Towery is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and is currently a full-time freelance journalist. He has written hundreds of articles for more than 20 different magazines, newspapers and custom publishers. Much of his recent writing has been for the complementary and alternative health-care industry. To contact Towery, e-mail cmreuben@yahoo.com.