Strategies to minimize exam stress

Person filling out a scantron sheet

It can be easy to feel stressed during exam season. It can manifest in many different ways including muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, and just generally feeling overwhelmed. Different people feel stress around exam season for a variety of reasons including worrying about possible failure, not feeling prepared, feeling pressure from family, feeling like you have to compete with your peers, or having other life-events or difficulties happening at the same time as exams. Whatever the symptoms or reasons there are some simple strategies you can do to help minimize some of the stress.

What to do before the exam?

  • Write down the exam time and location in a place you aren’t likely to forget, like your planner or your phone. Knowing when and where you need to go in advance can limit your day-of worries.
  • Find yourself a quiet and distraction-free study zone. Bring everything you think you might need with you to your zone to minimize the number of times you feel like you need to interrupt your studies.
  • Take regular short breaks. Aim for 5-10 minutes about once an hour. Try to get up and move around and take a drink of water.
  • Connect with your professor or TA. If there’s a concept you are struggling with or are unsure of the exam details they can help clarify the details.
  • Don’t focus on perfection. Strive to do your best but accept that you won’t get every question right every time.
  • Practice guided imagery. Imagine a particularly challenging exam going well. Picture yourself feeling relaxed, confident, and calm. See the situation going well. What happens? How would it look if you responded well to the situation? Hold that image in your mind, keep going until the situation is complete.

What to do on the day of the exam?

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. Eating a balanced meal before your exam can help your body focus on the task at hand instead of how hungry you are.
  • Prepare the night before. Organize what you need to take with you to the exam and layout your clothes the night before the exam. That way you have fewer things to focus on before you leave.
  • Arrive early. Give yourself time to get to the exam without worrying. Once in the room, pick a seat away from any distractions like doors where people may come and go during the exam.
  • Remember to breathe. If you find yourself tensing up or breathing rapidly, take a few slow, long, deep breaths to calm yourself down.
  • Read through the instructions and questions thoroughly. If you are stuck on a question, trying answering the next one and coming back later.

What to do after the exam?

  • Limit your post-exam analysis. Don’t focus on everything you think went wrong. Try to focus on the things you know went well and try to let it go. You won’t know the results until you get them, so speculating is really just fruitless worry.
  • Treat yourself. Do something you enjoy or get yourself a celebratory treat. You worked hard to get to this point, whatever the result, and you deserve something nice.

Sources: kidshelpline.com.au and st-andrews.ac.uk

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