How to Deal With Exam Anxiety

Four Parts:Reducing Anxiety with Effective StudyingReducing Anxiety PhysicallyReducing Anxiety MentallyRelaxing Yourself During the Exam

Most people suffer some degree of anxiety when preparing for a test. This can range from a mild nervous feeling to a full panic attack. Whatever your level of anxiety, learning to reduce it is very important to study effectively for a test. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce anxiety, which will benefit your grades and your overall mental health.

Part 1
Reducing Anxiety with Effective Studying

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    Remember you have already learned the information. The most effective way to study is attend class regularly, take good notes, do your homework, and otherwise be an active student. If you have done this, you are already way ahead of students who have not been doing this.
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    Leave yourself plenty of time for studying. Waiting until the night before a test to start studying is likely to spike your anxiety. You will be crunched for time, you will not have time to ask questions or find lost information, likely feel overwhelmed, and otherwise be in a bad situation[1]
    • Instead of waiting until the last minute, start studying as soon as a test is scheduled. With several days or even a week to prepare, you'll feel more relaxed because you have plenty of time to learn the material.
    • Draw up a schedule to make most of your study time. Set aside as much time as you feel you need; it could be 20 minutes a day, it could be 2 hours a day. You can adjust this if you feel you need more or less time after studying for a few days. Stick to this schedule so when it comes time for the test, you know you've prepared as well as possible.
    • You should also get into the habit of looking over your notes from class every day. Statistically, students who do this get better grades on tests because the brain absorbs information more efficiently this way. It can help with your anxiety because you'll have a head start on your studying before you even knew a test was coming up.[2]
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    Keep all of your notes and schoolwork organized. Being disorganized can make anxiety much worse. You'll start to panic because you can't find that one page of notes you need to know, and then lose time looking for it instead of studying.[3]
    • To avoid this problem, keep all of your schoolwork neat and organized. That way, you'll be able to find everything you need and spend the maximum amount of time studying.
    • Keep all of your notes for a certain class in one notebook, so everything for that class is in one place. Also make sure to date the page every time you take notes. If you take notes on your computer, keep your notes, assignments, and any study aids in separate folders for each class, and date all of your notes.
    • Designate a folder for any loose material you have for a class. Handouts, essays, homework assignments, and past tests can go in here so you can find them easily when you need them.
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    Take breaks while studying. Although you should study as much as you need to, it is possible to overdo it. Spending every minute of the day studying will wreak havoc on your nerves and make anxiety worse. Be sure to factor breaks into your study schedule. Every hour or two, you should take a break for 10 minutes or more.[4]
    • Any activities will do. Try watching TV, exercising, doing some stretches (especially for your neck and arms), going for a walk, taking a nap—whatever you have to do. This will rest your brain and you can come back to your studies refreshed and ready to continue.
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    Keep the exam in perspective. While under stress, it is very easy to "catastrophize"—that is, think the very worst of the situation and get worried about what is unlikely to happen, but mildly possible. This can set off a chain reaction, in which the student gets more anxious, more distracted, more worried, and then less likely to do well. Some mindsets to help put things in perspective:
    • If you have been doing well in exams throughout the class, it is likely you will do well here.
    • If you do not do well, it is probably not the end of life as you know it.
    • Many tests can be taken more than once, whether it is a driving test, passing the bar, or just having to re-take chemistry class.

Part 2
Reducing Anxiety Physically

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    Look for physical symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is not only an emotional state; it produces physical symptoms that you can identify if you know what to look for. If you experience any of the following symptoms when studying or thinking about a test, this would be a tell tale sign that you're feeling anxiety. You can then take steps to alleviate symptoms.[5]
    • Headaches.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Rapid heartbeat. Usually a heart rate above 100 beats per minute characterizes a rapid heartbeat.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Light-headedness.
    • Extreme body temperature, either excessively hot or cold.
    • Gastrointestinal discomfort. This can be characterized by nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
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    Stay active. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to reduce anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins that will elevate your mood. It will also distract your mind from the test and studying, so your brain will have a chance to relax and refresh itself. Any number of physical activities will have a beneficial affect on your anxiety. They include, but certainly aren't limited to:[6]
    • Going to the gym.
    • Taking a walk.
    • Doing housework.
    • Riding your bike.
    • Working outside.
    • Playing sports.
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    Eat proper meals regularly. Oftentimes people suffering from anxiety have trouble eating and skip meals. This is a mistake. Hunger can make your anxiety worse.[7] It will also starve your brain of nutrients and you won't be able to focus very well. Eat at least three balanced meals every day to keep your strength up.[8]
    • Make sure your meals are nutritious. Whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are best because they will provide you with a sustained release of energy that will carry you through your study session.
    • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Not only are these bad for your health, but the spike in your blood sugar will make you jittery, which could increase your anxiety. Also, the energy high will come with a crash before too long, and you won't be able to study effectively anymore.
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    Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation is another cause of anxiety. Commit to getting a full 8 hours of sleep or more every night. This will ensure that your brain has been properly rested and you can start studying with a fresh mind.[9]
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    Stretch your muscles. Anxiety often causes muscles to tense up, particularly those in the upper back and neck. This will cause pain and discomfort, inhibiting your ability to concentrate.[10]
    • During your breaks, make sure you stretch and massage any muscles that feel tight. Not only will this give you physical relief, but the action of stretching will help reduce your anxiety.
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    Try meditation. Meditation is designed to relax your body and mind, so it is great for people suffering from anxiety. If you're feeling anxious preparing for a test, schedule in some meditation time. Read Meditate for a detailed guide on meditation.
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    Avoid people who generate anxiety when studying. You might have certain friends or acquaintances who also suffer from test anxiety and always vocalize their fears. This doesn't mean you can't be friends with them, but it might be best to take some space from them while you're trying to study. You might be making a good effort to curb your own anxiety, and allowing their negative thoughts to overcome you could set you back.[11]

Part 3
Reducing Anxiety Mentally

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    Think about your cognitive state. Anxiety often impairs concentration and causes sufferers to simply blank out. If you're trying to study but just can't bring yourself to focus, you could be suffering from anxiety. Procrastination is also a symptom, since avoidance of a problem is a defense mechanism. If you notice these symptoms, it is time to take action and work on your thought processes.[12]
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    Analyze your thought patterns. Often when people suffer from anxiety, they focus on overwhelmingly negative thoughts. You may say to yourself "I'm definitely going to fail this test," or "If I fail this test my life is over." These thinking traps are a symptom of anxiety, as well as a cause of greater anxiety. If you find yourself thinking this way about a test, you can take some steps to address and remedy those thoughts.[13]
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    Isolate and analyze negative thoughts. When a negative thought enters your head, stop what you're doing and think about it. By breaking down negative thoughts, you can find that most of them are unrealistic, and then replace them with more positive thoughts.[14]
    • Think about whether this thought is logical. For example, you think "If I fail this test, my life is over." Is that really true? In almost all situations, no, it's not true. There is no logical way a test will result in your life ending, making this an unrealistic fear.
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    Put negative thoughts in perspective. When many negative thoughts are put in real-world perspective, they don't seem so serious.[15]
    • For example, you're convinced that you will fail the biology test tomorrow. But you've gotten good grades on every biology test this semester so far. Past experience is on your side here. This new perspective makes your fear seem more unlikely, since you've already established that you're good at biology.
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    Replace illogical thoughts with logical ones. Once you've established that a fear is illogical, you can work on replacing it with a more balanced and logical thought. This will bring your mind back to reality and help break down illogical fears.[16]
    • Once you've isolated the thought that "I will definitely fail this test tomorrow," replace it with, "I've been studying all week, I know this material, and it's within my power to do well on this test." This new pattern of thinking breaks down your fear that was based on nothing, and replaces it with a new thought that is rooted in reality.
    • Even if you can't get past the idea that you will fail tomorrow's test, you can use logic to help you remain calm by reminding yourself that a failed exam doesn't mean you will fail the class. Remind yourself that you may even have other options, such as investigating extra credit or asking to re-take the exam.
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    Use positive self-statements. When people suffer from anxiety, they usually use negative self-statements like "I'm stupid," or "I'm worthless." These kinds of statements can easily cause your anxiety to progress into depression and threaten your overall mental health.[17]
    • Just like you replaced your illogical fears with logical thoughts, replace negative statements with positive ones. Make an effort to tell yourself "I'm a hard worker," "I'm tough," "I can do this," or "Everything will be okay." That way you can cut negative statements out of your thinking and improve your happiness and mental health.
    • Statements such as "I'm stupid" or "I'm worthless" are not only unhelpful, they're untrue because they summarize you based on one observation. For example, if you've performed poorly on your calculus quizzes so far, you might think "I'm a loser." This is an emotional overstatement. Try to think about the facts instead: You just happen to be performing poorly on calculus quizzes. This says nothing about who you are as a person, or your ability in other areas.

Part 4
Relaxing Yourself During the Exam

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    Show up on time or early for the test. Getting to the test late will set off your anxiety before you even start the test. Do everything you can to be on time for the test. That way, you can sit down and relax for a few minutes before starting. You'll be able to gather your thoughts and focus on positive thinking. This relaxation period before the test is very important to getting off to a good start.[18]
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    Read all instructions and questions carefully. If you're feeling anxious you may rush through the test. By doing this, you risk missing something crucial and getting questions wrong.[19]
    • Force yourself to stop and read directions. By reading everything carefully, you can be confident that you understand what to do and can complete the test correctly.
    • You can even underline or circle important terms in the instructions. For example, if you're worried you may get side-tracked during an essay question, you could underline the most important part of the prompt (e.g., underlining "Explain" will help remind you that you can't just summarize).
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    Stop and breathe if you feel anxiety coming on. A little bit of nervous energy is to be expected during the test. But if you find yourself starting to blank out, lose concentration, and feel any of the physical symptoms of anxiety, stop working. If you go on without relaxing yourself, you could have an anxiety attack during the test.
    • Close your eyes and take some deep, full breaths. Once you start feeling better, get back to work.[20]
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    Keep using positive statements. Throughout the test, you should still be focusing on positive thoughts. Tell yourself, "I've studied, I'm prepared." This will help keep your anxiety at bay because you'll know that it's within your power to do well on the test.
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    Stay focused on the question at hand. Don't let your mind wander during the test. That will allow negative thoughts to creep in and distract you. Just make sure to keep your mind on the question you're working on. This way, all your energy can focus on figuring out that answer.[21]
    • If you have trouble staying focused, try silently re-reading the question or prompt to yourself. This will freshen your memory and help you stay focused on the task at hand.
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    Skip a question if you get stuck. Coming across a difficult question risks causing an anxiety attack and could mess up your concentration for the rest of the test. You could end up running out of time and not finishing the test because of one question that tripped you up.[22]
    • Don't fall into this trap. Instead of wasting time staring at a question, skip it. You can come back to it after you've done the rest of the test.
    • If you are using a scantron sheet, make sure you also skip filling in the bubble for the skipped question! Otherwise you could end up getting a lot of answers wrong because your fill-ins are off by one.
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    Seek help if you need it. Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety can be so severe that they interfere with your everyday life. If you find that you experience anxiety symptoms on a regular basis, don't be afraid to ask for help.[23]
    • Talking to your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can be a great resource to get your anxiety under control.
    • Get help sooner rather than later. Many people try to ignore their anxiety until it's gotten so bad they can't control it anymore. By getting help early on, you can get a handle on your anxiety before it starts having an adverse affect on your life and relationships.


  • Exercising is a good way of relieving stress and anxiety.
  • Try sprinkling soothing smelling oils on your pillow for a good nights sleep before the exam. This may also be helpful sprinkled on a tissue to take to the exam to calm your nerves. Don't use too much though, other people may not appreciate it.
  • Try using an essential oil while you are studying, then take the same scent (on a tissue, as the last tip suggests,) and smell it if you find yourself stumped on the test. The sense of smell can often bring memories of things you did when you last smelled it to mind.


  • Some stress before exams is normal, especially if you feel unprepared. However, too much stress can indicate a bigger problem. If you have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or studying due to excessive anxiety, consider seeing a doctor to get screened for anxiety disorders. There are treatments available to get your anxiety out of your way, so you can focus.

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