Getting Over Test Anxiety

Scenario #1:

Whenever an exam approaches, I have difficulty sleeping. Thoughts of the exam and the enormous amount of information I will have to retain fill my every thought. “What if …?” “Did I….?” “Can I….?” What can I do about this?

Scenario #2

The night before an exam, I get so anxious that I think about the possible horrors that could occur. “What if I don’t pass the exam?” “What can I do?”


Exams probably cause more anxiety, fear, and self-doubt than any other aspect of vet school. Test anxiety is fairly common and never fatal. A small amount of anxiety may be beneficial because it sharpens the senses and the mind. In large excess though, test anxiety may be overwhelming and can cause discomforting symptoms.

Test anxiety to a large degree, is related to test preparation. The more certain you are that you know the material, the less you experience test anxiety. Cramming contributes to test anxiety. When crammers are not working up to speed, they inwardly criticize themselves and worry about what they are not doing. As the test approaches, they are prey to anxious thoughts about being able to learn everything that they are being held accountable for and about possible failure. This stress increases proportionally to the immensity of the workload and peaks in the days just prior to the test.

It is estimated that 15 – 20% of college students experience lower grades due to effects of test anxiety.


  • Consider exams for what they are intended to be- just one measure of your acquisition of knowledge and skill.
  • Remember, you know things! Being prepared and having self-confidence will minimize your anxiety and increase your performance on exams.
  • PLAN. PLAN. PLAN. Having a schedule for exam review and implementing it will definitely help to decrease exam anxiety. Reinforce information regularly. Pace your review. Cramming is not a substitute for studying.
  • Find out as much as you can about the exam – what to focus on, the number and types of questions asked.
  • Review using a variety of techniques and make your review an active process (e.g., case mapping, study groups, self-recitation).
  • Engage in study groups as a way to clarify and solidify information and to view information from different perspectives.
  • Seek out faculty for tutorial assistance to clarify information.
  • Engage in stress reduction activities to minimize your stress level – visualization, meditation, deep breathing, positive self-affirmations prior to exams. It is important to BELIEVE in yourself.
  • EXERCISE REGULARLY to help decrease general levels of anxiety and to increase your overall physical and mental well-being.
  • GET ADEQUATE SLEEP during your preparation for the exam, including the night prior. Your brain does not do well on limited sleep. It actually needs sleep to create and keep those learning connections.
  • Avoid taking sleep inducing agents (like anti-histamines) prior to exams, as they may have negative side effects.
  • Be cautious of dramatically changing your lifestyle and the amount of caffeine ingested during the study period leading up to your exams.
  • If you feel nervous going into or during an exam, take a couple of deep breaths to clear your thoughts, to center yourself, and to rid yourself of negative energy and self-doubts.
  • If your anxiety is overwhelming and continues despite everything you do, seek professional assistance. Sometimes a professional “shoulder” or professional treatment will make an amazing difference; there’s no reason to suffer unnecessarily.
  • Determine whether talking to classmates near the time of the exam enhances or alleviates your anxiety and act accordingly.

People I can Talk to:

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to study for exams and feeling prepared for exams are keys to decreasing test anxiety. These factors contribute to a sense of self-confidence in doing well on exams.

Remember, exams should be viewed as tools to evaluate your learning and to identify areas of further self-improvement. They are not indicative of your self-worth.

It can be very frustrating and daunting to share your feelings to a fellow student about, for example, your anxiety about taking an upcoming exam – only to have that student downplay your anxiety, or tell you that they don’t worry, or tell you that you shouldn’t worry, or worse – critique your intense study habits. My advice is to surround yourself with people who recognize anxiety, admit that it’s real, and then help you find helpful solutions for it. These solutions can be in a variety of forms, including reviewing a troublesome topic for you, or taking a walk, or just allowing you to vent your frustration without critiquing what youre saying. I find that is the most helpful way to deal with anxiety at school, for anxiety is very real.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2020

I’ve found that the biggest source of test anxiety for me is my other classmates. There’s always going to be someone else who studies more than you, and those are typically the people who like to vocalize how much they’ve studied. The key is to not get freaked out by that. Don’t feed off of their anxiety. Get away from them. Study alone or find people who are supportive and helpful rather than competitive. You’ll be able to remember more when you’re not stressed out about how much you don’t know.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019

On the day of the test, I will go over the material one last time — usually just looking up a few little details. When I leave for school, I leave my study materials at home and I am officially done studying for the test. At school while I am waiting right before the test to start, I look at photos of my animals; it is nice because it reminds me why I am in vet school and it makes me happy. I am a big proponent of having a positive mindset will ultimately serve you better on a test than cramming and stressing the morning of.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2021

Try to study or look at the information every day. Don’t procrastinate. It will bite you in the butt every time.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2021

“The night before every exam in [med] school, I would stop studying and go see a movie. I think I learned early on that my goal in school was to learn what I needed to know to be a good doctor. As long as I reminded myself of that, exams only became a confirmation, not an obstacle to my goals.”

JABSOM Student, Class of 2004

“One way that I helped to decrease my test anxiety right before taking exams was to listen to music and focus on being calm but alert.”

JABSOM Student, Class of 2006


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Well-being Handbook Copyright © 2019 by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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