Every year at exam time, students deal with rising stress levels as the time comes to demonstrate what they have learned. Tests are natural stressful events. They not only require you to learn information, they add the elements of time pressure, and the unknown since you don't know exactly what is going to be on the test. And finally, they are literally designed to judge you on how well you did!  These circumstances can be challenging for any student. If you add anxiety to the mix, however, they can be particularly problematic. Anxiety and panic distract us from the task at hand with unwanted physical symptoms, while at the same time challenging our concentration and making it really difficult to focus on the task at hand. Under these circumstances, performance can suffer even when we know the material we have been studying really well. Dr. Jason Ediger has been working with anxiety for over 20 years as a psychologist and he has six steps that might make it a bit easier the next time you go into a stressful exam.

Step One: Prioritizing Rest- The Importance of Sleep Before an Exam

Make sure you get some sleep the night before the exam. Late night studying is well and good, but on the day of the exam you want to be rested. According to Dr. Ediger, it's more important to be rested and able to think on our feet than to know information, but be too tired to access it during the exam.

Step Two: Strategizing Your Arrival- The Impact of Timing on Exam Day

Manage the time you arrive at the exam. Ediger notes that there are negatives to being both too early and too late. Arriving too early gives you way too much time to ruminate and work yourself up before the exam. That's going to undo lots of the confidence you built by studying before the exam. At the same time, getting there too close to the time of the exam introduces uncertainty around traffic, parking, and other unknowns that can also increase stress and reduce performance. Aim to arrive about a half hour before the exam to give you time to relax and get ready.

Step Three: Embracing Relaxation and Recall in the Final Pre-Exam Moments- You Know What You Know

Once you're at the exam, how you spend the time matters. Ruminating about pending failure, and panic studying are unlikely to help you in the last half hour before the exam.  At this point, Dr. Ediger indicated that you likely already know what you know. Instead, consider spending the time, regulating your body and focusing on getting ready.  Breathe and help yourself relax. Don't focus on putting new information into your brain, but think about those things you have learned in the course and the information you want to demonstrate that you know well.

Step Four: The Power of Routine- Streamlining Exam Setup

Routine is your friend!  Once you are in the exam, get yourself set up.  If the exam is online, make sure you're set up and have a power supply. If it's paper and pencil, make sure you have your pen etc. Get your coffee or water out and ready to go. Do this exactly the same way for all your exams. If possible do this exactly the same way when you study! Routine has a way of calming the mind and letting us focus on the task at hand. It also makes sure that we don't forget things and get flustered.

Step Five: Preliminary Skimming- The Advantage of a Quick Overview Before Diving In

If it is possible, skim through the whole exam right away. Look ahead, and answer easy questions as soon as you see them. This builds confidence, lets you plan what areas you might need to leave extra time for, and identifies if any parts of the exam are worth more than other parts. Prioritize easy sections and sections that are worth more than the rest. Once those are done you can focus remaining time on the more challenging areas. Don't forget to breathe!

Step Six: Double Checking Without Second Guessing - Verification and Confidence

Step six: Double check your work, but don't second guess yourself. Anxiety reduces attention to detail so it's a good idea to double check your work. At the same time, while anxiety reduces confidence, our first answer is quite often the right answer. Don't change the answer to questions unless you are very sure that you were wrong the first time. When in doubt, stick with your first answer.

In conclusion, remember that it is normal to get anxious under stress. That doesn't mean we want our anxiety to determine how well we do under stress. If anxiety is running your life and ruining your GPA, Dr. Ediger wants you to know that there is help out there. Look for support in your student resource departments, talk to your doctor, or contact a professional who specializes in anxiety.