Prepping for Exams: How to Manage Stress

man-couple-people-woman-large by Gratisography

Most students experience high levels of stress during examination periods. This is a natural response to the testing process, especially for college students who have thousands of dollars of investments riding on whether they pass or fail. If you have a scholarship or grant to consider, then you may also be worried about keeping your GPA above a stipulated minimum.

But whether you plan to excel or just barely scrape through another semester, here are some actions you can take to make exams a lot less stressful.

Create a Study Plan.

Creating a study plan allows you to allot time and days to specific activities leading up to examinations. This helps you to track your progress and ensures every topic gets covered on time. As long as you stay on target, this also helps to reduce stress levels as it reminds you that you do have enough time to complete the tasks ahead for examinations.

You can use Microsoft Word or Excel to create study time tables or simply write it down on a piece of paper. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s easily accessible to you every day. Sticking a printed or written copy in the side of your mirror is not a bad idea.


Ever notice how you’re less likely to stress over the easier courses you’ve been acing all semester? That’s because exam stress is strongly tied to a feeling of under-preparedness or incompetence. Boost your confidence when you walk into that examination room by going in well-prepared.

Try to cover as much of the course material as you can. Answer the tutorial questions, and try to solve the math problems provided. If there are mock tests available or past papers, give those a go as well. The better you get at handling these, the more confident you become in your abilities.

 Nourish your Body.

College is the time when many people pick up bad eating habits. It’s less expensive and more convenient to oven heat a TV dinner or throw a cup of ramen in the microwave than it is to prepare a home-cooked meal. Include the fact that you’re pressed for time to study and it seems to make more logical sense to get any kind of food in your system and be over with it.

But what you put in is what you get out. Unhealthy foods provide immediate energy to keep you going, but the excessive salt or sugar can also make you feel lethargic. Compensating for that with Red Bull and other energy drinks then further complicates the problem as this isn’t a healthy alternative, either.

If you don’t have the time to make proper meals because of other responsibilities, then consider supplementing your meals with nutrition shakes, as well as multivitamin supplements. This helps to fill in the gaps in your diet and keeps you alert and feeling at your best.

Give your Immune System a Boost.

Including fruits, yogurt and garlic in your diet helps to keep you healthy by boosting your immune system. Use the garlic sparingly though as it’s known to lower blood pressure, which may cause you to feel lethargic shortly after eating it.

Boosting your immune system won’t protect you from all onslaughts of illness, but it improves your chances of keeping you healthy throughout exams. The last thing you want to be worried about is catching chicken pox, the cold, or some other contagious illness in the middle of exams. We’ve seen it before and it was a sad case for everyone involved.


According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness…

So whether it’s at the gym, on a hiking trail, or even in the bedroom, make exercise a part of your weekly routine, even during exam prep time.

However, know your body. Regular exercise does boost energy and stamina, but it also makes a lot of people more exhausted by bed time. Ensure you’re not exercising so much that you can’t stay awake or concentrate on your studies. It will take some experimenting, but try to find your happy balance.


We’re all guilty of skimping on sleep when it’s time to study. However, try to ensure you get at least your minimum required hours of sleep to be functional enough for your test.

This number differs from person to person. Some people can make it through the entire day on just four hours, and others need at least six to make it through half the day. Find out the minimal number that works for you and ensure you get those hours before you sit an exam.

Feeling fully rested makes you more alert and improves your recall. It also makes you a lot less paranoid about failing. No one feels confident when they walk into the room feeling like crap and struggling to concentrate.

Take Study Breaks.

Teachers and other students may tell you that when prepping for exams you should buckle down and give up all distractions – garbage. Still make time for the things that make you happy. Spending all your time just studying only spikes stress levels more.

However, make it a condition of completing work early and on time, and have the self control to know your cut off point. For instance, if you finished reading a chapter in less time than you planned, by all means spend the next 20 minutes looking at funny videos of cats on the internet and taking bathroom selfies – as long as you remember to get back to work to complete the rest of your objectives.

It’s also a good idea to relax after an examination to give you time to recover before beginning your study routine again.

Set and Test your Alarms ahead of Time.

A student’s biggest fear during exam periods is oversleeping and missing the test, and for an unfortunate few, this actually happens. Ensure this doesn’t happen to you by setting and testing your alarms way ahead of time.

Worrying about whether or not you’ll oversleep will only make it more difficult to get any sleep. Set the alarm on multiple devices if it will make you feel better. Switching your phone to military or 24-hour time can also make setting correct alarms easier. We’ve all had that morning when we overslept because we set the alarm for 7PM instead of 7AM.

Also ensure that your phone is properly charged so it doesn’t die during the night. However, most smart phones will simply shut off to conserve energy when it realizes an alarm has been set. The phone will then automatically turn on again to deliver the alarm at the correct time.

Double-Check Schedules.

In an age where technology has completely revamped communication by making it faster and easier, the people behind it still make mistakes. Remember this when you get your exam schedules for school.

Exam dates can change or be incorrectly entered, at which point you may show up at 5PM for an examination that already took place at 8AM that morning. Double-checking the exam schedule reassures you that you have the right date and time, and gives you one less thing to worry about.

Talk to Someone.

Bad stuff happen, and sometimes these bad stuff happen at the most inconvenient times of our lives – like when we’re in school. The death of a parent or friend, assault, discrimination, or a bad break-up is enough to make anyone depressed. Sometimes just trying to keep up with heavy course loads is enough on its own to trigger depression.

If you’ve already exhausted your options and still can’t successfully manage your stress, then consider talking to someone about it. This could be in the form of an academic adviser, guidance counselor, school psychologist, your best friend, or all of the above.

We can’t always pick ourselves up off the ground when tragedy strikes, but take heart. There’s usually someone who can help set us on the right track again if we make the effort to reach out to them.

Original Photo: David Malecki

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for the great commentary on exams. As a final semester senior, it’s hard for me not to take permanent “study breaks.” I’m a planner and a list-er, and it’s easy to list tasks to do instead of plan in “care” time. I am going to schedule in some exercise and healthy snacking tomorrow. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Rebecca. Glad you found it helpful. Scheduling some downtime is definitely important, but it can be hard to resist making it permanent, like you said.

      Congrats on making it to final semester! Good luck on your exams 🙂


  2. ToughGirl says:

    I usually feel feel my anxiety at the peaks during the exams. Thanks for the handy tips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. That’s usually when most of us do, so you’re not alone.


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