Coping with Exam Anxiety

For most Dartmouth students, exam time is particularly stressful. While there is no guarantee for an easy time on exams, there are some specific guidelines that students can follow which will help them learn more efficiently during exam time.

Remember that you are not alone; almost everyone gets somewhat anxious at exam time.

It is clear that it does not help to put added stress on yourself by: keeping irregular hours,  pulling all-nighters, eating irregularly or eating junk food, relying on ineffective learning strategies.


  1. Try to stay on a reasonably regular schedule of reviewing, eating, sleeping and relaxing. Start at least a week or preferably two, before exams begin.
  2. Don’t attempt to study 24 hours a day; your efficiency and capacity to retain material will rapidly decrease.
  3. Don’t force yourself to study beyond your normal limits of concentration. If you find yourself able to concentrate for only ten or twenty minutes, study for only that period of time and then take a short break. Your concentration should return. In fact, short and regular study periods are more productive than lengthy single sessions.
  4. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink lots of fluids. Excessive amounts of caffeine may produce confusion and even disorganization of thought processes.
  5. Don’t use drugs or alcohol—they can decrease your ability to think clearly. Take medication only under the supervision of a physician.
  6. Be conservative and reasonable about the demands you place on yourself.
  7. If you have a problem you believe will interfere with taking your exams, be sure to notify your class dean in Berry or a counselor/physician in Dick’s House before you take your exam.

Contact the Academic Skills Center for additional suggestions and advice.

Rev. 3/2016; originally adapted from Harvard Law School Health Service by Alison Burrell ‘95

Deep Breathing Exercises

Breathing Awareness and Deep Breathing

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair, maintaining good posture. Your body should be as relaxed as possible. Close your eyes. Scan your body for tension.
  2. Pay attention to your breathing. Place one hand on the part of your chest or abdomen that seems to rise and fall the most with each breath. If this spot is in your chest you are not utilizing the lower part of your lungs.
  3. Place both hands on your abdomen and follow your breathing, noticing how your abdomen rises and falls.
  4. Breathe through your nose.
  5. Notice if your chest is moving in harmony with your abdomen.
  6. Now place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.
  7. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your abdomen. You should feel your abdomen rise with this inhalation and your chest should move only a little.
  8. Exhale through your mouth, keeping your mouth, tongue, and jaw relaxed.
  9. Relax as you focus on the sound and feeling of long, slow, deep breaths.

Complete Natural Breathing

  1. Sit or stand with good posture.
  2.  Breathe through your nose.
  3. Inhale, filling first the lower part of your lungs then the middle part, then the upper part.
  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly. Relax your abdomen and chest.

Practice these two exercises, in whatever combination feels best for you, for ten minutes, twice a day.

Taken from Davis, Eshelman, and McKay; The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, 2nd edition; New Harbinger Publications, 1982.