How to Reduce Exam Stress and Deal with Test Anxiety


So you want to be a successful student but you didn’t know how many stressful situations you would be put in while trying to get your degree. We can all agree that the academic world can be terribly stressful and riddled with anxiety. Let’s briefly touch on what the stress response is doing to your academic brain and how we can use this information to reduce exam stress and deal with test anxiety.

High levels of stress increase our sympathetic nervous system firing. This is the part of our autonomic nervous system that helps us survive a life threatening offense. Which is great…but only if there is an actual shark swimming by. Your body is so amazing and can help you out of a jam like this by shunting all of your blood into your arms and legs so you can swim like crazy and get away. 

But, if all of your blood supply is in your extremities, you don’t have much left in your brain for critical thinking and picking the correct answer choices on your test. It’s crazy to think that the human brain has explored into the realm of quantum physics but still can’t tell the difference between an actual physical threat and remembering a bad experience while taking an exam. This very primitive part of your brain will cause a physiological cascade of symptoms to appear in your body and brain in basically the same way.  

Signs and Symptoms:

Maybe some of these are familiar to you since you are reading this particular post. Symptoms of test anxiety can include a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions like: 

  • Fear of failure 
  • A daunting “end of the world” feeling
    Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Blurry vision 
  • Panic attacks (you know…that feeling like you’re having a heart attack but you aren’t)
  • Simply having feelings of stress (we all know what that feels like for ourselves, individually).

How to Reduce Exam Stress and Deal with Test Anxiety Section:

So what is the best way to reduce exam stress and deal with test anxiety? How about we start with things that take the longest and work backwards. Let’s try to keep stress levels as low as possible before entering the exam room, like long before. Ideally, you would like to begin with these ideas at the beginning of the semester or trimester. If not, then begin today! 

Time management 

Time management strategies can go a long way in helping you stave off the negative effects of stress.  We all probably and unfortunately know the feeling of last minute panic cramming because of our lack of preparation and it’s negative effect on us and our grades. Spending time setting some realistic goals for yourself and what you can accomplish in the precious 24 hours you have in a day will set you up to experience as little stress as possible on the day of the exam. 

Good study habits

Come up with a solid study plan. Are you going to study for 1 hour every night or do you like to cram in a few hours at a time? There will be good ways to attack each particular subject but most of the time doing what resonates with you will work well for most classes. Make sure to take study breaks and ruminate on positive thoughts while you’re at it.

To-Do Lists

It may be a good idea to have to-do lists.  This will help you to have a clear idea of what you can accomplish with your busy schedule and study plan


Plan a study session with your favorite study buddy in a relaxing study area (like a nice coffee shop…yum). Even if your favorite isn’t available it’s a valuable idea. Haha! Research tells us that you remember WAY more if you teach something to someone rather than just read it quietly to yourself. I should really write a separate post about this topic because it is very powerful.  Study partners can help make studying more active and less boring. You can try to predict exam questions, look at material in a different way, and exchange helpful tips or mnemonics. If you have some extra time you can move on to other “important” things like social media and trying to analyze the latest conversation you had with your family members! 

Reduce test anxiety with good mental health

Make your best efforts to avoid negative thoughts like the plague. If you’re anything like me, they take up way too much time and don’t help anyone in any way. 

A great way to dodge the negative thinking cycle is with affirmations. I know, I know…sounds too simple to be effective right? Actually, there is some pretty powerful research out there about affirmations. If you’re into science, you can check out this link which talks all about how “Self affirmation improves problem solving under stress”. Aren’t exams just a big problem solving session? Affirmations are pretty easy to integrate. Just start by saying a few easy ones like:

  • I am strong and powerful
  • I’m very prepared for this exam
  • I am motivated and driven
  • I will be successful
  • I have control of my thoughts
  • I have enough time to accomplish all of my goals

Being Present

Practice present moment consciousness. You can’t go back and change past performance and you can’t speed up to the day you pass your final board exam. What you can do is control the now. Some examples are taking note of everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. You can also do body scans to help bring you into the present. This will take some discipline but it’s so powerful.


Relaxation techniques like taking a bath or performing deep breathing exercises are huge! Some people benefit from taking deep breaths while meditating or praying. Your brain will thank you for including this simple practice.

Reduce exam stress with good physical health

For most people, keeping in good physical health isn’t rocket science. Here are some basics with some “extras” that maybe you haven’t thought about.

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A healthy diet 

Well, there you have it. I know this can be a difficult one while you’re so busy in school and preparing for an endless schedule of hard work but it’s fundamental. If you don’t have good nutrition, your body will be stressed. Although, I’ve always thought it was amazing that the body knows how to make eyeball cells out of material like cheetos! LOL! 

Although your body is brilliant, this doesn’t come without consequences. This doesn’t have to be difficult or insane, just shoot for a balanced diet. Most college students are young people and can get away with more nutritional missteps (that’s sort of a joke). Use this to your advantage, if you’re going to have pizza one night, make sure you have a nice big glass of tasty green juice the next day to fill in your nutritional deficiencies and decrease some inflammation. Balance is key! 

Since I am well aware of my audience here, I need to mention energy drinks. As a former red bull addict myself, I will say, use with caution. Try not to have more than 1 per day. Also, please try to avoid the sugar free versions at all costs. I don’t want to get too in depth here but just know this, drinking or eating artificial sweetener can decrease your short term memory (along with a host of other issues that we won’t explore here at this moment). I’m sure you would agree that you will likely NOT remember all of the things you are learning for the rest of your life. Preserving your short term memory will help you immensely in your journey towards being a successful student and decreasing your anxiety and stress come exam time.


There are a couple of supplements that can help tremendously with decreasing stress in the body.


B-vitamins help energy levels. Your body uses these vitamins to run the Kreb’s cycle. The Kreb’s cycle is a biochemical process that basically creates energy for the body to use. If your body is depleted you won’t heal, learn, sleep, or perform nearly as well as you could. I tell almost every human on the planet to take B-vitamins (especially the stressed humans).  I recommend taking a B-Complex with food once per day. Here are some of my favorites.


Have you ever heard of adaptogens? Adaptogens help your body to better respond in stressful situations, like exam season.  Think of them like physical exercise at the gym but for the inside of your body on a biochemical level.  Pretty neat way to reduce exam stress and deal with test anxiety huh? Echinacea is a great one because it also helps with the immune response. It’s a good one for the fall/winter/flu season. I also like rhodiola because it’s a powerful energy booster. Its nickname is “the energy of a thousand horses”. WOW! Here are the brands that I like the most.


Drink lots of water but make sure it’s pure. Tap water is full of toxins. Maybe I will have a future post about this but do some research on this topic or just trust me for now. Lol!


Get some physical activity. It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s regular exercise it’ll be a good thing for your body and stress responses. Try and do something you enjoy and that doesn’t feel like a punishment. I want your body to know when it is supposed to “be stressed” and when it’s not.  This will help immensely next time you’re taking final exams.


Good night’s sleep. Sounds great huh? I know sometimes this is more difficult to do than it sounds. Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep because this is what research shows helps with critical thinking the most. Good sleep can help most aspects of your life as I’m sure you know. Don’t underestimate it though. Try to avoid any screen 1 hour prior to going to bed. The blue light emitted from our electronic devices really lights up areas of our brain that keep us awake.

As you can see, there are so many ways to keep those pesky feelings of stress at bay and put you in a better position as a student. Spending time picking out the ones that seem most simple to integrate in your life will serve you well.  I hope you have learned a lot of ways to reduce exam stress and deal with test anxiety. What are some of your favorites?

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You can also take a look at How to Get Better Grades Using Essential Oils to see how Essential Oils can help your test-taking skills.

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