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Stressed About a Test? How to Cope

Medically reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD

If you feel stressed about a test, you’re not alone. Lots of kids feel this way. You feel stressed because you care about doing well — and you don’t want to do poorly.

When you feel stressed, your body makes stress hormones to help you prepare. They focus your attention and give you extra energy. Sometimes, you can feel stress hormones at work in your body. For example, you might feel “butterflies” in your stomach. You might feel tense, shaky, or sweaty. Your heart might beat faster. These body feelings are normal when you’re under stress. They will go away on their own when you feel less stressed.

You don’t have to let stress upset you. Instead, you can think of it as a prompt to “get ready, get set” to do the best you can on the test.

It’s good to know that:

  • It’s OK to feel stressed about a test.
  • Stress is your brain’s way to alert you and help you focus.
  • The body feelings you have when you are stressed are caused by normal stress hormones.
  • You can do things to cope.
  • Each time you take a test it’s a chance to learn and gain confidence.

What Are the Best Ways to Cope?

In the days before the test:

  • Let stress prompt you to study. Instead of trying not to feel stress, notice it — then use it. Let stress give you a gentle push to get ready. Without any stress, you might end up playing instead of studying.
  • Give yourself time to study. Studying is the best way to feel less stress about tests. The more you study, the more you learn and remember. When you study, you gain confidence. You feel good about all you’ve learned. You feel ready (and less stressed) when it’s time for the test.
  • Mix it up. Use different study skills. Read over what you need to know for the test. Write things down and say them out loud. You could make up a quiz or a practice test. You could make flash cards and study them. You could pretend you are the teacher and teach your parent what you are studying. If you need to learn more study skills, ask a parent or teacher to coach you.
  • Take care of yourself. You'll feel your best if you get enough playtime, sleep, and eat food that’s good for you. Be sure you get all three every day — this includes the day before a test!

When it’s time for the test:

  • Know that it’s normal to feel some stress. If you feel stress in your body, just notice it without getting upset. Maybe you feel “butterflies.” Maybe your hands are shaky or sweaty, or your heart is beating fast. If you have these feelings, it means your body is alert and ready for the test. Tell your body you’re OK.
  • Breathe to calm your body. If you want to lower the body feelings a bit, you can. Just take a few calm, slow breaths. You can breathe in as you count to four. Breathe out as you count to five or six. You can rub your hands together (like you’re warming them up) and let them relax. You don’t have to make all the stress go away. Just start working on your test. The stress will go away on its own.
  • Talk to yourself to steady your mind. In your mind, tell yourself, “I studied. I’m ready. I’ll do the best I can.” Or, “I've got this.” Start working on the test. If you want, think ahead of time about words to help you feel steady and ready. Then plan to say them to yourself when it’s time for the test.

After the test:

  • Look for what you got right. When you get your test back, it’s normal to look quickly for what you got wrong. But be sure to notice the parts you got right, too. Feel good about the parts you did well.
  • Accept mistakes and learn. It’s OK to feel disappointed about things you got wrong on a test. But don’t be hard on yourself. And don’t give up. Instead, let the mistakes help you learn. A test helps you discover what you already know and what you need to study more.
  • You don’t have to be perfect. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get a perfect score. Too much pressure makes it harder to learn. Instead, aim to do the best you can on tests. Know that each time you study and practice, you get better and better. This is true for tests — and for anything you want to do well!

If you need more help with test stress — or another problem — talk it over with a parent, teacher, or school counselor.

Medically reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2023