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Saturday, 30 April 2016

How to Deal With Exam Anxiety

Most people suffer some degree of anxiety when preparing for a test. This can range from a mild nervous feeling to a full panic attack. Whatever your level of anxiety, learning to reduce it is very important to study effectively for a test. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce anxiety, which will benefit your grades and your overall mental health.


EditReducing Anxiety with Effective Studying

  1. Leave yourself plenty of time for studying. Waiting until the night before a test to start studying is a good way to increase your anxiety. You'll feel crunched for time, overwhelmed, and you won't be able to focus on studying.[1]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • Instead of waiting until the last minute, start studying as soon as a test is scheduled. With several days or even a week to prepare, you'll feel more relaxed because you have plenty of time to learn the material.
    • Draw up a schedule to make most of your study time. Set aside as much time as you feel you need; it could be 20 minutes a day, it could be 2 hours a day. You can adjust this if you feel you need more or less time after studying for a few days. Stick to this schedule so when it comes time for the test, you know you've prepared as well as possible.
    • You should also get into the habit of looking over your notes from class every day. Statistically, students who do this get better grades on tests because the brain absorbs information more efficiently this way. It can help with your anxiety because you'll have a head start on your studying before you even knew a test was coming up.[2]
  2. Keep all of your notes and schoolwork organized. Being disorganized can make anxiety much worse. You'll start to panic because you can't find that one page of notes you need to know, and then lose time looking for it instead of studying.[3]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • To avoid this problem, keep all of your schoolwork neat and organized. That way, you'll be able to find everything you need and spend the maximum amount of time studying.
    • Keep all of your notes for a certain class in one notebook, so everything for that class is in one place. Also make sure to date the page every time you take notes. If you take notes on your computer, keep your notes, assignments, and any study aids in separate folders for each class, and date all of your notes.
    • Designate a folder for any loose material you have for a class. Handouts, essays, homework assignments, and past tests can go in here so you can find them easily when you need them.
  3. Take breaks while studying. Although you should study as much as you need to, it is possible to overdo it. Spending every minute of the day studying will wreak havoc on your nerves and make anxiety worse. Be sure to factor breaks into your study schedule. Every hour or two you should take a break. [4]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 3 Version 3.jpg
    • Any activities will do. Try watching TV, going for a walk, taking a nap—whatever you have to do. This will rest your brain and you can come back to your studies refreshed and ready to continue.

EditReducing Anxiety Physically

  1. Look for physical symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is not only an emotional state. It produces physical symptoms that you can identify if you know what to look for. If you experience any of the following symptoms when studying or thinking about a test, this would be a tell tale sign that you're feeling anxiety. You can then take steps to alleviate symptoms.[5]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 4 Version 3.jpg
    • Headaches.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Rapid heartbeat. Usually a heart rate above 100 beats per minute characterizes a rapid heartbeat.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Light-headedness.
    • Extreme body temperature, either excessively hot or cold.
    • Gastrointestinal discomfort. This can be characterized by nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
  2. Stay active. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to reduce anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins that will elevate your mood. It will also distract your mind from the test and studying, so your brain will have a chance to relax and refresh itself. Any number of physical activities will have a beneficial affect on your anxiety. They include, but certainly aren't limited to:[6]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 5 Version 3.jpg
    • Going to the gym.
    • Taking a walk.
    • Doing housework.
    • Riding your bike.
    • Working outside.
    • Playing sports.
  3. Eat proper meals regularly. Oftentimes people suffering from anxiety have trouble eating and skip meals. This is a mistake. Hunger can make your anxiety worse.[7] It will also starve your brain of nutrients and you won't be able to focus. Eat at least three balanced meals every day to keep your strength up.[8]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 6 Version 3.jpg
    • Make sure your meals are nutritious. Whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are best because they will provide you with a sustained release of energy that will carry you through your study session.
    • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Not only are these bad for your health, but the spike in your blood sugar will make you jittery, which could increase your anxiety. Also, the energy high will come with a crash before too long, and you won't be able to study effectively anymore.
  4. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation is another cause of anxiety. Commit to getting a full 8 hours of sleep every night. This will ensure that your brain has been properly rested and you can start studying with a fresh mind.[9]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 7 Version 3.jpg
  5. Stretch your muscles. Anxiety often causes muscles to tense up, particularly those in the upper back and neck. This will cause pain and discomfort, inhibiting your ability to concentrate.[10]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 8 Version 3.jpg
    • During your breaks, make sure you stretch and massage any muscles that feel tight. Not only will this give you physical relief, but the action of stretching will help reduce your anxiety.
  6. Try meditation. Meditation is designed to relax your body and mind, so it is great for people suffering from anxiety. If you're feeling anxious preparing for a test, schedule in some meditation time. Read Meditate for a detailed guide on meditation.
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 9.jpg
  7. Avoid people who generate anxiety when studying. You might have certain friends or acquaintances who also suffer from test anxiety and always vocalize their fears. This doesn't mean you can't be friends with them, but it might be best to avoid them while you're trying to study. You might be making a good effort to curb your own anxiety, and allowing their negative thoughts to overcome you could set you back.[11]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 10.jpg

EditReducing Anxiety Mentally

  1. Think about your cognitive state. Anxiety often impairs concentration and causes sufferers to simply blank out. If you're trying to study but just can't bring yourself to focus, you could be suffering from anxiety. Procrastination is also a symptom, since avoidance of a problem is a defense mechanism. If you notice these symptoms, it is time to take action and work on your thought processes.[12]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 11.jpg
  2. Analyze your thought patterns. Often when people suffer from anxiety, they focus on overwhelmingly negative thoughts. You may say to yourself "I'm definitely going to fail this test," or "If I fail this test my life is over." These thinking traps are a symptom of anxiety, as well as a cause of greater anxiety. If you find yourself thinking this way about a test, you can take some steps to address and remedy those thoughts.[13]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 12.jpg
  3. Isolate and analyze negative thoughts. When a negative thought enters your head, stop what you're doing and think about it. By breaking down negative thoughts, you can find that most of them are unrealistic, and then replace them with more positive thoughts.[14]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 13.jpg
    • Think about whether this thought is logical. For example, you think "If I fail this test, my life is over." Is that really true? In almost all situations, no, it's not true. There is no logical way a test will result in your life ending, making this an unrealistic fear.
  4. Put negative thoughts in perspective. When many negative thoughts are put in real-world perspective, they don't seem so serious.[15]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 14.jpg
    • For example, you're convinced that you will fail the biology test tomorrow. But you've gotten good grades on every biology test this semester so far. Past experience is on your side here. This new perspective makes your fear seem more unlikely, since you've already established that you're good at biology.
  5. Replace illogical thoughts with logical ones. Once you've established that a fear is illogical, you can work on replacing it with a more balanced and logical thought. This will bring your mind back to reality and help break down illogical fears.[16]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 15.jpg
    • Once you've isolated the thought that "I will definitely fail this test tomorrow," replace it with, "I've been studying all week, I know this material, and it's within my power to do well on this test." This new pattern of thinking breaks down your fear that was based on nothing, and replaces it with a new thought that is rooted in reality.
    • Even if you can't get past the idea that you will fail tomorrow's test, you can use logic to help you remain calm by reminding yourself that a failed exam doesn't mean you will fail the class. Remind yourself that you may even have other options, such as investigating extra credit or asking to re-take the exam.
  6. Use positive self-statements. When people suffer from anxiety, they usually use negative self-statements like "I'm stupid," or "I'm worthless." These kinds of statements can easily cause your anxiety to progress into depression and threaten your overall mental health.[17]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 16.jpg
    • Just like you replaced your illogical fears with logical thoughts, replace negative statements with positive ones. Make an effort to tell yourself "I'm smart," "I can do this," or "Everything will be okay." That way you can cut negative statements out of your thinking and improve your happiness and mental health.
    • Statements such as "I'm stupid" or "I'm worthless" are not only unhelpful, they're untrue because they summarize you based on one observation. For example, if you've performed poorly on your calculus quizzes so far, you might think "I'm a loser." This is an emotional overstatement. Try to think about the facts instead: You just happen to be performing poorly on calculus quizzes. This says nothing about who you are as a person, or your ability in other areas.

EditRelaxing Yourself During the Exam

  1. Show up on time or early for the test. Getting to the test late will set off your anxiety before you even start the test. Do everything you can to be on time for the test. That way, you can sit down and relax for a few minutes before starting. You'll be able to gather your thoughts and focus on positive thinking. This relaxation period before the test is very important to getting off to a good start.[18]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 17.jpg
  2. Read all instructions and questions carefully. If you're feeling anxious you may rush through the test. By doing this, you risk missing something crucial and getting questions wrong.[19]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 18.jpg
    • Force yourself to stop and read directions. By reading everything carefully, you can be confident that you understand what to do and can complete the test correctly.
    • You can even underline or circle important terms in the instructions. For example, if you're worried you may get side-tracked during an essay question, you could underline the most important part of the prompt (e.g., underlining "Explain" will help remind you that you can't just summarize).
  3. Stop and breathe if you feel anxiety coming on. A little bit of nervous energy is to be expected during the test. But if you find yourself starting to blank out, lose concentration, and feel any of the physical symptoms of anxiety, stop working. If you go on without relaxing yourself, you could have an anxiety attack during the test.
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 19.jpg
    • Close your eyes and take some deep, full breaths. Once you start feeling better, get back to work.[20]
  4. Keep using positive statements. Throughout the test, you should still be focusing on positive thoughts. Tell yourself, "I've studied, I'm prepared." This will help keep your anxiety at bay because you'll know that it's within your power to do well on the test.
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 20.jpg
  5. Stay focused on the question at hand. Don't let your mind wander during the test. That will allow negative thoughts to creep in and distract you. Just make sure to keep your mind on the question you're working on. This way, all your energy can focus on figuring out that answer.[21]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 21.jpg
    • If you have trouble staying focused, try silently re-reading the question or prompt to yourself. This will freshen your memory and help you stay focused on the task at hand.
  6. Skip a question if you get stuck. Coming across a difficult question risks causing an anxiety attack and could mess up your concentration for the rest of the test. You could end up running out of time and not finishing the test because of one question that tripped you up.[22]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 22.jpg
    • Don't fall into this trap. Instead of wasting time staring at a question, skip it. You can come back to it after you've done the rest of the test.
    • If you are using a scantron sheet, make sure you also skip filling in the bubble for the skipped question! Otherwise you could end up getting a lot of answers wrong because your fill-ins are off by one.
  7. Seek help if you need it. Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety can be so severe that they interfere with your everyday life. If you find that you experience anxiety symptoms on a regular basis, don't be afraid to ask for help.[23]
    Deal With Exam Anxiety Step 23.jpg
    • Talking to your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can be a great resource to get your anxiety under control.
    • Get help sooner rather than later. Many people try to ignore their anxiety until it's gotten so bad they can't control it anymore. By getting help early on, you can get a handle on your anxiety before it starts having an adverse affect on your life and relationships.


  • Exercising is a good way of relieving stress and anxiety.
  • Try sprinkling soothing smelling oils on your pillow for a good nights sleep before the exam. This may also be helpful sprinkled on a tissue to take to the exam to calm your nerves. Don't use too much though, other people may not appreciate it.
  • Try using an essential oil while you are studying, then take the same scent (on a tissue, as the last tip suggests,) and smell it if you find yourself stumped on the test. The sense of smell can often bring memories of things you did when you last smelled it to mind.

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How to Break a Habit

Do you bite your nails? Chew on your hair? Suck your thumb? Pick your lips? Regardless of your particular habit, or how deeply ingrained it is, the process of breaking it will be similar. With persistence and the right mindset, it's possible to break your bad habits, and these instructions help you through the process of doing so.


EditChanging your Thinking

  1. Commit to a goal. Although it may seem obvious, it is important to understand that the first step in breaking a bad habit developing a true desire for and commitment to changing your life.[1]
    Break a Habit Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • Many people embark on the path of breaking a habit without being certain that they really want to change. Breaking habits is a difficult task, so if you aren't fully committed to it you are likely to fail.[2]
  2. Understand your habit. Most habitual behaviors are patterns that have evolved because they have been rewarded in some way. They make it easier to perform a common task, or to deal with various emotional states.[3]
    Break a Habit Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • A “habit loop” forms from a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to start the habitual behavior. The brain processes a “reward” from this behavior, in the form of neurochemicals, that reinforces the habit loop.[4] Interrupting the behavior part of this loop is how to break a habit.[5]
  3. Examine the context of your habit. To determine the most effective way to break a habit, it will be helpful to determine the situational and emotional context that triggers the habit.[6] This can help you understand what “rewards” your brain is looking for.[7] Having this understanding will allow you to develop other, healthier means of achieving the same rewards that the bad habit provided.[8]
    Break a Habit Step 3 Version 3.jpg
    • Many bad habits come about as a means of dealing with situations that cause stress or boredom.[9]
    • For example, for many people smoking provides a relief from stress. Procrastination temporarily provides free time to engage in more fun activities.[10]
    • When you feel the urge to perform your habitual behavior, make a note of it. Often, habits have become so ingrained that we don’t even notice why we do them. Developing that awareness will help you pinpoint what is going on to prompt your habit.[11]
    • When you make your note, jot down what was going on at the time. For example, if you’re a nail-biter, note whenever you feel the impulse to bite your nails. Take a few notes about how you’re feeling, what has been going on during the day, where you are, and what you were thinking.
  4. Make a plan. Once you understand the situation that triggers your habit and the reward you receive for engaging in the undesirable behavior, you can make a plan that involves goals for behavior change and strategies for minimizing habit triggers.[12]
    Break a Habit Step 4 Version 3.jpg
    • Studies show that having a clear, specific plan greatly increases your chances of success in breaking habit. It helps break down unwanted behaviors and also helps create new patterns of action.[13]
    • Plan to make mistakes. Do not make a plan that will be deemed a failure as a result of a single slip-up. Most people give in to the temptation of old habits at some point while trying to break them. If you accept this in advance, you will be less likely to let negative thinking defeat the whole enterprise of breaking the habit.[14]
    • You should include in your plan mechanisms for keeping yourself accountable, in the form of rewards for successes and feedback from others who support your goal of breaking the habit. You are more likely to succeed in your goal if you share it with others. More details on this are provided later in this article.
  5. Visualize success. In your mind, repeatedly practice breaking the habit by imagining scenarios in which you engage in desired behaviors rather than the bad habit.[15] Imagine situations in which you would be tempted to engage in the undesired behavior and choose a better option. This helps reinforce positive behavior patterns.
    Break a Habit Step 5 Version 3.jpg
    • For example, if your goal is to eat less junk food, imagining yourself in your kitchen preparing a healthy meal, and sitting down to eat it.[16]
    • Some people find it helpful to write down "scripts" of their desired behavior and read them every day.[17]
  6. Practice mindfulness. Increasing your mindfulness in daily life can help you become aware of your actions, rather than functioning on “autopilot.” Mindfulness focuses on being aware of what you are experiencing in the moment, and experiencing it without avoidance or judgment. With practice, mindfulness can become a healthy habit that can counteract the bad habits you want to avoid.[18][19]
    Break a Habit Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • Mindfulness trains your brain to respond to situations differently. It can actually “reprogram” the way you respond to situations and stressors.[20] It can help give you time before you react to something, and decrease your tendency toward “automatic thoughts,” which arise in response to a situation.[21]
    • Be conscious of when you are tempted to give in to bad habits. What are the situations that lead to the undesired behavior? What are the sensations in your body or thoughts in your mind that promote the undesired behavior? Understanding them without judging yourself will help you resist the behavior.[22][23]
    • Don't suppress thoughts about the habit. If you try not think about something, ironically, you will start to see it everywhere and become overwhelmed.[24]
    • Trying not to think about smoking, for example, could result in you becoming hypersensitive to anything that reminds you of smoking. You are much better off to recognize your craving and the situations that promote it, and deal with these issues head-on.
    • Try mindfulness meditation. Taking a few minutes every day to become quiet and focus on your breathing will help you develop awareness of your body and your thoughts.
    • Yoga and Tai Chi also encourage meditation, and they’re good for your health.
    • Note when you feel the urge to perform your habit, but don’t judge those thoughts. You could try saying something like, “I’m feeling the urge to smoke right now” or “I really want to bite my fingernails at the moment.” Acknowledging your feelings will help you move past them without getting stuck on the thoughts.

EditChanging your Behavior

  1. Change your environment. Research suggests that sometimes our environments can cue us to perform certain behaviors, even if we're actively trying to stop.[25] Breaking a habit, then, is partially a matter of reducing situational triggers until you can develop new ways of dealing with them.[26]
    Break a Habit Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Novel situations promote more use of the parts of your brain that are geared toward consciously making decisions, rather than slipping into automatic behavior patterns.[27]
    • A good way to avoid bad habits is to find a way to change your scenery and see if your bad habit becomes less tempting. For instance, if you like to smoke out on your patio, remove the chair you sit in and replace it with a plant. If you tend to overeat at the same location at the dining room table, move to a different seat or rearrange your furniture such that you're facing a different direction than usual when you eat. Subtle changes to the environment can make a habit less rote and force your mind to reassess what's happening.[28]
    • Forge relationships with people who support your desired behavior. You don't need to ditch your old friends entirely, but finding some new ones who live the way you want to can help minimize triggers.[29]
    • Go on vacation, if you can. One of the most effective ways to break old habits is put yourself in a completely new situation for a while, and develop new, healthier habits that you can then transplant into your normal life when you return.[30]
  2. Create barriers to the habit. If you can create obstacles that make the habit more difficult or unpleasant to engage in than some other course of action, this can help you break the routines that have reinforced this habit in the past.[31] Here are a few suggestions:
    Break a Habit Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Tell supportive people about your plan to break your habit, and invite them to call you out on your slip-ups. This will create consequences for succumbing to temptation.[32]
    • Or, even better, find someone else who wants to break the same habit as you, and quit together, keeping each other accountable.[33]
    • Anything you can do to break up the sequence of events that normally leads to the undesirable behavior is also a good idea. For example, if you are trying to stop smoking, keep your cigarettes in another room. If you are trying to stop logging on to Facebook during working hours, disconnect the internet or use one of the available apps that blocks access to sites like this.[34] Even though these obstacles can be easily overcome, they are sometimes enough to break up the behavior pattern that leads to the unwanted behavior.[35]
    • Create small "punishments" for lapses. For example, you can use the same rationale behind a swear jar: every time you slip back into the habit, put a dollar (or more) in a can or jar. Set an amount that you'll hate to cough up whenever you give into the urge, and stick to it. When you've successfully kicked the habit, spend the money on a reward or donate it to a charitable cause.
    • Or, if you are trying to stop overeating, add 10 minutes to your workout every time you overeat. A punishment related to the behavior will probably be most effective.[36]
  3. Start small. Some habits, such as procrastinating, can be difficult to change because the solution seems so daunting. “Stop procrastinating” can seem such a big task that you wouldn’t be able to do it. Try splitting up your goals into small, achievable steps. You will get the “reward” of seeing success sooner, and your brain is less likely to resist your ultimate goal as “too big” to accomplish. Instead of saying “I’ll stop eating junk food,” say, “I’ll eat a healthy breakfast.” Instead of saying “I’ll go to the gym more often,” say, “I’ll go to yoga on Saturday mornings.” As you find success in those small steps, increase them to meet your ultimate goal.[37]
    Break a Habit Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • For example, instead of saying “I’ll stop procrastinating today,” set yourself a goal of “I will stay focused on my work for 30 minutes today.”
    • The highly popular “Pomodoro method” can help you. Use a timer and set yourself a block of time in which you will focus on your work without doing anything else. Make this block short, no longer than 45 minutes. It can be as short as 20. The goal is to set yourself a task that’s reasonable and achievable.[38]
    • After you’ve finished that block, take a little break! Do something fun, surf Facebook, check your texts. Then, set yourself another block.
    • This type of technique can “trick” your brain into setting new, good habits because you see immediate success (something your brain likes).
  4. Reward your successes. Because habits are created when a behavior is rewarded in some way, a great way to create new habits is to reward yourself for good behavior.[39]
    Break a Habit Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • The most successful reward will be one that comes immediately after the desired behavior, and which is something you genuinely want or enjoy.
    • For example, if you are trying to break the habit of being late for work, you could reward yourself with a cup of gourmet coffee each day you arrive on time, until the reward is no longer needed.[40]
  5. Find a placeholder. Try to replace your habit with something new and positive in your life. The key is to have a plan for an alternative action to take when tempted to engage in a bad habit. [41]
    Break a Habit Step 11.jpg
    • For instance, if you're trying to stop smoking, eat a sucker, do breathing exercises, or walk around the block when you would usually light up. Filling the void left by your old habit with another activity will help you avoid backsliding.
    • Try to make sure the alternative action isn't boring or unappealing. If you can make your new habit something you actually want to do, something you enjoy, or something that results in some obvious (and ideally immediate) positive outcome, it will be easier to make the switch.[42]
  6. Be patient. Behavioral conditioning is a long process, and breaking a habit takes time, so you have to stick with it. Be patient and kind with yourself.
    Break a Habit Step 12.jpg
    • Conventional wisdom and self-help books have suggested that it takes 28 days to break a habit. The reality is more complicated, as recent studies have suggested that how long the process takes depends on both the individual and the habit, and can range from as few as 18 days or as many as 245.[43]
    • Even though this process varies between individuals, it is probably safe to say that the first few days will be the hardest. Some neuroscientists suggest people go through a "withdrawal" period during the first two weeks, as our nervous systems struggle to deal a a change in the chemicals triggering the "reward" centers of our brains.[44]
  7. Stay kind to yourself. Telling yourself you can't do something is a bad cognitive habit that will reinforce your belief that you can’t. Remember: being harsh on yourself for having a hard time or lapsing isn’t helpful to you, and it can make bad habits worse.[45]
    Break a Habit Step 13.jpg
    • If you notice that you’re criticizing yourself, remember that things that seem contradictory can coexist. For example, imagine that you want to break the habit of eating junk food, but you “gave in” and had a bag of chips with lunch. It could be easy to beat yourself up for this. However, being kind to yourself acknowledges your lapse and recognizes that this isn’t failure. You don’t have to continue giving in because you gave in once.
    • Try adding and to your statements and creating positive plans for the next time you face a challenge. For example: “I had that bag of chips with lunch. I’m upset with myself for that, and I can help myself by packing snacks to take to work so the vending machines don’t tempt me.”
    • You can also add the word "but" and follow it up with a positive statement, e.g. "I totally screwed up, BUT everybody makes mistakes sometimes."[46]


  • When the going gets rough, think about what will happen in the future when you have finally overcome your bad habit.
  • Take on one habit at a time, two at most. Any more than that, and you'll feel overwhelmed.
  • Some people find gradual reduction of habitual behavior to be easier, others find it easier to quit "cold turkey," stopping entirely all at once. Figure out what works for you, even if it means you have to make a couple of attempts.[47]
  • If you bite your nails, paint them. It just looks too pretty to bite and it tastes horrible.


  • Consult a mental health professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, or a counselor) if you find that you can't control the habit, especially if it's a dangerous one.
  • Substance abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation and other self-destructive patterns could be signs of addictions or mental disorders. Seek professional help to combat them.

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Which Sea Creature Should Give You A Pep Talk Today?

♫The seaweed is always greener…♫

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How to Tell if a Pearl Is Real

Thinking of buying pearl jewelry? Have a family heirloom made of pearl? A few simple tests can help you determine whether your pearl item is a fake or the "real deal" in a matter of minutes. Learn how to look and feel for the signs of a real pearl today and you'll never need to worry about falling for imitations again.


EditVisual Tests

  1. Look for minor imperfections. As noted above, real pearls are only rarely "perfect". Usually, they'll have small blemishes or irregularities in their shape.[1] Their outer nacre layer may also reflect light differently on different parts of the pearl. Imitation pearls are almost always "too perfect" — they look perfectly spherical, they have the same amount of luster on every part of the surface, and show no indents or imperfections.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • While perfectly round real pearls are rare but possible, a necklace will almost never be made only from these types of pearls. A necklace made from pearls that all seem to be exactly the same smooth, round shape is almost certainly a fake.[2]
  2. Check for a sharp, healthy luster. Luster is a way that jewelers describe the type of light reflected from a precious stone. A pearl's luster is part of what makes it so beautiful. Good-quality pearls should have a bright, clear luster that makes them shine when light hits them. If you look closely, you should be able to see your own reflection on the pearl's surface.[3]
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 7 Version 3.jpg
    • One problem with this test is that low-quality real pearls (which generally have a dull, "chalky" luster) can look similar to fake pearls. Check your results with a few of the other tests in this article.[4]
  3. Check for an overtone. Good-quality pearls are often prized for their overtones — the subtle color that is visible on their outer surface when light hits them. Fake pearls will usually not have this overtone effect, which is tricky to duplicate. Thus, if your pearl seems very slightly shaded with color when light hits is, there is a good chance it's real. Rose and ivory are two of the most desired overtones for white pearls, though a wide variety of colors are possible, especially for dark pearls.[5]
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 8 Version 3.jpg
    • Since some real pearls don't have a visible overtone, not seeing an overtone on your pearl isn't necessarily a sure sign that it's fake.
  4. Look for clues around the drill hole. Pearls on a strand or necklace will usually have holes drilled in them for the string to pass through. Examining this hole carefully can help you tell whether your pearl is real or not. Specific things you'll want to look for include:
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 9 Version 3.jpg
    • Well-defined edges to the hole. Real pearls usually have drill holes with sharp edges (like a hollow cylinder). Fakes often have rough or rounded edges. However, old and well-worn real pearls may also have rounded edges to their holes. Fake pearls may also bow outward at the surface of the pearl, rather than being perfectly cylindrical.
    • Chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other with repeated use, their artificial coating can wear away around the holes. You may be able to see slivers of glass or plastic underneath. This is a sure sign of a fake.
  5. Look in the hole for a line between the nacre and nucleus. A real pearl almost always has a clear outer nacre layer, while fake pearls have thin layers of artificial nacre or lack them entirely. If your pearl has a drill hole, you can check for nacre by peering in with a magnifying glass. Real pearls will usually (but not always) have a noticeable line that separates the nacre from the nucleus (the inside part of the pearl).
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 10 Version 3.jpg

EditWhat to Avoid

  1. Beware of using just one test to verify pearls. This bears repeating: any single one of the tests above can sometimes produce false results. To be sure of your results, perform many different tests.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 16 Version 2.jpg
    • As just one example of how isolated tests can be misleading, one source found that real pearls that have been specially polished can feel very smooth in the tooth and friction tests.
  2. Avoid the "burn" test. Some sources may recommend holding pearls in an open flame to determine whether they are fake or not. According to this rumor, fake pearls will burn or melt, while real pearls will be unaffected. The truth is more complicated. While most fake pearls will be damaged by fire, so will some real ones. Real pearls that have been processed with an artificial outer coating are especially vulnerable to flame and can suffer from blemishes, deformed drill holes, and ruined luster after just a few seconds in a flame.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 17.jpg
    • In addition, it's worth noting that pearls conduct heat well and can become very hot when heated over an open flame. If you do attempt this test, take all necessary precautions to avoid bad burns.
  3. Don't fall for imitation pearls sold with exotic names. If a seller is trying to sell you on a pearl's name rather than its physical qualities, you may be getting ripped off. For example, "Mallorca" (or "Majorca") pearls, which are named after the exotic Mediterranean island of Mallorca but are entirely man-made, are sometimes sold to unsuspecting costumers.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 18.jpg
  4. Don't ignore common sense instincts about a pearl's price. The price of a real pearl will vary greatly based on its size, shape, overtone, and other features. However, they will never be outright cheap. For instance, a necklace made from freshwater pearls (the cheapest variety of real pearls) can easily retail for several hundred dollars. If a seller is giving you a deal on a set of real pearls that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 19.jpg
    • As a general rule, you'll only want to buy pearls from licensed, certified jewelers and pearl retailers. Buying pearls from street vendors or pawn shops can be a risky proposition. See our pearl-buying guide for specific tips.

EditAdvanced Tests

  1. Check for "scaly" surface patterning with a microscope. You can use a 30x jeweler's loupe, but microscopes with 64-power magnification or more work best for this. The surfaces of real pearls have a maze-like, scaled pattern. This patterning looks a little like a topographical map.[6] It's this microscopic scaling that give real pearls their "gritty" texture.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 11 Version 3.jpg
    • By contrast, fake pearls will often have a surface covered with grainy, fairly regular bumps (a little like the cratered surface of the moon).[7]
  2. Compare your pearls to certified real pearls. All of the tests above are easier if you have some pearls that you know are real for comparison purposes. Try contacting a jeweler about the possibility of comparing your pearls to a set of ones that are certified real. Alternatively, borrow a friend or relative's real pearls to make your comparisons.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 12 Version 3.jpg
    • Use common sense about the sorts of tests you do with the certified real pearls. For example, you won't want to try the tooth test or the friction test with someone else's precious stones.
  3. Get your pearls appraised by an expert. If you are having a hard time determining your pearl’s authenticity, you can always take your pearl to a reputable jeweler or gemologist. These professionals have the tools, training, and expert eyes to tell whether your pearl is real (and, if it is real, how high its quality is). However, these options often don't come cheap — a basic appraisal can easily cost more than $100.[8]
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 13 Version 3.jpg
  4. Try ordering an X-radiograph test. This test, which an expert may do to determine whether your pearls are real or not uses an X-ray machine. Real pearls will show up as a semitransparent grey color on the X-ray. Fakes will be solid white on the negative and solid black on the positive print.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 14 Version 3.jpg
  5. Try ordering a refractometer test. This advanced test measures how much light passes through the pearl to determine its authenticity. Pearls usually have a refractometer reading (called a "refractive index") of between 1.530 and 1.685. The difference between these two values (0.155) is called the pearl's birefringence, which affects the way the pearl looks in the light. These qualities tell an expert that the pearl is most likely a real one.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 15 Version 3.jpg

EditTouch Tests

  1. Rub the pearls against your front teeth. Hold one or two pearls between your thumb and forefinger and press them gently into the biting edge of your front teeth. Rub them against your teeth with a side-to-side motion. A real pearl will usually have a slightly rough or gritty texture from tiny scale-like imperfections in its outer layers of nacre. Fake pearls made from glass or plastic will usually be almost perfectly smooth.[9]
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • You may want to brush your teeth before attempting this test to make sure they're clean. Food residue from a recent meal can give false results.
  2. Rub the pearls against each other. Hold a few pearls in your fingers and gently rub them against each other. Feel for the slight sensation of friction. Real pearls will usually generate a little friction when they rub against each other because their outer layers of nacre are not perfectly smooth.[10] Fake pearls, on the other hand, often have smooth coatings and will usually glide past each other when rubbed together.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • Take a close look at your hands after this test. When two pearls rub against each other, their outer layers often erode a small amount. If you notice a fine, powdery, white residue after rubbing your pearls, this is probably powdered nacre — a sign that the pearls are real.[11]
  3. Check whether the pearls are perfectly round. Because they're products of nature, every real pearl is slightly different, just like snowflakes or fingerprints. Most pearls won't be perfect spheres — they'll usually be slightly oblong or have minor defects. If your pearls look perfectly round to you, there's a good chance they're artificial.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 3 Version 3.jpg
    • It is possible for real pearls to be perfectly round. However, examples of these are very rare and usually fetch a high price.[12]
    • Not sure whether a pearl is perfectly round or not? Try carefully rolling it on a flat surface. Imperfect pearls won't consistently roll in a straight line.[13]
  4. Feel for coolness to the touch. For this test, you'll need a few pearls that have been sitting out — not ones you've been wearing. Hold the pearls in your hand and concentrate on the way they feel against your skin. Real pearls should feel noticeably cool for a few seconds before they warm up.[14] The feeling is similar to what you'd get from stepping barefoot onto a marble floor.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 4 Version 3.jpg
    • Plastic pearls, on the other hand, will be about room temperature and will warm up more quickly.[15]
    • Note: Good-quality fake glass pearls may still give the "cool" sensation. Verify your results with other tests if this is the first one you've attempted.
  5. Feel the weight of the pearl in your hand. Carefully bounce one or two pearls in your hand to get an idea of how much they weigh. Most real pearls feel somewhat heavy for their size. On the other hand, fakes (especially plastic pearls) will have a light, insubstantial feel.
    Tell if a Pearl Is Real Step 5 Version 3.jpg
    • For obvious reasons, this test isn't perfect — judging the weight of a few small pearls can be tricky. For best results, you may want to compare your pearls with a set you know are real or fake. Always verify with another test no matter how sure you are of a pearl's weight.



  • Note that real pearls come in two varieties: natural pearls, which are from shellfish caught in the wild, and cultured pearls, which are farm-raised. Some variations in color, nacre, luster, and shape may exist between cultured and natural pearls. Natural pearls tend to be rarer and more expensive than cultured pearls.
  • If you want to clean your (real) pearls, consider getting the help of an experienced jeweler. Some household solvents and cleaners can dull pearls' luster permanently. Luckily, some jewelers offer complimentary cleaning services.[16]


  • Be careful when performing a tooth test on an individual pearl. Keep a firm grasp on the pearl to avoid accidentally swallowing it.
  • You might notice light scratches your pearls when using the tooth or friction test. Rubbing these several times with your thumb should make them go away.

EditRelated wikiHows

EditSources and Citations

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