Managing Exam Stress and Anxiety

Test Anxiety

Anxiety can be caused by feeling unprepared or worry about failure (past and future). If you are feeling unprepared, refer to the sections on Time Management and Study Skills to ensure you are on your way to feeling prepared.

 How do I know if I have anxiety?

Generally during exams (or any stressor), you might notice the following:

  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach
  • Heart racing
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Unable to organize thoughts or read & understand the questions
  • Going blank
 Because anxiety makes it difficult to read and comprehend the questions on your exam, it’s important to recognize it and seek out assistance. You may in fact know the material, but your anxiety prevents you from performing well (see resources below).

The following may help reduce test anxiety:

  • Prepare well enough and in advance that you won’t forget anything even when stressed
  • Don’t rely on all-nighters or cramming
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Learn to think positively (or at least how to stop negative thoughts)
  • Burn off some negative energy: exercise
  • Focus on the task rather than your emotions about the task
  • Focus on the present. Put thoughts of “what might happen” out of your mind
  • You may want to do some easier questions first to build your confidence
  • Don’t worry about if other people have finished their exams early, focus on your own
  • Reward yourself. Celebrate making it through the exam, don’t focus on things you “could have done differently”

Don’t forget that you can make testing accommodations through Student Accessibility Services at 204-474-6213


A little stress is to be expected (and sometimes helpful) around exams. However if stress is starting to affect aspects of your health or life, it’s time to get some help.

How do I know if I have stress?

You have physical symptoms such as: exhaustion, change in appetite, headaches, change in sleep habits.

You express emotional changes such as: frustration, panic, apathy, lability.

In dealing with stress, some people use “escapes” with alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other compulsive behaviors. If this describes you, then please contact the target=_blank>counseling services listed in the resource section.

How can I deal with stress?

  • Start with figuring out the things you can change and those you cannot.
  • Be realistic. You cannot be everything to everyone, so reduce the things in your life that aren’t a part of your goals.
  • When you feel your stress level rise, take a time out and find a quiet space for a few minutes or if you prefer exercise, talk a short walk.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to break the larger task into smaller ones. Start with the task that is most urgent. Take things one step at a time.
  • Know what is important and what is not. Let the unimportant stuff go for now.
  • Figure out your own relaxation techniques or explore target=_blank>other techniques.
  • Be proactive not reactive. Try to change the way you react to stress emotionally and put that energy into organizing and prioritizing.
  • Get a fresh perspective. Sometimes you get wrapped up into something that your perception of the situation contributes to the stress. Step back and try to think of how someone else (i.e. your mentor) may handle the situation.
  • Get a good sleep, exercise, eat well.
  • Don’t try to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.
  • Try to find one positive aspect in your stressful situation or how you are handling it.

The bottom line is that stress is inevitable, instead of letting it wear you down, learn to manage it. But if that’s not working out for you, time to seek help. You’re not alone!