It is natural to feel nervous before an exam. A moderate amount of anxiety probably aids performance as it produces a rush of adrenaline which can help with focus and
concentration. However, too much anxiety can have the opposite effect and lead to panic, inability to concentrate and potentially poor exam performance.
Exam nerves may seem much worse if you are doing exams for the first time or after a long gap. Equally, if English is not your first language or you have a specific learning disability or
mental health problem, exams can seem particularly daunting. There may also be other things in your life that are causing you stress. We are all individuals with different stress levels, personalities and past experiences which can all contribute to our ability to cope with stress and pressure.
Top tips to beat exam anxiety
Be mindful. Allow your exams/revision into your mind ONLY when planning your revision, or when actually revising. The rest of the time, absorb yourself 100% in whatever else you are
doing - and don't forget relaxation time!
Anxiety is contagious! Keep tactfully away from others who may increase your exam anxiety.
Keep a record of how much time you spend planning for exams and how much time you spend just worrying about them. Revision is good, but don't let exams invade your headspace.
The only result here is anxiety.
Your Student Services Hub runs mindfulness for exams workshops which can teach you practical strategies to manage your anxiety.
Be prepared – minimise stress
Start revision early. Trying to grasp a whole year’s work in the final days or hours before an exam is likely to lead to more anxiety.
Plan a structured revision timetable. Set yourself achievable goals and include breaks and pleasurable activities.
Think about the kind of questions that will be asked and practise with past exam papers.
Seek help and advice from your department if there is anything you are not sure about, they may run pre-exam workshops.
Make sure you look after your general wellbeing:
eat regularly and well
take regular breaks and get some exercise
keep to a regular sleep routine, don’t study late and nap in the day.
Although exams are important they are not usually life or death situations! There are usually opportunities to re-sit exams and you will hopefully have had other opportunities to
show your knowledge and skills through coursework, lab reports, projects etc.
If you can get away from thinking that exams are of the utmost importance and everything is doomed if you fail, this can take some of the pressure off and enable more effective
It is also important to be realistic. A distinction is nice, but if you set your targets too high you may never achieve it and feel very anxious and demoralised in the process.
Learn some relaxation techniques
Relaxation and stress management techniques can be learned and acquired with practice. Alternatively, most large bookshops and libraries sell books and tapes which can help
teach relaxation techniques. Knowing how to relax can be invaluable in the lead-up to exams and during the exam itself.
Make sure you know your exam timetable and where to go. Set off in good time! Have everything you need ready in advance, with any spares. Remember you need your registration card
and exam entry form. Do have something to eat before the exam, however queasy you are feeling. It doesn't need to be a huge amount, but you will function better with fuel inside.
If you have tried the suggested techniques and still feel very anxious or stressed it is worth talking to someone about how you feel and seeking some extra help. Come and talk
to an adviser at your Student Services Hub during opening hours.
For out of hours support during term-time you can visit or call Nightline.
You can also look at our online mental health programme, SilverCloud, which offers resources to help with anxiety.