Exam Anxiety

*Content contributed by Joanne Mills, Student Health and Wellness

Many students experience anxiety leading up to and throughout the process of writing exams. This is a normal response and while some anxiety can help to keep us motivated and focused, too much may interfere with exam performance. 

Some things that can contribute to exam anxiety are poor study and exam-taking strategies, time-management difficulties, and psychological factors such as negative thinking and self-criticism. 

Lifestyle choices can also increase anxiety. Not getting enough rest or proper nutrition prior to an exam may impact your ability to focus and concentrate. 

Is accommodation possible? 

Exam anxiety may interfere with your ability to demonstrate your knowledge, but it’s not by itself a condition that would lead to accommodation. Exam anxiety can often be experienced by people who have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, however, not in every case. 

Exams are part of university, and often part of professional licensing, so it’s important to develop strategies to prepare for exams and manage anxiety.

Tips for reducing exam anxiety


Be prepared 
Over-learning the material will help you feel that you’re ready and more confident when taking the exam. Our Studying for Success program can assist you with learning effective study and time-management strategies. 

Learn techniques to manage your anxiety and negative thinking 
This will help you notice any negative or irrational thoughts you may be having and how to remain calm during your exam. Student Health and Wellness can assist you with learning these strategies and relaxation techniques. 

Proper rest and nutrition are important
Staying up all night and cramming before an exam can worsen anxiety. Getting adequate rest and eating a nutritious meal before an exam can also help reduce your anxiety.

Do not rush before an exam
Have everything you need for your exam ready the night before so you’re not rushing, as this will increase your anxiety.

Arrive early
Be at the testing site early so you won’t have to deal with the added stress of being late. 

Course instructors

Hold review sessions before the exam
Where possible, include a handout with key concepts, dates, definitions and theories.

Refer students to other supports to address their exam anxiety
Check out Your Guide to Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress.

Accessibility advisor

Determine whether an accommodation is required. 

Discuss strategies with students about coping with exam anxiety.

Identify health and wellness supports, along with study skills and tutoring.