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Managing Stress and Anxiety Caused By Testing

Author: Nikki Hansen

Experiencing Stress and Anxiety Prior to Tests

It's not uncommon for students to experience stress and anxiety in school, especially when it comes to testing. A positive attitude and relaxation exercises are a few simple ways to combat stress.

Coping With Exam Anxiety

For most students, exam time is particularly stressful. Paradoxically, many students attempt to deal with this stress in ways that are counter-productive or even self-defeating; their behavior and attitudes tend to diminish their performance on exams rather than enhance it.

While there is no guarantee for an easy time on exams, there are some specific guidelines that students can follow which will help them learn more efficiently during exam time.

Remember that you are not alone: almost everyone gets somewhat anxious at exam time.

It is clear that it does not help to put added stress on yourself by:

1) keeping irregular hours.

2) pulling all-nighters.

3) eating irregularly or eating junk food.

4) relying on ineffective learning strategies.


1) Try to stay on a reasonably regular schedule of reviewing, eating, sleeping, and relaxing. Start

at least a week, or preferably two, before exams begin.

2) Don't attempt to study 24 hours a day; your efficiency and capacity to retain material will

rapidly decrease.

3) Don't force yourself to study beyond your normal limits of concentration. If you find yourself

able to concentrate for only ten or twenty minutes, study for only that period of time and then

take a short break. Your concentration should return. In fact, short and regular study periods

are more productive than lengthy single sessions.

4) Eat a well-balanced diet and drink lots of fluids. Excessive amounts of coffee may produce

confusion and even disorganization of thought processes.

5) Don't use drugs or alcohol -- they can decrease your ability to think clearly. Take medication

only under the supervision of a physician.

6) Be conservative and reasonable about the demands you place on yourself.

7) If you have a problem you believe will interfere with taking your exams, be sure to notify you teacher or a counselor/physician 

Attitude is important: Do you have a positive attitude?

  1. Are you willing to learn, no matter how difficult it is?

  2. Do you do your best when studying, and try to improve how you do your work?

  3. Do you demonstrate enthusiasm in whatever you say and do?

  4. Do you welcome challenges, experiment, try new ideas?

  5. Do you have a sense of humor by not taking yourself too seriously?

7 Easy Ways to Develop a Positive Attitude:

  1. Be confident

  2. Be positive

  3. Be punctual

  4. Be patient: some things just take time to do

  5. Believe in yourself: you are unique in this world, and so are your talents

  6. Set goals for yourself: then WORK hard to achieve them

  7. Get fun out of life: don’t take yourself too seriously

Source: adapted from Harvard Law School Health Service

Deep Breathing Exercises


Breathing Awareness and Deep Breathing

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair, maintaining good posture. Your body should be as relaxed as possible. Close your eyes. Scan your body for tension.

  2. Pay attention to your breathing. Place one hand on the part of your chest or abdomen that seems to rise and fall the most with each breath. If this spot is in your chest you are not utilizing the lower part of your lungs.

  3. Place both hands on your abdomen and follow your breathing, noticing how your abdomen rises and falls.

  4. Breathe through your nose.

  5. Notice if your chest is moving in harmony with your abdomen.

  6. Now place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.

  7. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your abdomen. You should feel your abdomen rise with this inhalation and your chest should move only a little.

  8. Exhale through your mouth, keeping your mouth, tongue, and jaw relaxed.

  9. Relax as you focus on the sound and feeling of long, slow, deep breaths.

Complete Natural Breathing

  1. Sit or stand with good posture.

  2. Breathe through your nose.

  3. Inhale, filling first the lower part of your lungs then the middle part, then the upper part.

  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.

  5. Exhale slowly. Relax your abdomen and chest.

Practice these two exercises, in whatever combination feels best for you, for ten minutes, twice a day.

Source: The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook

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