Breathing Techniques for Test Anxiety

A debrief on how test anxiety inhibits our performance and how breathing interventions before or during a test can recenter our focus 

By: Camryn Corbin, Senior Educational Studies Major at Rhodes College 


Testing anxiety is most definitely a real and common issue among students of all ages. This anxiety can start to creep in minutes before the test or weeks before the test. Either way, it is nothing to stress over even because there are always ways to help reduce this test anxiety. Breathing techniques are extremely beneficial for most in reducing that initial anxiety. Breathing methodically can slow your heart rate, center your focus, and calm these nerves you may have over your upcoming test. Breathing is something we do every day, and since it is such a natural function of the body often, we forget to breathe in the most crucial moments. So, if you are someone who suffers from testing anxiety, whether it be way in advance or right before, keep reading to find some helpful tips to maintain this anxiety before or during your test.


Finding a way to maintain this anxiety is extremely important because when anxiety is triggered within our brain, it limits us from performing our best on certain tests and presentations. When our mind starts to worry about everything that could go wrong before, during, or after the test, we lessen our ability to remember what we already know. Our working memory, which is everything that we have stored in our short term to use while we are working through other problems, becomes compromised because our worries take over the previous information we already have stored. Once that working memory is replaced with anxiety it decreases our ability to read and write in response to the test in a calm manner.  

 Thus, decreasing our overall performance on said test. 


Luckily mindful breathing interventions, before and during a test, is just one way to combat this issue. Breathing interventions target our stress response and can decrease the negative effect of worrying on our brain. While also allowing us to maintain better focus during the test. Research shows that students who used breathing techniques before and during the test increased their exam scores by 5 points, however, this may be subjective to in-class exams compared to college admissions exams. 


The following are just a few techniques that you can practice on your own time and implement during your next testing experience. The link after includes additional techniques as well. 


Focus On Your Breathing method: This is a simple method that aims to pull focus from your anxieties and in turn focus on your breathing. In this method there is no need to count, however, just notice your breathing patterns. How much are you inhaling and exhaling? Are your breaths deep or rapid? Becoming more aware of the air your breathing will enable you to feel calmer before and during the test you are taking.


The Breath Counting method: In this method, pay attention to your breathing, and every time you exhale, count it as 1. Keep counting your breaths, but do not go over the number 5. Once you hit 5 breaths, start over from 1 again. Counting the number of breaths aligns your focus to just your breathing which should keep your brain from drifting off to other thoughts, decreasing the chances of you becoming anxious again. 


The “4-7-8” technique: In this technique, you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds. This technique has been known to center all your attention solely on your breathing. Instead of focusing on your anxiety, the 4-7-8 method allows you to clear your mind and calm your brain.


As a reminder, these techniques are aimed to be brief, in the spirit of time being limited during certain tests. And it’s also important to understand that different methods will work well for different people. So be encouraged to try out many different breathing techniques to find out what works best for you. 

Join our Mailing List Below.

Leave a Comment