Coping with exam anxiety | Current Students (2022)

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Causes of anxiety
Anxiety reduction
Anxiety before the exams
Panic attacks during an exam

(Video) Helping kids cope with test anxiety


Normal levels of stress can help you work, think faster and more effectively, and generally improve your performance. However, if the anxiety you are experiencing feels overwhelming, your performance can be affected. Being aware of what is causing the anxiety can help reduce its effects. Anxiety can cause:

  • Patchy sleep and sleepless nights
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Poor appetite or comfort eating
  • Tendency to drink more coffee and alcohol and to smoke more

Causes of Anxiety

Take some time to think about what is causing the anxiety because, once you know what is causing the anxiety, you will be in a better position to tackle it. The anxiety could be linked to:

(Video) 5 Tips for Coping with Test Anxiety (for kids!)

  • Being generally a bit of worrier, a tendency to be anxious
  • Being poorly prepared
  • You had a bad experience in a previous exam
  • You are a perfectionist – anything less than top marks is a failure
  • You are not feeling well or you are on medication

Anxiety Reduction

The key to reducing exam anxiety is to make an early start on your revision. Six weeks before the exams is probably soon enough for end of year exams, depending on where you are in your studies and what year you are in. Take enough time to do yourself justice. Remember revision is just that – it is about seeing something again and refreshing your knowledge. It is not about new work. If you have worked at a steady pace throughout the year, revision will be relatively straightforward. If you have less than six weeks until the exams, be realistic about what you can revise. Perhaps ask for some guidance from your Tutors who should be able to identify core material. If you feel that your anxiety levels are only going to increase between this point and the start of the exams, do something about it now. Student Services can help with relaxation techniques and will talk with you about your feelings etc.

Before the Exams

You are naturally anxious before the exams get underway, and the stress only increases as the Big Day gets nearer. These feelings can be managed and planning can help.

(Video) Exam Anxiety - symptoms, coping methods with Psychologist Miranda Banks

Plan Your Revision

  • Set aside plenty of time for revision
  • Sort through your notes, essays and reports, and focus on the essential material
  • Actively use your notes – re-structure and condense them
  • Plan answer outlines
  • Think about questions you might expect to find in your exam. The department or School and the Library might have copies of previous exam papers
  • Seek help and guidance from your Tutor etc. if you find something you don’t quite understand
  • Don’t sit reading for long periods of time. It quickly becomes boring and your concentration can easily start to wane

Take Proper Breaks

  • Studying 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, will make you exhausted – burnt out even – long before the actual exam
  • Divide your days in three periods of 150 minutes each and revise for two out of the three
  • Plan to have one day a week completely free from revision
  • Keep up with some of your other activities – try to get the balance right between study and leisure
  • Get the support of your friends, family and/or your partner
  • Be cool and keep to a healthy lifestyle
  • Avoid anything that promises you limitless energy – there is nothing that provides this and you don’t want to experiment on anything new at this time
  • Take regular exercise. Find something you enjoy – swimming, jogging, football etc.
  • Yoga, tai chi, meditation or other alternatives for relaxing the mind and body are worth considering

Eating and Sleeping

  • Your brain needs energy and it also needs rest. Eat little and often
  • Eat quality food, e.g. wholemeal bread, pasta, nuts, fruit, lots of vegetables etc.
  • Go for quality drinks, e.g. plenty of water, milk, real fruit juice etc.

Revise when you are Feeling Alert

  • Make sure you take time after doing revision to wind down.
  • Try not to go straight to bed without winding down

Panic the Night Before

You have been feeling quite calm during the revision period. But then panic sets in the night before.

  • Learn in advance how to relax. In that way, you will feel confident that, if you start to panic or your mind goes blank, you will be able to regain control
  • Try to use humour to help you beat negative thoughts. Read a book or comic, watch an amusing DVD or think of your favourite jokes
  • Do your best to be well prepared – it will give you some confidence that you have done the work needed
  • However anxious you may feel, try to avoid working too close to the exam like the night before or the morning of the exam. Try to do something relaxing instead. Go for a walk or have a warm bath.
  • Eat something even if you feel sick. Bread, crackers and cereals are good for settling your stomach
  • Make sure you know exactly when and where the exam is. Try not to arrive late at the exam as that would only increase your anxiety
  • Have everything ready to take with you – pens, pencils, calculator, matriculation card etc.
  • Take some light reading in case you have to wait to get in to the exam room

Panic Attacks during the Exam

You have been feeling nervous and have just sat down in the exam room. You feel the panic start to rise.

(Video) Dr Jessica Tearne's top 5 tips for dealing with exam stress

  • Make yourself comfortable. Do you need to go to the toilet before the exam starts? Are you neither too hot nor too cold? Adjust your clothing. Take a few deep breaths to try to ease the tension you are feeling. Sit with your eyes closed for a little while. Only then, turn over the exam paper
  • Remember that most people feel tense at this point - it is only natural. However much you have prepared, your task now is to just do your best
  • Take time to read through all the instructions and questions carefully. Do that at least twice to make sure you get a firm grasp of the questions.
  • Pick out the questions that best relate to the revision you have done. Do not rush anything. Taking time at this point can really reap dividends later. If you can’t decide all the questions you want to answer, start with those you have picked and come back to the others later
  • Plan your answers. This is a really important point. Five minutes spent on a plan and a rough guide will help your thoughts to flow
  • Do your best to ignore everyone else while you are at the planning stage – not easy, but it helps.
  • Decide whether you want to do the “easy” or “difficult” questions first. Doing an “easy” one first might help to relax you. Or maybe doing a “difficult” one first while you are very alert might be best for you
  • Manage your time. Keep an eye on your watch so that you allow enough time for your final answer. If you don’t have enough time for that final answer, make a skeleton answer in note form – at least you will have put something down
  • Look after yourself. Do you need a sweet? Have you got enough fresh air? Are you feeling cramped?
  • Avoid perfectionism. It is good to check spelling and punctuation but no one is expecting perfection.
  • If you feel the panic is getting worse – stop, put down your pen and relax. Breathe slowly; close your eyes for a few minutes. If it helps, put your head on the desk. Shake your arms. Move your head slowly from side to side to ease the tension. Say something positive and encouraging to yourself. Imagine yourself somewhere else where you feel happy and relaxed
  • If you feel unwell, ask the invigilator if you may leave the room for a short while - taking a few breaths of fresh air and some sips of water may be all you need to calm you down.

For more help and information about this or about anything else, why not speak to Student Services? Email:

The University of St Andrews would like to acknowledge the contribution of the University of Dundee for the content of much of this document. 2003

(Video) How To Cope With Exam Stress | This Morning


How students should deal with exam anxiety? ›

Don't put so much pressure on yourself, take a deep breath. Get an early night and do some meditation before bed. Take time out of your day to breathe, try not to compare yourself to others (easier said than done but it's important). Schedule in time for yourself and reach out if it's affecting your mental health.

How do you survive exam anxiety? ›

Try these tips and tricks:
  1. Stick to a routine by eating and sleeping at around the same time each day.
  2. Get a good night's sleep. ...
  3. Give yourself mini rewards once you achieve your study goals – watch a TV show or go for a run.
  4. Keep focused on your study – don't let other stuff like friendship worries distract you.

How do I overcome my child's fear of exams? ›

Help them study

Help them come up with practical ideas that will help them revise, such as drawing up a revision schedule or getting hold of past papers for practice. To motivate your child, encourage them to think about their goals in life and see how their revision and exams are related to them.

How do I calm my students before an exam? ›

  1. Hand Massage Can Help You Relax.
  2. Let Out Some Deep Sighs.
  3. Lessen the Weight of Study with Flotation Therapy.
  4. Practice Muscle Relaxation.
  5. Listen to Calming Music.
  6. Exercise to Reduce Anxiety and Settle Nerves.
  7. Pray and/or Meditate to Calm Nerves.
  8. Keep Perspective.

How do you comfort someone who is stressed about exams? ›

Talk about exam nerves

Remind your child that feeling anxious is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams. The key is to put these nerves to positive use. Being reminded of what they do know and the time they have put into study can help them feel confident.

What is the most effective strategy to manage test anxiety select one? ›

Practice! One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to take practice tests. To overcome test-taking anxiety, practice test-taking in a test-like environment, like a study room in the library.

What are the main causes of test anxiety? ›

What Causes Your Test Anxiety?
  • Being afraid that you won't live up to the expectations of important people in your life; worrying that you will lose the affection of people you care about if you don't succeed.
  • Believing grades are an estimation of your personal worth.
  • Placing too much emphasis on a single test.

What causes students test anxiety? ›

For many students, it can be a combination of things. Poor study habits, poor past test performance, and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety. Fear of failure: If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.

What do you say to a stressed student? ›

10 things to say to a teen who's stressed out
  • I love you. ...
  • Take a deep breath. ...
  • I'm already proud of you. ...
  • This is not your whole story. ...
  • How you feel at this moment is not how you're going to feel forever. ...
  • Remember how you've gotten through tough times before. ...
  • Just do the next thing. ...
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
17 Jan 2022

What are 3 strategies to reduce anxiety? ›

Anxiety management strategies
  • Slow breathing. When you're anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. ...
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet location. ...
  • Stay in the present moment. ...
  • Healthy lifestyle. ...
  • Take small acts of bravery. ...
  • Challenge your self-talk. ...
  • Plan worry time. ...
  • Get to know your anxiety.

What are three skills you can use to combat test anxiety? ›

Visualize before a test. Mentally rehearse what it will be like to succeed. Visualize taking the test successfully. Focus.

What are the three types of test anxiety? ›

There are three main components to test anxiety: (1) worry, (2) physiological arousal, and (3) a preoccupation with the worry and physiological arousal.

What are the two types of test anxiety? ›


One type of test anxiety is somatic, which is what you are feeling. 2. The second type of test anxiety is cognitive, which is what you are thinking.

Is test anxiety a mental illness? ›

To be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, test anxiety must pass two legal tests. First, it must be a "mental impairment." As a form of Social Phobia, a mental disorder included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it meets this first test.

How do you break the cycle of performance anxiety? ›

6 tips to stop the performance anxiety cycle
  1. Relaxation techniques. Having a calming go-to strategy when you face performance anxiety can help you get through the episode. ...
  2. Guided imagery. ...
  3. Positive self-talk. ...
  4. Facing fears. ...
  5. Lifestyle changes. ...
  6. Excitement.
25 Apr 2022

What are the four components of test anxiety? ›

Parts of the scale on test anxiety are based on Sarason's Reactions-to-Tests Questionnaire (Sarason, 1984). Each scale consists of four subscales relating to affective, cognitive, motivational, and physiological emotion components.

Why are children afraid of exams? ›

Some of the main reasons are stress and expectations from parents and teachers. Most of such cases can be found in students who will be attending board examinations. If students encounter exam fear or stress, they will not be able to perform well.

How can parents help children with exam stress? ›

Encourage Them to Take Regular Breaks

Work with your children to create a schedule and stick to it instead. Set time aside for play and recreation so that your children can unwind, de-stress and and recharge.

How can I help my child with the pressure of school and exams? ›

How to help your child manage exam stress
  1. Listen to their concerns. ...
  2. Help with exam preparation practicalities. ...
  3. Encourage healthy routines. ...
  4. Promote a sense of perspective – and don't add to the pressure. ...
  5. Look out for signs that your child is struggling. ...
  6. Be positive.
28 Apr 2022

How can I help my child with anxiety before school? ›

Helping your child with school anxiety
  1. Ask your child what's worrying them. ...
  2. Think together about changes that could be made. ...
  3. Reach out to their school as early as you can. ...
  4. Discuss coping strategies with your child. ...
  5. Set a daily routine. ...
  6. Give your child a 'worry journal'


1. How to cope with exam anxiety
2. Dealing with stress and anxiety during exam time
(Lloyds Banking Group Careers)
3. How to Cope with Anxiety | Childline
4. Mental Health Monday: Test anxiety and solutions to cope
5. Coping with anxiety during exams
(Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia)
6. Dealing with Exam Anxiety
(MIT Medical)

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