Exams. If that word induces a panic attack, you're not alone. Tests are definitely one of the most stressful parts of being a student. Unfortunately, studies report that stress can hurt your performance on exams. High levels of cortisol, the stress horomone, have been linked to all kinds of terrible effects

All of your hope doesn't have to be lost, though. There are ways to reduce stress before, during, and after your test to make everything goes as smoothly as possible.

The Night Before

Gabi Rosenthal

Although it may initially seem like last-minute cramming will help you reduce stress, resist the urge to do so. Make sure to spend the evening reviewing your notes or doing one of these study strategies, but cut yourself off early enough to get a full night of sleep.

Even though you've probably heard this a million times, it should be reiterated that the benefits of being well-rested for your exam outweigh any potential benefit of cramming all night.

rice, sauce, chicken, salmon, broccoli
Julie Goldstein

In the middle of all your studying, make sure to take a break to eat a nutritious meal. Try these food tricks to help your memory and eat these foods that have been linked to lower stress levels. Your dinner should be a balanced meal that includes whole-grain carbs, protein, and fiber to keep you energized for your studying and well-fueled for your exam the next day.

Also, be sure to stay hydrated. Drinking lots of water is important for your general health, but is extra important the night before a test. Hydration is key to memory retention and staying calm during your exam.

And before you hit the sheets, pack your bag with all of your test-taking essentials. The last thing you need the morning of a stressful test is to be running around looking for a #2 pencil, so organize everything you need the night before.

cake, cookie
Alana Stein

Pack pencils, erasers, a calculator, water bottle, snack, sweatshirt, and essentials such as your wallet and keys. If you think you'll have extra time after your test, you might want to grab a book or something to do when you finish as well. 

Prepping your breakfast for the next morning is another way to reduce stress when you wake up. Overnight oats are a great pre-exam breakfast, and super easy to prepare the night before.


Once you have everything ready to go, put on your comfiest pajamas, set your alarm, and go to sleep as early as possible.

The Morning of the Test

tea, coffee
Nicole Laszlo

The morning of the test, I recommend getting your blood flowing by exercising. As a distance runner, I know firsthand the benefits of lacing up your sneakers. Exercise burns off cortisol and releases endorphins which packs in the 1-2 punch of reducing stress and replacing it with a feel-good hormone.

Beyond that, exercise just makes you feel good about yourself, period. When you get back from a run, you feel competent, capable, and ready to crush whatever life might throw at you.

oatmeal, muesli, cereal, milk, banana, porridge
Dina Zaret

When you're done with your workout, don't forget to stretch it out and refuel with a nutritious breakfast. Some of my favorites are oatmeal, avocado toast, or the classic eggs and toast, but anything with protein, carbs, and healthy fats will fuel your brain.

While you eat, you can do a little bit of last minute studying if you think you need to. Don't go overboard, though — it's too late for you to really learn anything at this point, and too much studying will just make you panic.

Before you leave, dress in comfortable clothes and take some extra time to give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. Sure, it's a little cheesy, and it might feel a little weird, but positive self-talk is a great way to get in a positive headspace and reduce stress.

During the Test

There are still ways to reduce your stress, even once you're taking the exam.

Many long exams (such as the SAT) have break times built in, so use them. Get up out of your seat, stretch, and take a drink of water. Break times provide an opportunity to go to the bathroom and do some more positive self talk, if you're up for it. 

Even if you don't have breaks, make sure to take lots of deep breaths to stay calm. Try to focus only on the moment, you'll work more efficiently and avoid panicking if you don't think about the implications of the test grade.

After the Test

Congrats! You made it to the end. When you leave the test, try to avoid comparing answers with the other people who took the test. You can't change anything now, so it's pointless to stress yourself out by worrying about what other people wrote.

Instead, go #treatyoself with some ice cream and a relaxing afternoon. You've earned it.