10 Ways To Deal With Exam Anxiety

Mark Barrow

Sound familiar? You open the exam paper, your mind full of apprehension, you can’t focus, and you’ve forgotten everything you’ve spent weeks studying. It’s a classic sign of exam anxiety.

Exam anxiety is a psychological condition that can impede your performance when you need to be clear and focused the most. It can reveal itself in different physical ways from light-headedness, headaches, queasiness, and shortness of breath to full-blown panic attacks. Other signs that you are anxious in the lead-up to exams can include sleepless nights, irritability, poor appetite, or binge eating. You can start to adversely compare yourself to others and begin to think negatively about yourself and your capabilities.

It’s natural to feel apprehensive before an exam, but the good news is that there are lots of ways to alleviate these feelings, you can even use them to your advantage. We’ve put together the following tips to make sure that you’re ready to go and can perform to the best of your ability, ultimately receiving the qualification that you deserve.

1. Plan for success

Proper preparation is key to exam performance. Study hard and smart, make a study plan and stick to it, start your study early and give yourself plenty of time to get to know your stuff and test your knowledge by taking old test papers. If you’re properly prepped, then you’re much more likely to stride in full of confidence.

2. Get a good night’s sleep

Believe it or not, it is possible to make sure that you get a great night’s sleep and wake up fresh the morning of a big exam. Nod off by calming your mind, practicing mind-relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, focusing on positive thoughts, avoiding coffee the night before and definitely dumping the booze. Finally, turn your gadgets off, swiping through social media may keep your mind off your exam but it will keep you stimulated and hinder your ability to drift off.

3. Eat well

Don’t skip the most important meal of your day. Research shows that eating a healthy breakfast can boost brain function, improve problem-solving and increase your attention span, helping enhance your exam performance. Snack on foods that will boost your energy and focus, these include avocado, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, almonds and green tea.

4. Dress comfortably

Be prepared for an exam room that might be either hot or cold by wearing layers. Remember, you’ll be sat still for hours so loose-fitting clothes will be the most comfortable and help keep you relaxed.

5. Get there early

Make sure that you know exactly where you need to be, and when, then aim to be there in plenty of time. Rushing to your exam will only create feelings of exam anxiety before you even get there so, set an alarm, and work out your route to the test site the night before. Have everything you’ll need packed up and ready to go, calculator, pens, pencils, and take some light reading in case you arrive too early.

6. Focus and visualise success

Stress can hinder performance, but you can also put a spin on your exam anxiety and use it to keep a positive mental attitude. When feeling nervous, remind yourself how hard you’ve worked, how much you’ve enjoyed learning, how much you’re looking forward to getting a great grade, and most of all that you deserve it!

7. Read the paper carefully.

Before you start to answer any questions, read the exam paper all the way through and check the back, just in case and make sure you follow any instructions carefully!

Staring at a blank answer sheet can make you feel overwhelmed, so decode the paper by looking for clues in each question as to what the correct answers are. Break down the questions into categories based on how straightforward the answers are, then tackle them accordingly. Answering an easy question first can boost your confidence and get you into a good rhythm.

If your mind goes blank, write down everything you know about the subject, brainstorm ideas, create diagrams, slowly piece the information together and start to devise a way to answer the question. If you feel that you haven’t written enough words, remember that a succinct answer that covers all the relevant points is better than a rambling essay that doesn’t.

8. Focus on your breathing

Poor breathing can affect your ability to correctly exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and add to the chance of developing exam anxiety. If you start to feel stressed, try the box breathing technique:

  • Breathe out for a count of four.
  • With your lungs empty, count to four.
  • Breathe in for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four.
  • Repeat.

9. Use the time you have effectively

Take a note of how many questions there are and how many marks each one is worth, then plan your time accordingly to make sure that you have time to answer them all. Take your time but stay aware of how long you have, keep one eye on the clock to make sure that you keep the right pace.
If writing an essay, make sure you make your point early. You want to avoid running out of time without making your most important points.
Once you’re finished, check over each question and answer. Have you answered the question clearly? Have you included everything you know? Does the answer seem reasonable? Go back to questions you were unsure about, you may have remembered something since tackling the question.
Finally, proofread for any errors. Spotting mistakes now will help you relax afterward and void post-exam anxiety!

10. Reward yourself

Once you’re done, make sure you have a reward planned for yourself, you deserve it after all. Don’t go over any mistakes that you think you might have made, and don’t analyse the questions and answers with your friends afterward, negative feelings after the event will only lead to feelings of anxiety and doubt. If possible, give yourself a break before starting to study for your next exam so that you can start afresh and full of confidence.