How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety during Exams

Syeda Zahirunisa
January 22, 2024
5 min read
“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.” – Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. 

The experience of exam stress is something we all share before, during, and even after exams. Despite thorough preparation, there’s a twinge of anxiety that often creeps in with questions like, "Have I covered everything?" or, "What if I can't recall these important points?" This shared experience ties together students and a myriad of others, all facing stress during significant exams or tests. While exam stress in students is completely normal, the pressure to perform well can lead to anxiety, decreased focus, and sometimes even burnout. Moreover, it can take a toll on one’s mental and physical well-being.

From mindful preparation and organized study schedules to physical activities and relaxation techniques, here are a range of strategies that can help you navigate challenging exam periods with a greater sense of calm and confidence.

Ways to overcome test anxiety - The conventional ways

1. Plan and Organize

Before diving into your study session, ensure you have all the essential materials and sources at hand. Break down your study materials into smaller, manageable segments and assign dedicated time slots to tackle each one. Having a structured plan can make studying feel more manageable and reduce last-minute cramming. As an alternative, you could also experiment with time management methods to significantly improve your study sessions.

Planning and organizing study schedule can help reduce exam stress

2. Try Relaxation Techniques

Integrate awareness exercises such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to enhance your daily routine. These methods will effectively soothe your mind, ease test anxiety, and improve your overall focus. For instance, the Mindfulness app on your Apple Watch can help you set aside a few minutes a day to focus on deep breathing, which could lower blood pressure and stress levels significantly.

Moreover, prioritize getting sufficient sleep to ensure that your brain functions optimally during both study sessions and exams.

Trying relaxation techniques can help reduce exam anxiety

3. Maintain a Balanced Diet

As rightly put by the saying, "You are what you eat," a well-balanced diet plays a crucial role in reducing exam stress. Nourish yourself with mind-enhancing foods like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. While caffeine undoubtedly heightens alertness and concentration, scientific evidence has proven its potential to disrupt sleep patterns and trigger irritability. Choose more wholesome foods such as herbal teas and fruits to foster well-being.

Maintaing a balanced diet can help in lowering exam stress

4. Exercise Regularly

A healthy body lays the foundation for a sound mind. Engaging in daily physical activity naturally reduces exam stress. Make regular exercise a part of your routine, whether through jogging, yoga, or following a quick workout plan. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are known for their mood-enhancing and stress-reducing properties.

Making exercise a part of routine can help reduce exam related stress

5. Limit Distractions

While social media platforms and smartphones are great sources of entertainment, they also prove to be one of the biggest sources of distraction, especially during stressful periods like exams. Moreover, research indicates that excessive phone usage and extensive engagement with social media can adversely affect your mental health.

To maintain a healthier technological relationship and better mental well-being, set limits on your screen time, take breaks from social media, and participate in other stress-relief activities, especially during exam periods.

Limiting social media during exams can help with stress

6. Avoid Discussing with Peers

While engaging in discussions can act as an effective method to understand difficult concepts and revise information with your peers, at times, it can also imply that the material or resources your friend has covered might still be unfamiliar to you. This situation can potentially contribute to the stress of having a backlog of topics yet to be explored by you. It's important to keep in mind that each individual learns at a pace and in a style that suits them best, and staying true to your own learning pace and style will help you achieve better results.

Avoiding discussion with friends can act as an advantage during exam stress

7. Try Different Learning Strategies

Effective learning strategies can significantly reduce the stress associated with exams, enhance your preparation, and boost your confidence.

Methods like the blurting technique, the Feynman approach, the Leitner system, and more, stand as examples. Always remember that consistency is key; finding the perfect blend of strategies that align with your strengths will definitely contribute to achieving successful outcomes.

Using different learning strategies can help boost confidence and reduce exam anxiety

Tips to reduce exam stress - The unconventional ways

The points mentioned above might be familiar to you, but there are some other interesting ways to significantly reduce exam tension or stress. They all involve one important thing though: not thinking about exams, for a while at least. Here are some creative suggestions that can help you manage exam stress:

Alternate ways like eating dark chocolate, hobbies and VR can help with exam stress

1. Dark Chocolate 

Just as Professor Lupin offers Harry Potter chocolate after facing a dementor (exams can be as scary as one!), eating chocolate, especially a dark one, can help with exam stress.  

Professor Lupin offering harry potter chocolate after facing a dementor

Research shows that eating dark chocolate reduces stress hormones and improves memory significantly. Dark chocolate might have an impact on stress hormones like cortisol, potentially leading to a temporary reduction in stress levels. However, the benefits of dark chocolate are generally thought to be most significant when it is consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

2. Express Through Art

Immerse yourself in activities that bring you solace, such as writing down your thoughts, journaling, playing a soothing musical instrument, singing, or perhaps painting. Engaging in things you enjoy and are passionate about can create numerous positive effects on your mental and emotional well-being, helping to manage and reduce exam stress in the process.

3. Virtual Reality Escapes

VR experiences can offer a way to distract yourself and escape from the real world. Immersing yourself in a captivating VR environment can divert your attention from stressors and negative thoughts, allowing you to concentrate on something enjoyable and novel.

Listening to music, playing with animals and guided imagery can help with exam stress

4. Create a Stress-relief Playlist

Music has been proven to have various psychological and physiological effects, including its ability to positively impact mood, emotions, and stress levels. Research has shown that listening to classical music such as solo piano pieces, Mozart sonatas, calming compositions and similar gentle music can have positive effects on focus, concentration and mood. 

So, put on a playlist of your favorite soothing music that uplifts your spirits!

Additionally, you can even explore brown noises. Brown noises are basically deep rumbling sounds that resemble the low-frequency sounds of a waterfall or thunder. Studies have shown listening to specific noise types, including brown noise, might have potential benefits in reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

5. Spend Time with Animals

Spending time with animals can often reduce stress and have positive effects on mental well-being. Interacting with animals can trigger the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the "bonding hormone.” Oxytocin is associated with feelings like happiness, trust, and social bonding, which can ease stress and anxiety. Whether it’s spending time with your own pets or visiting an animal shelter, animals have a way of bringing joy and comfort.

6. Guided Imagery

Guided imagery involves using your imagination to create calming and soothing mental scenarios, such as imagining peaceful scenes, events, or objects. Engaging in guided imagery encourages your body's relaxation response by shifting your emotional state towards a more positive one.

7. Exercise your Brain Differently

Engaging in puzzles and games can divert your attention away from the sources of stress. They provide a mental break and allow you to focus on something enjoyable and challenging, such as solving puzzles, tackling brain teasers, or playing strategy games. Switching your focus to a different type of mental challenge can break the cycle of exam-related stress.


Exams may be challenging, but by implementing these strategies, you can effectively reduce exam anxiety and improve your overall performance to a great extent. Remember that it's normal to experience some level of stress before exams, but with proper planning, self-care, and a positive mindset, you can tackle exams with confidence and success. Best of luck!

Mental Health
Syeda Zahirunisa

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