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How to Reduce Exam Anxiety

Exams are stressful, there isn't any way around it, or is there? At some point or another we've all experienced test taking anxiety. This is my fool proof method to conquer the stress and ace my exams.

There is truly nothing like the stress of taking an exam…especially when you’re in nursing school. Nursing school is unique in so many ways compared to other degree programs. In my past I have always been an excellent student (not to toot my own horn or anything). So when everyone said that this would be incredibly difficult and would require countless hours of studying to just get B’s I took it with a grain of salt, and assumed that my study habits from years past would serve me well. I was wrong.

I got a 60 on my first quiz and a 70 on my first exam. For the first time I found myself stressed about grades and doubting my ability to do well in the program. As I sure you can imagine this created a tremendous amount of anxiety.

I knew that if I got one more bad test grade I would need to use one of my two withdrawals to save myself from failing the class and I needed to save them for more challenging courses than Fundamentals of Nursing. I was discouraged, but mostly I was angry with myself. However, I have never been a quitter so I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and decided to completely overhaul my study routine. Once that was done the next step was to conquer the crippling fear I felt every time I thought about the next test.

I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the exact same thing…easier said than done. I’m naturally a very anxious person and when you combine that with my insane desire to be the absolute best possible version of myself at all times, I had an enormous task on my hands.

The great news is that all of these elements combined with my new and improved study routine (stay tuned for that) helped me raise my exam grade 16 points. That’s right, I went from an 80% on my second exam to a 96% on my third. You’ll be posting loads of engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.

First things first, no caffeine. I decided to cut out caffeine for at least twenty-four hours prior to a quiz or exam. Ideally I try not to have caffeine at all, but sometimes I can’t resist a Diet Coke. Caffeine adds to a jittery feelings and also makes it impossible for me to fall asleep the night before tests. Neither of those is helpful in stressful situations.

The next step was to make sure I got in at least three workouts a week. We’ve all heard the benefits of exercise hundreds of times. In the words of Elle Woods “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands.” Even though working out was the last thing I felt like doing after a long night of studying I really did notice a marked improvement in my ability to handle stress after I started working out regularly again. Moral of the story, endorphins are a real thing and they can absolutely help you get through the stresses of nursing school. If exercise isn’t your thing try going for a walk, dancing, or maybe even meditation.

Step three; get yourself an herbal tea for before your exam. Something about sipping a yummy herbal tea (I like mine with lemon) makes me feel all cozy and relaxed. The warmth makes me feel like my brain is being given a big hug. If herbal tea isn’t your jam find your version of herbal tea. Don’t read too much into this, just go with your gut and get yourself a drink, snack or even a stick of gum to help you get into a chill headspace.

Next up on the list, take some quiet time before you head into class on test days. Personally, I like taking my herbal tea with me to the library to relax and calmly go through my flash cards quietly before I head to the classroom for the exam. I prefer to go over flashcards because it makes me feel a little more in control, but if reviewing notes or flash cards makes you feel panicky feel free to just sit quietly and read, or watch videos on your phone. After a few quizzes and exams I found that my fellow classmates loved to chat about the material, discuss their nerves and go over the material with each other. Which was fine, but personally I found it a little too overly stimulating right before an exam.

Pro-tip: I strongly recommend combining steps three & four for ultimate relaxation.

Step five, and this one is my favorite, square breathing. It is incredibly easy and you can do it whenever you want and no one will know the difference. Here’s how it works; you breathe in deep for four seconds, you want to feel your lungs fill and press down on your diaphragm rather than filling up your belly, hold your breathe for four seconds, breathe out for another four seconds, and rest for four seconds. Repeat as needed! Hence the reason it’s called square breathing. When you control your breathing you are able to control your nervous system and reduce your stress. I have used this technique for calming my nerves for many years and it is the only thing that can stop my hands from shaking when that test paper is set down in front of me. If you decide to only try one thing from this list I couldn’t possibly recommend square breathing more.

At the end of the day nothing can replace hard work and great study habits. However, stress can definitely make it harder for you to concentrate, read the questions carefully, and remember everything you learned. Conquering your anxiety can make a huge difference, and will make your nursing school experience one you look back on fondly. Do you have a relaxation tip that has served you well? If so please share at the bottom of the page and I’ll feature my favorite in the “you asked for it…” section next week!

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