You’ve studied for months and now the big day has arrived. Yet as you face your computer terminal to take the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, your heart is racing and there’s a pit in your stomach. Worst of all, you feel as if your mind has gone blank.

While nearly everyone feels a bit nervous before a big test, some candidates find test anxiety debilitating. While anxiety might look different for each person, some typical symptoms are physical, such as headache, nausea, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and feeling faint. The result can be difficulty concentrating, negative thinking, racing thoughts, and procrastination, among other things.

Test Anxiety Tips

Here's what you can do to stay calm in the days leading up to and during your test, adapted from The Princeton Review

1. Be well prepared. 

The best way to get rid of those butterflies is to adequately prepare. Study, study, study. If you feel confident that you’ve prepped thoroughly, you’ll feel more confident walking into the exam. 

2. Get a good night’s sleep. 

Adequate rest (try for at least nine hours) is critical and definitely better than rereading your notes until dawn.

3. Eat smart. 

Eat a nutritious breakfast before the test. The best choice: Foods that provide a steady stream of nutrients, rather than a sugar high followed by a crash.

4. Arrive early.

Feeling rushed will only increase your anxiety. Pack what you’ll need the night before. And don’t forget to set an alarm, so you can get out the door on time.

5. Do a practice run.

Ideally, you should visit the Prometric Testing Center before your actual test day. Know how to get there, where you should park, and the traffic patterns for the time you plan to take the test. Then give yourself more than enough time to arrive, so you’re not stressed about being late.

6. Understand the test.

Visit the Prometric website beforehand to find helpful resources, such as Prepare for Test Day, What to Expect, and FAQs. 

7. Have a positive mental attitude and visualize success.  

It’s a technique that works for professional athletes: visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself opening your “congratulations” email and hanging your CMA certificate on the wall. Similarly, keep a positive mental attitude by bringing a picture of your “happy place” – peek at it right before the exam begins – and reciting mantras like “I can do this” and “You got this.”

8. Read carefully. 

Read the directions thoroughly and read all answers before making a choice or starting the essay. Make sure you are answering the question being asked. 

9. Take your best guess.   

Remember to answer all the questions. Take your best guess – even if you don’t have any idea of the answer. You’ll have a 25% chance of getting it right, which is better than the 0% chance you have by leaving the question blank. 

10. Watch the clock.

Realizing that time is almost up and there are lots of questions left can make it hard to do anything useful in those final minutes. Mentally allocate how much time you’ll spend on each section. If there’s time to recheck, even better.

11. Focus on calm breathing and positive thoughts.

Deep breathing can slow down a beating heart or a racing mind, so practice these techniques at home. The very act of concentrating on breathing and thinking can biometrically alter those anxious feelings.

12. There’s always next time.

Remember that doing poorly on the exam is not the end of the world. If you do not pass, you can always take the exam again. 

It can be helpful to remember that some test-taking anxiety is normal for everyone. The trick is finding a way to alleviate it and keep your anxiety at bay.