Examination Stress Guide

1. A Short Presentation on Stress

a. Stress is a biological survival phenomenon: it is normal and unavoidable.

When your brain perceives a danger (real or otherwise), it sends a signal to your body to mobilize and get you out of danger. For example, if you come across a threatening animal, your brain will sound the alarm and hormones will be secreted, sending signals to many receptors in your body to react appropriately. Your reaction may be to run or to quickly hide.

Stress allows you to survive, and it also serves as a motivator in everyday life, at work, in your studies and in recreational activities. Having too little stress is not good, because it pushes you toward boredom or depression.

But when you have too much stress, or it is poorly managed, too many stress hormones are secreted, which can lead to consequences on many levels: physical, psychological and social.

Good life balance allows your body to react as well as possible to stressful events like exams!

b. Stress factors (NUTS)

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Stress Factors (NUTS)





THREAT to the ego


SENSE of control
Feeling you have little or no control in a situation
Example: Traffic jam, illness
No way of knowing what could happen

Example: Surprise quiz, specific questions on the exam, storm

Experiencing something new
Example: New course, new job, taking an airplane for the first time
Feeling your identity or competence being tested
Example: Taking an exam, offering a workshop or oral presentation

The acronym NUTS can help you identify stress factors. The more factors are connected to an event, the more stress you will feel.

For example, for students, evaluations and exams connect with many stress factors.

  • Sense of control: Not knowing how to approach the exam to do well on it.
  • Unpredictability: Not knowing which questions will be on the exam.
  • Novelty: Facing your first Cégep à distance exam.
  • Threat to the ego: Earning a lower grade than the average may affect your vision of yourself and be a threat to your ego.

Knowing the NUTS factors helps you analyze the stressful situations you may encounter. Identifying the cause of your stress can help you develop strategies for weathering it. For example, one way to feel more in control is to study effectively and prepare well all term long.

2. Stress in Cégep à distance exams

  • First, gaining a clear understanding of the role of and procedure for Cégep à distance exams can help you feel more prepared. The exam is written at the end of the course, when all the material has been covered and all the assignments turned in and corrected. It is very important, because it confirms that you have achieved the course competencies, which allows you to advance toward your professional goal.It is important to know that there is a dual pass threshold at Cégep à distance: you have to earn at least 60% overall and at least 50% on the final evaluations.
  • All exams are taken online, and you can use all your course materials. This means you can choose the time and place that work best for you.
  • Unlike the assignments, though, you have a specific length of time to write the exam. A timer is activated based on the maximum time allowed, so you really have to be ready, have studied well and be organized so you don’t waste time.
  • After the exam, you have to do an evaluation interview with your tutor. This meeting is crucial for passing the course, because it allows the tutor to confirm that it was really you who wrote the exam. For this meeting, you need to have all the exam documents on hand.
    Advantages: You have control over when and where you write the exam. This helps you feel more comfortable. It can be reassuring not to have to learn the material “off by heart.”


    Pitfalls: Since the exam is timed, you have to be well organized so you do not waste time flipping through your notes. Your environment might not be ideal, or you may have technological difficulties.

     3. The importance of preparing well

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    Reduce your exam stress by preparing well (Part 1)

    As soon as you start the course Before the exam The day before the exam The day of the exam When you start
    • Read the Study Guide and the proposed calendar.
    • Plan out the session (see the guide on time planning).
    • Establish a balanced routine (life, work, study). Sports, enough sleep and a healthy diet will help you manage your stress.
    • Organize and structure your notes, your assignments and the feedback and advice of your tutor.
    • Use colour codes, Post-Its and separators for paper notes or use note-taking software.
    • Do ALL the suggested exercises.
    • See the work methods guide.
    • Find out of the content and form of the exam by asking your tutor and referring to the Study Guide or learning environment.
    • Plan review questions a few weeks before the exam and write down any questions you want to ask your tutor.
    • Make sure all your notes are well organized so you avoid wasting precious time during the exam.
    • Reread the tutor’s feedback.
    • Review the course materials.
    • Try to get a good night’s sleep.
    • Do a visualization exercise to program your brain for success.
    • Mediate or do something relaxing.
    • Remember everything you have accomplished (be proud of yourself!).
    • Prepare your environment: set up in a quiet, comfortable place, with water, a snack and all the allowable materials nearby.
    • Make sure you have a good Internet connection before you begin.
    • Remind the other people at home that you are writing an exam. Put your phone on airplane mode.
    • Read the instructions carefully before you start the exam.
    • If you need to, copy-paste the instructions into a Word document.
    • If asked to, download the exam document.
    • Prepare a Word or paper document to write down the questions to review.

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    Reduce your exam stress by preparing well (Part 2)

    During the exam After the exam
    • Read the entire exam before you start answering (questions and weighting).
    • Begin with the easy questions (to ease your stress, build your confidence and reassure your ego).
    • Manage your time by saving some time to review and submit the exam.
    • Answer all the questions if you can.

    In case of panic:

    • Outwit your negative thoughts: “I’m doing my best!” Stay positive and remember all the work you accomplished during the term.
    • Use your senses to stay in the present moment and be anchored to your environment, to calm tensions and help you refocus.
    • Talk to yourself!
    • Take a break, close your eyes and breathe in deeply for about one minute. Deep breaths help you return to the present moment, dial back your sense of high alert and reduce the overstimulation of stress hormones.
    • Congratulate yourself and give yourself a reward!
    • Run through your good and not-so-good answers, without ruminating on the bad ones.
    • Make an appointment with your tutor for the evaluation interview.
    • Make sure the exam content is fresh in your mind.
    • Have your exam on hand during the interview.

    4. A few strategies for managing stress

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    A few strategies for managing stress

    Visualization Deep breathing Meditation
    Visualization helps project you toward success and increase your self-confidence, the more frequently you use it (Leibovitz, A., 2019).

    Visualization is putting yourself in the proper state of mind for the situation (for example, an exam) and imagining yourself behaving optimally in that situation, one step at a time.

    Relaxation dynamique et techniques de visualisation (in French).

    Deep breathing slows the heartbeat and increases cardiac coherence, which adjusts mental balance, reduces stress and anxiety and makes us more serene (Juneau, M., 2017).

    Abdominal breathing exercise, by Denis Fortier, physiotherapist, speaker and columnist (in French).

    Meditation allows you to keep your attention on your breathing, ambient sounds or sensations in the body.

    Méditation pleine conscience | Mon équilibre UL | Université Laval (ulaval.ca) (in French).

    Université de Montréal, faculté de médecine : méditation pleine conscience (in French)


    Juneau, M. (2017) La cohérence cardiaque :

    Université Laval, Méditation pleine conscience :

    Université Laval, 5 bienfaits de la méditation :

    Relaxation Dynamique, Techniques de visualisation :

    La loi de Yerkes-Dodson: la relation entre rendement et motivation, Nos pensées :

    Centre d’études sur le stress humain (CESH), – Sonia Lupien :

    Leibovitz, A. (2019). Outil 32. La visualisation mentale. Dans : , A. Leibovitz, La boîte à outils de la confiance en soi (pp. 124-127). Paris: Dunod.