Managing Exam Stress

Writing tests and exams can be a stressful experience. A good first step to managing exam stress is creating and following a good study plan throughout your semester and in the weeks leading up to the exam.

Even if you’ve prepared well, it’s not uncommon to feel nervous, anxious, or stressed before an exam. While the following tips can help with exam day jitters, if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed due to academic pressure, the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre is available for help and support. 

Before your exam  |  During your exam  |  After your exam

Before your exam
  • Try to be physically prepared by getting a good night’s sleep and having everything you need for your exam ready to go the night before.  Be sure you have pens, pencils, a calculator, a formula sheet if allowed, and your required campus card and ID.
  • Be aware of your mindset. While you can’t always control the thoughts that arise, try using encouraging words with yourself if you notice thoughts of self-doubt creeping in (“I can do this! I’m prepared.”).
  • Give yourself a break at least an hour before your exam - have lunch or take a walk, find a quiet space to try practicing mindfulness. Try to avoid classmates who may be stressing and discussing the exam. If you find yourself worrying, try a brain dump to write all your worries down to leave them behind before heading to your exam site or sitting at your workspace.
  • Take time to settle in  - if writing an online exam, be at your workspace and have your computer ready 15-30 minutes before the exam's start time or for in-person exams, arrive early and choose your preferred seat. Take a moment to relax and collect yourself by taking some deep breaths before you begin your exam.

During your exam
  • Read the directions carefully, keeping in mind any additional instructions given by your instructor or exam supervisor. For example, you may discover that you only need to answer three out of the five essay questions. 
  • As soon as the test begins, write down any relevant formulae, concepts, figures, or memory cues that will help you during the test. Add to this list as inspirations come. Refer to it as needed.
  • Scan the entire test to let yourself know what to expect before you start answering. If writing an online exam, take note of the layout and if you will be able to return to previous pages of the quiz to review or edit your responses.
  • Plan how you will use the time for the test. Observe the point value of each section and figure out a rough time allowance accordingly. Bring a timepiece and pace yourself, but try not to over-focus on time. Concentrate on yourself rather than what others may be doing around you.
    • Do the easiest questions first. This will increase your confidence and may trigger your memory for other answers.
    • Go back to look at the harder questions. Choose the highest value questions next. If a question is worth 3 marks, there are usually three points that the instructor is looking for. 10 marks = 10 points.
    • Expect memory blocks and recognize that the information may come back to you if you move on to other questions.
  • Take your time. Don’t race through the exam, and don’t leave early. Use any extra time at the end to check for careless errors, re-visit any difficult questions you left unanswered, or proofread essay answers for grammar and spelling. Make sure you have answered all the questions!

After your exam

Treat yourself! Take a break - if you don’t have any other exams, take a night off. If you have other exams coming up, give yourself a brief break to do something you enjoy before hunkering down again.

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Adapted from University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University.