Dealing With Test Anxiety During Medical School

As a medical student, there are several tests you need to write before you can be certified as a medical professional. Before taking the test, it seems like everything is at stake; that if you don’t pass the exam, you’ll probably never pass any exam again or that all your efforts will crumble.

We want you to know that you’re not alone. In fact, it’s actually quite expected for you to feel that way. However, just like your exams, you’ll need to deal with it. In the coming paragraphs, we’ll delve into how to deal with anxiety during medical school.

What is Test Anxiety?

Experiencing a certain level of anxiety before a test is a common phenomenon. In fact, a mild sense of nervousness can be a helpful motivator, sharpening your focus and attention. However, for some students, test anxiety can escalate to an overwhelming level. This form of anxiety can be seen as a manifestation of performance anxiety, particularly among medical students who often place immense pressure on themselves to excel in every aspect.

Test anxiety can trigger intense physical and emotional reactions that adversely impact exam performance. As a result, medical students may find themselves in distress and helplessness, regardless of their effort to study.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can manifest in different ways, physically and emotionally affecting us. Regarding the physical symptoms, you might experience sensations like nausea, trembling or shaking, feeling lightheaded or faint, excessive sweating, vomiting, having a dry mouth, or even having panic attacks with a racing heart rate.

Emotionally, test anxiety can take a toll on our well-being, leading to irritability, frustration, a dip in self-esteem, negative thoughts creeping in, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It’s as if everything becomes too much to handle, and we start doubting ourselves.

In terms of our thinking and behaviour, test anxiety can make us engage in negative self-talk, where we constantly put ourselves down and believe we won’t succeed. Our ability to focus and concentrate may suffer, making studying difficult. Sometimes, the anxiety becomes so intense that we find ourselves avoiding situations related to studying or testing, trying to escape the overwhelming pressure.

It’s important to remember that test anxiety can vary in severity. While some of us may experience milder symptoms and still perform well on exams, others might face more severe manifestations, such as panic attacks, before the exam begins. Each individual’s experience is unique, and it’s crucial to address and manage test anxiety in a way that works best for you.

Dealing with the test anxiety

When it comes to facing daunting exams like the MCCQE or USMLE, it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious. But hey, don’t worry! There are some practical methods you can use to overcome test anxiety and tackle the test with confidence. Here are our top tips to help you manage test anxiety as a student:

1. Watch your caffeine intake: We all love that extra kick from coffee, but too much caffeine can worsen anxiety. So, limit your caffeine consumption to keep those nerves in check.

2. Take meaningful study breaks: Don’t forget to give yourself regular breaks from studying. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, like walking, pursuing a hobby, or spending time with your loved ones.

3. Prioritize a good night’s sleep: Your brain needs proper rest to function at its best. Make sure you get enough sleep the night before the exam so you feel refreshed and alert.

4. Remember your unique identity: It’s important to see yourself beyond being a medical student. Take a moment to reflect on the things that make you who you are, engage in activities that bring you joy, and maintain a healthy balance in your life.

5. Practice mindfulness or meditation: Incorporating mindfulness or meditation into your daily routine can work wonders for reducing stress. Take a few minutes daily to focus on your breath, clear your mind, and find inner calmness.

6. Tap into your strengths and motivations: Remind yourself why you embarked on this journey to become a doctor. Reflect on your unique strengths and talents that have brought you this far. Embracing a positive mindset and self-belief can help you overcome anxiety and boost your confidence.

7. Stay active and exercise: Physical activity is not only great for your overall well-being but also helps to reduce anxiety. Prioritize regular exercise leading up to the exam to release tension and promote a positive mindset

Effective strategies to deal with test anxiety

To overcome test anxiety, it is crucial to prepare in advance and dedicate ample time to studying before the test. Additionally, seeking assistance from tutors or mentors can prove highly beneficial during this process.

Once you have implemented these effective strategies for test preparation, you can employ specific techniques to manage nervousness while taking the test:

  • The “Skip 10” approach: For tests with around 40-50 questions, start by tackling question 11 in each section and then work your way to the end. Once you reach the end, go back and complete the remaining ten questions. This time management technique tricks your mind into perceiving the rest of the test as more manageable when you circle back to question 1.


  • Skip uncertain questions: It is common to encounter challenging questions or sections that may confuse you. If you encounter a cluster of questions that you’re not confident about, it’s best to temporarily skip that section and return to it later after completing the rest of the exam. This approach helps prevent wasting valuable time and allows you to focus on questions you feel more certain about, reducing unnecessary stress.


  • Reframe test anxiety as helpful: Changing your mindset can be a powerful tool to prevent test anxiety from overwhelming you. Some medical students find success in viewing their stress as a positive force that aids their memory and concentration during the test. By shifting your perception, you can gain a sense of control over your anxiety rather than allowing it to control you.


  • Remember there are more questions: Avoid fixating on uncertain questions, especially early in the exam. In most cases, all questions carry equal weight. Dwelling on a single question only increases stress and doubt and hampers your ability to focus. Aim to limit the number of marked questions you plan to revisit to less than 10. Even if you’re unsure about a specific answer, remember that there are other questions you can answer correctly and redirect your energy towards completing the exam and approaching each following question with your best effort.


  • Limit negative thoughts: Although challenging, avoid dwelling on negative thoughts. Focusing on negativity can cloud your thinking, affect your mood, and impair your ability to concentrate. Treat each test as a new opportunity and avoid carrying negative emotions from previous encounters into the current session. Keep your focus on the task at hand. Even if you’ve faced setbacks in the past, remember that this is a new chance, and you should approach it with confidence and determination.


  • Believe in your abilities: You have dedicated significant time and effort to studying for this exam, and you should take pride in the knowledge and experience you have acquired. Boost your confidence by believing in your ability to answer the questions and succeed in the assessment. Some individuals find it helpful to view the exam as a practice test, as this perspective often alleviates stress. Remember that what may appear easy to you might not be the case for others. If a question seems straightforward, it’s because you are well-prepared, and you should commend yourself for your abilities.


  • Utilize context clues: Regardless of how thoroughly you have prepared, it is natural to come across a question or two you are unsure about. In such instances, pay attention to context clues that can guide you in understanding what the question is seeking. When selecting relevant information from a question, focus on the details that assist in determining a diagnosis or related answer choices. While nerves may be present, rely on your instincts. Utilize the information provided in the question to simplify the process. Test scenarios generally revolve around commonly occurring cases rather than obscure diseases or treatment procedures.

When you implement these strategies, you can effectively manage test anxiety and approach the exam with a greater sense of control.


Exams are serious, so breathe and take it easy. Whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world. Remember to eat well, sleep well, read well and learn what study style works for you.

CanadaQBank has some of the best question banks that help you prep well for whatever exam you want. Their comprehensive resources provide valuable assistance in your exam preparation journey.

Whether you’re studying for the MCCQE (Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), or any other important exam, CanadaQBank offers a wealth of high-quality QBanks tailored to your specific needs. That will leave you without any anxiety or at the very least well prepared.