When was the last time you took a big exam? Or auditioned for the lead role in a play? Or boarded a plane in skydiving gear?

If it was just recently, you probably still get shaky hands and/or knees just thinking about it!

4 Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before a Big Exam

Big exams?! Oh, the pressure! What if you didn’t study as well as you thought you did? What if there are a bunch of tricky questions, and you can’t finish in time?

What if you…fail?!

Every time you go into the testing center at my local community college, they ask if you’ve ever taken that type of exam before (be it CLEP, DSST, or whatever you’re there for). Last winter, I went in for a CLEP exam, and they went through their routine questions like always, except when they asked me if I had ever taken a CLEP exam before, instead of just saying yes, I said, “yes, this is my fourteenth.”

They guffawed a little at that and admitted I probably knew more about it than they did. I laughed it off and confided that I still get nervous every time.

And it’s true. After umpteen CLEP exams, the pressure is still there, I never feel perfectly “ready”, and I still have to double-check I didn’t forget deodorant on the way out the door. The nerves are real!

But, real though they be, you can’t let these nerves hold you back. Here are four quick tips for calming down and getting your nerves in check before the next big exam/audition/skydive.

1. Sleep Well

Going in with a frazzled mind hopped up on energy drinks and the latest two hundred names, dates, and places you’ve been trying to memorize for the exam isn’t doing anything for your nerves.

Take a hot shower, watch a little TV, whatever you need to do to unplug, and sleep for at least 8 hours the night before your exam. A well-rested mind will test so much better than a stressed one!

I recommend crunching for exams about 2-5 days before the exam, not the last twenty-four hours. If you’re really that unprepared where you feel like you need to skip sleep to study, consider moving the exam a few days later!

2. Listen to Music

I love listening to music all the time, but it really does help calm my nerves if I’ve got something on my mind (like a big exam!). On exam days, I might listen to something upbeat while getting ready, some movie soundtracks without words while I do some last-minute review, and some praise music on the drive to the testing center.

If you really need to take your mind off it, pick some music you know all the words to and sing your heart out!

3. Plan to Reward Yourself

Before the exam, plan to reward yourself after the exam! Pass or fail, you took that exam. Now take yourself to your favorite coffee shop. Buy yourself a bag of your favorite gummy bears. Whatever floats your boat.

4. Remember the Big Picture

Even though it’s a big test, and you feel like you have to prove to your mom that she’s a good teacher, and you have to prove to everyone else you’re not stupid because you’re homeschooled, and all of the other pressures that build up into these nerves…it’s just a test.

At the end of the day, if you do fail, you can try again later. Your mom will still love you and be pleased with you for working so hard and going for college credits while you’re still in high school (that’s amazing).

And even though I’ve been there and I know very personally what it feels like to want to prove to extended relatives and peers and grocery store cashiers that I’m smart and socially adapted and succeeding as a homeschooler, this test doesn’t define any of that.

Remember you are so much more than a test or a score—you’re going to have a great big life, and in a few months or years you’ll barely remember the test or the score.

Breathe deep. Take the test. You’ve got this.

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