Worried about Upcoming Exams? You're Not Alone

Millions of students each year experience anxiety during exam time. Tight deadlines, time commitments and pressure all contribute to rising blood pressure and stress for students in College, University and High School. By getting organized, dissecting the workload, getting the proper sleep, remaining  confident and maintaining a rigorous pre-exam routine, any student can dramatically improve their exam success rate!

1. Get Organized

Pre-exam stress is usually caused when the person becomes overwhelmed with work and does not have enough time to prepare for the exam. The first step in managing pre-exam stress levels is to get organized. This includes planning where, when and what will be studied in order to succeed.

  • Where - Where are you the most focused? Some great options are at home, at the library or at the local coffee shop where you can regularly refuel without distractions. 
  • When - Determine how much time is left before the exam and is there a time of day when you are your most productive? From here you can breakdown the amount of work that needs to be done per day and have a realistic vision for the work ahead. This will also help control procrastination!
  • What - What are the key concepts that will be covered in the exam? For some, this may mean breaking the workload down into chapters or key concepts. If there is not enough time to cover the entire unit, determine the key concepts that will carry a lot of grade weight in the exam. Studying(80045)Credit: Flickr - scui3asteveo

2. Dissect the Information

Depending on the subject of the exam it may help to study the low level information within a key concept and then move towards higher level studying. For example, if the concept is Supply Chain Management it may help to do the following:

  • Read Through the Headlines - The key concepts of the article are: "What is Supply Chain Management?", "Why is Supply Chain Management Important?" and "What are the Future Trends of Supply Chain Management?".
  • Focus on One Section - work on one section at a time. Dedicate yourself to understanding at least one section during a study session and when you have memorized the three roles within the headline "What is Supply Chain Management?" you can move on to the next section
  • Recap by Headline - now that the detail is understood you can skim through the higher level concept and have an understanding for the granular detail. It's important to organize your thoughts in terms of layers of detail because it helps remember headlines for multiple choice questions, and if the detail is needed it will help organize thoughts for long answer or essay questions.

Remember, by the mile it's a trial, by the yard it's hard and by the inch it's a synch. Breaking the work into smaller, digestible  amounts will help with motivation, time management and prevent procrastination.

3. Get 6-8 Hours of Sleep

Even the common "night hawk" will perform better with a full night of sleep. When people are sleep deprived, over-work neurons are less effective which makes it more difficult to process new information and retrieve previously learned information.

The ability to think quickly is critical to succeeding in any type of exam because it will allow you to access detailed information or to think creatively based on previous knowledge. 

4. Be Confident

An hour before the exam, stop everything and breathe deeply to calm the nerves. Do not socialize with fellow classmates outside the exam room door. Hearing new information or being exposed to stress will raise your heartbeat and cause you to second guess yourself during the course of the exam.  It is critical to remain confident before and during the exam and the 5th and final step is a great way to accomplish this.

5. Maintain a Pre-Exam Routine

Routines are important because they generate a sense of control which in turn builds confidence. Part of the anxiety caused by exams is "the fear of the unknown" and having a concrete pre-exam routine brings some consistency the experience and helps reduce stress. Whatever the routine might be it should encourage mental alertness, confidence and it should be repeatable for each exam. Here is a sample pre-exam routine:

  • 60 mins to exam - Stop studying and walk to campus
  • During Walk Music - listen to up-beat music
  • 25 mins to exam - buy large fruit smoothie
  • 15 mins to exam - arrive at class and recap content headlines


By establishing a plan, breaking down the information, getting a good night's sleep, remaining confident and executing a routine, you will be able to take control of the exam outcome rather than it controlling you and your anxiety levels.