Hey, students – the key to getting better grades is learning how to cope with “exam stress.” That’s the gist of new research showing a direct link between the anxiety students feel before taking a test, and their performance. Experts say exam stress is on the rise today and it comes from the fact that students know they’re constantly being evaluated. Because the average student now takes a minimum of 17 standardized tests from 3rd grade to the end of high school – and students worry that if they do poorly on an exam, then they might be held back a grade.

Psychologists say that’s a big deal, because unless students learn to manage their stress, it’ll affect everything they do in life! For starters: A student who feels anxious about taking math tests may do poorly as a result. That can lower the student’s self-esteem – and they may avoid taking math and science classes in college, which then limits their career options and their future salary.

The good news? Experts say there are some simple tricks students can use to stop exam stress:

  • Before taking a test, spend a few minutes jotting down your thoughts and feelings. Psychologists call that “expressive writing.” And a study found that high school and college students who tried expressive writing before taking final exams saw their test scores improve. That’s because writing about your stress actually offloads it to a piece of paper. So, you’ll have more brainpower to focus on solving problems.

  • Another trick? Write about something you value, and explain why it matters to you. Psychologists say this helps students affirm their core values, which boosts their self-esteem. And when Stanford researchers tried this in a college physics course, average grades rose from a “C” to a “B.”

  • One more trick: A school in Ohio recently started handing out pencils, with motivational messages printed on the sides – like “I can do this,” or “I studied and I’m ready.” Experts say reading those messages on test days reassures students and puts them in a mental state that primes them for success.