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It can be conquered and it can be alleviated.

It’s highly normal to feel anxious before or during an exam. In fact, your anxiety (and nerves) can help you to perform at your best. But if you get overly anxious, it obstructs your performance and undermines your confidence. Here are some tips on how to control your nerves.

Before exams

  1. Take regular breaks (every hour) during revision
  2. Reduce exam stress – see our ‘How to Reduce your Stress Levels in Revision’ article.
  3. Try doing everything slower, including reading your revision notes. Stress and anxiety makes your body and mind work faster. The slower you go, the more you will take in, and the calmer you’ll feel. You’ll be amazed by how much calmer you’ll feel.
  4. Before your exam, consider visiting the examination room. This will reduce the stress of finding the room on the day. Do a trial run of the journey if you feel concerned about the commute or finding the venue.
  5. Plan a relaxing winding down routine the night before your exam. This will help calm your mind so that you can sleep better. And don’t worry though if you don’t get your normal quota of sleep – the adrenalin of the exam will get you through.


On the day of an exam

  1. Plan to arrive in plenty of time. You don’t want to be rushing around on the day of your exam. Plan your journey and think about what would be the most relaxing and hassle-free route of getting to the exam location.
  2. Think about if you would prefer to travel with friends or travel on your own.
  3. Create a calm frame of mind. Try taking slow deep breaths once inside the exam room. When you exhale, imagine saying the words ‘let go’.
  4. When you get your exam paper, scan it slowly. Read it thoroughly. Highlight key words. Check your understanding of the material. Don’t feel compelled to start writing without a good understanding the tasks. Even if you notice others around you make a start before. It’s about your understanding of the material. Your anxiety will be at its peak now so take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down. A relaxed mind that is able to think clearly on the subject matter is far better than a rushed, anxious mind eager to get something down on paper. Give yourself a few minutes to ease you in to the situation…
  5. Keep an eye on timings. Make a note on your exam paper of the start time and the proportionate time for each question. This will give you structure. You can stick to this loosely but it helps to alleviate any concerns about running out of time.
  6. Start on the question you are most confident in answering. You may feel overwhelmed by the first question for example. So if Question 3 feels easier, start on this. Having then completed one question your confidence will have increased, your mind will be more receptive to the challenging question(s) and your nerves will have subsided.
  7. Maintain focus, even when you feel jaded. For the longer exams try and ensure you are aware of the timings and that you have attempted an answer for each question. You have a better chance of scoring well – and it will enhance your post exam confidence.


High anxiety – worst case scenarios during an exam

If you feel a bit faint or still feel panicky, then try this 5 step plan below.

  1. Clasp your hands together and place them over your nose and mouth. Continue to breathe into the clasp of your hands until you feel better.
  2. Take a sip of water.
  3. If you still feel panicky, call for assistance from the exam adjudicator
  4. Request to speak to them in a more private space. It might be helpful to inform them that you have just had a panic attack
  5. Request if you can go outside with an adjudicator and get some fresh. Sometimes this can help
  6. If you still feel panicky request to speak with the adjudicator again and agree a plan of action.

Remember that whilst the sense of formality of the occasion feels daunting and ‘unique’ to you, everyone else will be feeling similar symptoms to the above. If you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t be hard on yourself. Be kind – acknowledge you have done the best you can.


The University Counselling Service can be access via their website.

Remember exams are stressful and it’s perfectly normal to feel this stress. There are numerous events across campus to help you cope with the burden.

On 1st February we’ll be looking at dealing with fear of failure .

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