University of Medicine and Health Sciences

    How Med Students Can Overcome Exam Anxiety

    Posted by Scott Harrah
    Apr 21, 2015 10:21:17 AM

    Exam anxiety is a big problem for students at American and Caribbean medical schools, but there are ways to combat the stress and still do well.

    The UMHS Endeavour looks at ways to overcome exam anxiety as the end of the semester nears. We will include advice from the American Institute of Medical Sciences and Education, the Mayo Clinic and a study done at the University of Chicago that offers a new way to tackle exams.

    Tips to Ease Exam Stress

    On the American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education website, Ian Morrow writes many helpful tips in “Becoming a Better Student: Overcoming Test Anxiety.”

    To ease anxiety, Mr. Morrow says to keep two things in mid: “What to do before the test, and what to do while taking the test.”

    Be prepared. Mr. Morrow says lack of preparation can cause test anxiety. “If this is the case, you might find that you need to work on study skills and habits and/or time management,” he says. “Search for resources online that can offer study tips, general or specific, to make sure you’re making wise use of study time. Thank hard about how you study. Is it helpful? Are there other ways that might help you remember information better? Consider studying in groups where you can test each other.”

    He offers online resources and more tips in the post “Never Fail a Medical Exam: Train the Impeccable Memory” at

    Test-Taking Strategies

    Mr. Morrow says to look at test-taking strategies and find out which ones work for you.

    “If you show up to a test with a strategy, you’ll go in with a lot more confidence,” he says. “Keep in mind that different strategies are going to be required for different types of tests. For example, a good strategy for answering open-ended questions is to make a short list of the relevant vocabulary and concepts. You can then use those notes to help plan out your answer.”

    This strategy may not work for multiple choice exams. So what to do on such a test?. “Instead it’s beneficial for students to answer the questions they know right from the start,” he says. “That allows them to avoid getting stuck on a difficult question and running out of time before answering the easier questions. Remember to always ask your instructors what to expect on tests; many will be more than willing to provide you with some helpful tips. When they give you insight into their tests, listen.”

    Choose a Positive Mantra

    Mr. Morrow advises students to choose a positive mantra-like positive saying to help them through an exam. “This can help clear your mind so that you can focus on the subject in front of you, instead of on feelings of negativity,” he says. “This relaxation method might not be for everyone though. Some people prefer to use breathing to calm their nerves. Taking a deep breath will not only help clear your mind, but it also slows your heart rate and helps with brain function. Slow, deliberate breaths are a great way to manage stress levels during tests.

    Ask Your Instructor for Help

    If study methods and mantras don’t work, ask your instructor for help. Many professors will work with you after class, and most medical schools have tutoring available.

    “Don’t be afraid to approach your instructor or a counselor regarding any difficulties you are having,” he says. “They are there to help you succeed, so you should definitely take advantage of any help you can get.”

    Mayo Clinic Tips for Overcoming Exam Anxiety

    On the Mayo Clinic website, Daniel K. Flavin, M.D. offers similar suggestions for keeping exam nerves under control.

    Dr. Flavin gives the following tips.

    • Learn how to study efficiently. Your school may offer study-skills classes or other resources that can help you learn study techniques and test-taking strategies. You'll feel more relaxed if you systematically study and practice the material that will be on a test.
    • Establish a consistent pretest routine. Learn what works for you, and follow the same steps each time you get ready to take a test. This will ease your stress level and help assure you that you're well-prepared.
    • Learn relaxation techniques. There are a number of things you can do right before and during the test to help you stay calm and confident, such as deep breathing, relaxing your muscles one at a time, or closing your eyes and imagining a positive outcome.
    • Don't forget to eat and drink. Your brain needs fuel to function. Eat the day of the test and drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda pop, which can cause your blood sugar to peak and then drop, or caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks or coffee, which can increase anxiety.
    • Get some exercise. Regular aerobic exercise, and exercising on exam day, can release tension.
    • Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is directly related to academic performance. Preteens and teenagers especially need to get regular, solid sleep.

    Study Says Writing Down Worries Before Exam Helps

    Writing down your thoughts and feelings prior to an exam can help relieve anxiety, according to a study from the journal Science back in 2011. The report was featured in the Huffington Post in the article “Testing Anxiety: Researchers Find Solution to Help Students Cope” by Donna Gordon Blankinship.

    The study done at the University of Chicago said students should spent 10 minutes before an exam writing about thoughts and feelings. This can “free up brainpower previously occupied by testing worries.”

    "We essentially got rid of this relationship between test anxiety and performance," Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study with graduate student Gerardo Ramirez, is quoted as saying in the article.

    Researchers discovered how students with text anxiety “improved their test grades by nearly one grade point—from a B-minus to a B-plus, for example—if they were given 10 minutes before an exam to write about their feelings.”

    So if you’re really stressed out, take a deep breath, write down what’s troubling you, and then go ace the exam.

    (Top photo) OVERCOME EXAM ANXIETY: Follow these tips outlined below. Photo: Narek 75/Wikimedia Commons

    About UMHS:

    Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciencesfocuses on individual student attention, maintaining small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. We call this unique approach, “personalized medical education,” and it’s what has led to our unprecedented 96% student retention rate, and outstanding residency placements across the US and Canada. UMHS is challenging everything you thought you knew about Caribbean medical schools.

    Posted by Scott Harrah

    Scott is Director of Digital Content at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City,

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