Testing Anxiety Tips for the GED® Test

By Paula Anthony, Educator

If the number one fear is public speaking, then the number two fear among students is probably test-taking. HiSET, TASC, and GED test candidates are no different than most learners who experience anxiety or tension at test time. And many times, they have more at stake since passing the test is so critical to educational and career opportunities.

Test anxiety is normal. A healthy amount of test stress can be good. Stress launches adrenaline, a brain chemical that can make a test candidate more alert. But too much stress inhibits clear thought, creates fatigue, and reduces performance. Months of studying and practice won't help if you freeze or fall apart at the test center. So what's the right balance between a healthy and productive amount of stress and the kind of anxiety that overcomes test candidates?

Test Anxiety Strategies


Consider the two-part test required for a driver's license. Most drivers are able to quickly memorize the rules of the road a day or two before the 20-minute test and perform without problem once the testing officer is in the passenger seat. But what would happen to a driving candidate who never looked at the driver's manual or had never been on the road? Not only would this want-to-be motorist fail to perform, but there'd be high anxiety in the driver's seat.

HiSET, TASC, or GED practice with sample test questions is the best way to reduce test anxiety and perform well. Practice should include study with clear explanations as well as practice tests in all subjects. Taking at least one half-length sample test for each subject will help you be prepared. A good practice test improves knowledge, both of the thinking skills you'll need and of how to read and answer test questions. Try a free online practice test.

You can't cram for a high school equivalency test. A good strategy is to study, take a practice test to be sure you're ready, and then register for the test at a local test center.

A practice test teaches test candidates how to use knowledge, provides testing experience, and measures skill strengths and weaknesses. It can make your test prep more effective by showing you what to study. You can get familiar with the test structure, question and answer layout, timing, and expectations. Then, at test time, the exam will be a known factor instead of an unknown factor.

Test familiarity, along with knowledge ownership, helps candidates have confidence in their abilities and demonstrate their skills. These are prime strategies in reducing fear, overcoming test anxiety, and ensuring a solid test performance.

Time Management

Many high school equivalency test candidates express concerns about the timing of the test. Some may be slow test takers; some don't have a feel for how to pace themselves through the test. Test problems easily distract others. They concentrate on a few problems and score well but find they're soon out of time and can't complete the whole test. Or, test candidates may rush through the test because of time concerns. While they finish test sections quickly, they later learn their answers were incorrect. And there's no score or reward for finishing first or finishing fast.

Timing varies for each test, and the full battery includes science, social studies, math, reading, and writing. On the GED test, reading and writing are combined into one Reasoning Through Language Arts (RLA) subject test. On average, allow yourself about 66 seconds for each question during pre-test practice to develop or improve time management skills. This strategy will reduce test anxiety about timing and help candidates learn the art of pacing.

Mind and Body Prep

While test candidates ensure that their abilities and time management skills are sharp, they'll also want to explore mental and physical ways to reduce stress. Good nutrition, exercise, and healthy rest patterns are important, since a high school equivalency test is a scholarly thinking marathon. And knowing how to relax at test time is equally important. Learn and practice relaxation techniques during long study sessions.

Know the Cues

Test anxiety doesn't just happen. It happens on cue. And for many test candidates, anxiety is a habit. Just like the anxiety response is learned, it can be unlearned or shifted to a level where anxiety works for the test, instead of against it. Here are some typical test stress cues and strategies to manage them:

  • Feeling overwhelmed? Take it step by step. Read directions carefully. Skip questions that seem overwhelming and get through the easy questions first. Then return to think through the more difficult ones.
  • Nervous and jittery? Test burnout halfway through? Avoid processed foods or fast foods, along with snacks and beverages with high-sugar content. Avoid caffeine.
  • Feeling tense? Stiff neck? Eyestrain? Change positions. Stretch. Breathe deeply. Rest your eyes. Clear your mind. Start afresh.
  • Blank? Frozen? Fearful? Relax. Skip the question and go on. You're in control. You're ready, and you're doing your best. Take the test at your own pace, and the pacing you've learned and practiced will come back to you, along with the knowledge in your vault.
  • Test fatigue? Eat a healthy snack before the test. During the test, use relaxation techniques. Pause. Clear your mind. Give yourself positive reinforcement. Visualize the goal.
  • Just a little anxious? Expect it. Surrender to it. Even welcome it. Know that some anxiety can help you perform, provide energy, and increase thinking clarity. Acknowledge test stress as a further reminder of the importance of your goal. Make it work for you.

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Testing Anxiety Tips for the GED® Test by Paula Anthony is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United Stated License, redistribution of this article is allowed under the following terms outlined here.