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Stress and Standardized Tests: Coping Strategies

Stress is something that everyone experiences; however, the triggers and manifestations of stress differ for everybody. As illustrated in the Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance Curve, a little stress can be good; it keeps us focused and motivated, and can positively impact performance. However, too much stress can be physically debilitating and can decrease productivity, performance, and cognitive function--a particular issue when engaged in a high cognitive activity, such as standardized tests. While effective time management, productive study habits, and strong organizational skills can help combat stress, there are also coping mechanisms that you can utilize to help mitigate stress.


Here are nine coping mechanisms that you can take advantage of to help deal with ‘Test Stress’.

Coping Mechanisms:

  1. Reduce your consumption of caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a stimulant and will increase your level of stress rather than allay it. Try to reduce or avoid caffeinated beverages.
  2. Get the right amount of sleep.  A lack of sleep can exacerbate stress levels. Make sure to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night leading up to your test date.
  3. Get organized. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a long list of items on your ‘To Do’ list. Prioritize your tasks and break them into smaller, manageable tasks.
  4. Relax. Stress is the body’s reaction to a stimulus that disturbs your mental or physical equilibrium. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax your body or short meditative exercises to help clear your mind. Stretching is also good for relieving muscle tension.
  5. Exercise. Often times, stress manifests itself as physical agitation. Going for a run or doing a few calisthenic exercises can help mitigate your stress levels and restore your body and mind to a more relaxed state.
  6. Distinguish between good and bad stress. Good stress can increase productivity and performance, while bad stress can slow you down and decrease productivity. Try utilizing some relaxation practices when your stress levels shift from manageable levels to overwhelming levels.
  7. Don’t stress about stress. Accept that stress is a normal feeling and that a little stress can be a good thing. Use it as a tool to focus on the task at hand.
  8. Create a checklist prior to exam day. Create a list of items you need to complete or bring with you to the exam ahead of time. Doing this prior to exam day allows you to organize yourself and prepare things, and prevents you from feeling scatterbrained the day of your exam.
  9. Keep a stress journal. Documenting your own stress patterns will help you become aware of situations and stimuli that trigger your stress levels. Being aware of what triggers your stress level can help you to develop better coping mechanisms.



Other ‘Test Stress’ coping mechanisms I like to utilize include maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding cramming before a test, wearing comfortable clothing during an exam, and practicing visualization exercises wherein I imagine that I have aced the exam. Such strategies help me feel physically and emotionally prepared for an exam. I invite you to try out some of these coping mechanisms, and play around with them until you find one that works for you.