GRE test anxiety is a real phenomenon that can severely affect your performance. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your stress levels both before the exam and on the day of the test. Preparation, knowledge and relaxation skills will become your critical weapons in combating the fears accompanying the GRE. Learn how to wield these tools before test day.

Tips for How to Prepare for the GRE to Help Reduce Anxiety

The best advice for overcoming test anxiety is not to focus on the day of the exam. Instead, prepare yourself well for the test and get a lot of practice. When you feel ready for the GRE, you won't be as anxious on test day. 

1. Learn About the Test

Not knowing what to expect can increase the anxiety you feel due to fear of the unknown. The content and format of the exam are important factors to learn about. The GRE has two forms for its general test — computer-delivered and paper-based.

While the question types are the same for both, taking tests via both these methods differs. For example, the computer-based test has an additional unscored section that you will not have on the paper test. Because the unscored section can be either verbal or math and given at any time during the multiple-choice portion of the exam, you will not know which part does not count toward your score.

The paper-based test scores all sections, but you will have five more questions per section compared to the computer-based test. Instead of giving your answers on the computer or filling in bubbles on a separate answer sheet, you write them directly into your test booklet. This method may differ from other tests you've taken, and unless you are familiar with it, it can cause unneeded stress. 

Learning about the test includes brushing up on the content as well as requirements for canceling your scores or rescheduling, if necessary. Having a contingency plan for unexpected events, such as getting sick on test day, can help you relax when you think about the GRE. 

2. Take Multiple Practice Tests

When the GRE official test day arrives, you should approach it as just another practice test. To do this, take as many full practice tests as possible with the official timing. You can do this on your own or find a test prep company to help you create the right testing environment. The more comfortable you feel with sitting the entire test, the less GRE stress you will experience.

3. Know What Topics to Study

Practice tests do more than help you prepare for an hours-long GRE. They also give you insight into the topics and question types you struggle with.

Focus your studying on topics on which you do not perform strongly on for which you need a refresher. By being more deliberate in your studying and practice, you will use your time toward improving your score in areas you need it most.

4. Get Help

GRE anxiety happens to everyone, and no one knows about the stress of the test better than professional test prep companies and their teachers. Taking a class that gives you practice on all parts of the test can help if you don't know where to start with your studies. If you already know the areas where you struggle but need one-on-one assistance with practicing those topics, private tutoring will be the best option.

Tips for What to Do on Test Day to Reduce Anxiety

On test day, you will have a lot of information going through your mind. You have to worry about getting to the testing facility on time and having your paperwork in order. Additionally, you must sit for the exam and remain focused for hours. Despite having to do multiple activities that do not typically fall into your routine, you don't have to let the stress of the day affect your score. Try these methods for easing your mind.

1. Reappraise Your Stress

Test anxiety can lower your overall performance. You don't have to let it, though. In a study from Harvard University, researchers instructed a test group to reappraise their stress as a way to help them do well on the exam. Those who did the mental exercise performed better on GRE math questions than before the instruction. Researchers theorized that the students reassessed their stress as a challenge instead of as anxiety, thus reframing their reaction to the exam, which allowed for better concentration and performance.

2. Turn Around Negative Thoughts

If you experience negative thoughts during the test, acknowledge them and counter them with facts. For example, if you think, "I can't do this," remind yourself that you've put a lot of work and practice into the GRE and you will succeed. Combat thoughts of "I'm a failure," with the reminder that you got through undergraduate work and you can do well on the GRE.

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3. Be Willing to Move Around

No, you cannot move from your desk or computer during the test, but you can skip questions and come back to them on the exam. In each section on the GRE, you can move forward or backward within that part. If you reach a question that stresses you, mark it and move on. Come back to the problem later after you've gotten more work done. Once you've done several questions, you may have more confidence to tackle the problem you skipped.

4. Practice Deep Breathing

If you feel your blood pressure rising on GRE day, know how to calm down before the test. Take a moment to practice some deep breathing. Several methods for deep breathing exist, all requiring you to focus on it deeply. Try breathing in slowly, holding your breath and releasing the air slowly. Repeat this cycle until you feel yourself calm down.

Also, try tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups to release stress from your body and ease tension. Focus on specific areas, such as the shoulders, as you contract the muscles for a count of ten then relax. This exercise may prevent aches that shift your mind toward your pain instead of the test questions.

5. Sleep Well Before the Exam

Getting a good night's sleep is more important than trying to have a last-minute cram session. Spending hours trying to study the night before the test will only raise your anxiety by making you focus on your struggles with the GRE.

Instead of studying, relax in the knowledge that you've put in all the study and practice time possible in your preparations during the weeks before the GRE. Take your mind off the test by doing something you enjoy, but don't stay up too late. Get to bed early and aim for at least eight hours of sleep before test day.

Start Preparations Now to Stay Calm During the GRE

Being well-prepared will make focusing on test day relaxation methods easier. For an in-depth look at the test and to learn strategies that will help you study and succeed on test day, sign up for Princeton Review's GRE prep options. You can select online or in-person classes or individual tutoring. Being well prepared for the test can help you relax on test day and get your personal best GRE score.