You’ve spent hours – no, days – studying for the exam. You’ve reviewed and memorized and practiced as much as you could. You’ve checked and rechecked your laptop to make sure it’s ready to go. Then, just before the exam begins, the anxiety starts. You might feel your heart race, your body temperature go up, your stomach turn to knots, or your breathing quicken. As you open the test booklet, you may draw a blank or start to panic. As you begin answering questions, you might get easily discouraged and start to feel hopeless. If this situation sounds familiar to you, you may have experienced test anxiety. Although severe test anxiety is rare, even a small amount of added nervousness or pressure can hinder your ability to perform your best on an exam. In law school, where your entire grade is based on a single final exam, performing your best in that moment is crucial. To control your nerves and keep test anxiety at bay, consider using the following strategies.

  1. Try mindfulness. Incorporate short, guided meditations into your study sessions to improve your focus and reduce your stress. If you’re overly anxious during an exam, you can use the mindfulness techniques you’ve been practicing to ground you and help you concentrate.
  2. Take a break. If you really start to panic during an exam, take a bathroom break. The physical movement and temporary change of scenery may help you refocus your thoughts.
  3. Self-affirm. It’s sounds touchy feely, but self-affirmation really works! Identify your academic strengths and repeat those qualities out load to yourself or write them down. Routine self-affirmation can promote perseverance and improve confidence, both traits that are important to exam success.
  4. Adopt a personal motto or theme song. Similar to self-affirmation, adopting an inspirational quote and upbeat song can put you in the right state of mind for taking on a difficult challenge. Don’t judge, but when I used to listen to “Titanium” before important hearings, and it really did make me feel more confident.
  5. Get a good luck charm. Find a small object, trinket, or figure to be your good luck charm. Keep it on your desk when you study and, if allowed, bring it into the exam room. If you can’t bring it into the exam room, visualize your good luck charm each time you start to get nervous. Having your good luck charm can give you a subconscious boost and focusing on it for a few seconds when you’re feeling anxious can help prevent your negative thoughts from spinning out of control.
  6. Play out your worst fear. Think about what would happen if you failed the test. Would it be bad? Yes. Would it be the end of the world? No. You’d have to take the course again, but trust me when I say your entire career would not be ruined. Plenty of people have come back from a poor grade to be incredibly successful. Sometimes playing out your worst fear minimizes the power it holds over you, which will allow you to focus on completing the exam rather than worrying about the consequences.
  7. PRACTICE! We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: practice is key to law school success. Practice taking exams under exam like conditions – that means in a classroom, timed, closed book, etc. – and you’ll feel more comfortable when it’s time for the actual exam.
  8. Go to the pros. Incorporating some simple strategies into your studying and exam taking can help you control your nerves, but if you’re test anxiety is severe, you may consider reaching out to a professional who specializes in this area.
  9. Get a good night’s sleep. Sufficient sleep is essential for controlling stress and performing your best under pressure. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep before and during final exams.
  10. Get a pep talk. Even if you aren’t feeling confident, the Academic Achievement Department knows that you can be successful on your exams! Stop by our office for some encouraging words and reassurance before you take your finals!