Dealing with Exam Stress

A laptop sitting on a table outside with a notebook and glass of water next to itWritten by: Hanbi Lee 

Photo by: Bram Naus on Unsplash

With exams right around the corner, stress levels are spiking up. But exam season doesn’t have to be filled with stress and anxiety, both of which are propelled even more by lack of sleep and improper nutrition.

This semester, exams are online once again. Online exams can be particularly stressful, with possible internet cutouts, linearly progressing exams, intimidating online proctoring, and so on. Fortunately, these things can all be accounted for when you plan ahead. (The following tips can be helpful for neurodivergent students as well!)

Plan out your study schedule

Planning out a study schedule can seem daunting at first, but it can be helpful to even have a vague idea of how you want to divide up your studying time. Mark your calendars for when your exams are, then go through each course to see what material will be covered on the exam. Then based on how much time you think you’ll need for each unit/chapter/lecture (try to be as realistic as you can!), plan backward from the date of your exam, making sure to leave ample time for sleep and practice questions the night before. It also helps to prioritize the subjects you know will be more difficult to study for.

Take breaks

It may seem counterintuitive but forcing yourself to sit at your desk for long hours can actually lead you to burn out faster. And once you’ve lost motivation, it’s incredibly difficult to get back into studying again. Taking intentional breaks (that are reasonable) can help to make your studying more efficient. It can even be a way to incentivize yourself to take your next break. Another tip is to try taking your break away from your desk so that you can compartmentalize your workspace from your rest space. It’s also a good excuse to get up, stretch, and move your body a bit.

Find study methods that work for you 

Especially if you’re on a time crunch, it’s essential to work smarter, not harder. Try to reflect on what methods have worked for you in the past. Everyone has different strengths and different ways they absorb information, so it’s important to be aware of how you think and work. Maybe you’re a visual learner and need to see the material rather than hearing it through a lecture. Maybe you learn best from drawing out mind maps. Different types of classes might require different learning methods. There are loads of study tools and methods out there, so if you’re unsure of what works for you, it can be helpful to try looking online for some guidance. Once you figure this out, you’ll find that studying won’t take as much effort and time.


If you find that you study better in a group setting, find friends to study with over Zoom. You can create a private library setting by studying in each other’s company and keeping each other accountable.

If you’re the type of student that works best from thinking out loud and bouncing ideas off other people, this can be a helpful study tool. Just make sure that they’re on the same page as you in terms of talking aloud to study.

Practice with past exams 

Ask your classmates, your professor, or someone who has already taken the course for any practice exam material. Knowing what kind of questions to expect can be extremely helpful in both writing the exam successfully, as well as calming down during the exam because of the familiarity of having practiced it before.

Get support

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors. They’re also rooting for your success, so they’ll likely be more than willing to help or answer your questions. Western also offers many resources to get support during your studies. And the resources are catered to different individuals with different needs. Besides academic help, you can also get help for mental health and accommodations for your needs. Check out the Student Experience website for more information.

Don't skip out on healthy meals 

Research shows that while the brain represents just 2% of a person's total body weight, it accounts for 20% of the body's energy use. It’s important to provide good fuel for your brain as you exert it continuously throughout your study sessions. As much as it might be tempting to skip a meal or grab something quick and unhealthy, try to eat a well-balanced meal as regularly as you can.

Prepare what you need in advance 

As your exam date approaches, make sure you have everything you need for the exam. If there’s an onboarding process for a proctored exam, make sure to do that in advance as it can take a couple of days to process. Ensure you have the proper time for each of your exams as well as the Zoom links that you may need for a Zoom-proctored exam. If the exam is linear, try to plan out how much time you should be spending on each question. Write your exam in a quiet area of your house where there’s a good internet connection and you know you won’t be interrupted. Always have paper and pens nearby, as well as other tools you might need, such as a calculator (unless your professor specifically states otherwise).

Get sleep 

If at all possible, don’t stay up trying to cram the night before. If you’ve prepared and planned well in advance and stuck to the plan, you shouldn’t need to anyway! It’s essential to get a good night’s sleep the night before your exam, so aim for a solid 7-9 hours, depending on what works for you!

Good luck on exams!

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