What is Exam Anxiety? - and How to Combat it!

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Julia Stringer
Jun 28, 2022

What is Exam Anxiety?

Pretty much everyone gets nervous before an exam, with the academic pressure of doing well and feeling like maybe you could have squeezed in a little bit more revision. Feeling stressed before exams can actually increase your performance during exams as it helps to keep yourself alert during them.

However, Exam Anxiety, is when the stress and anxious feelings actually interfere with your performance during exams. It may mean you have difficulty focusing or struggle to perform well during them – feeling like you are not smart enough and underestimating yourself. It’s when your nerves get out of hand, causing you to think “I can’t do this” or even skip exams in fear of under achieving.

So, what are the underlying causes of exam anxiety?

  • Low performance in past exams
  • Lack of revision
  • Fear of failing
  • Lack of sleep
  • And more

How can we overcome this feeling of dread?

Exam anxiety is not something you can just overcome; you will always get jitters. However, you can minimize its effects on your confidence and performance going into to your exams

Start Preparation early.

The more prepared you feel going into an exam the less stress and anxiety you will feel, some revision techniques you could try:

  • Mock papers - Find some past papers and practise.
  • Mind maps – These can be good for those who learn visually, they are my personal favourite! I like reading things that look pretty…
  • Flash cards – Great for remembering things like formulas.
  • Post-it Notes – Something one of my teachers told me in school was if you put post-it notes around the house you will learn it naturally, can be especially helpful when learning a new language. You could also try putting them on the back of the toilet door, because what else are you going to read?
  • A mixture of them all – Mixing it up, keeps your brain stimulated!


I know, easier said than done. But once you start learning relaxation techniques and can really control your feelings of anxiety, it will get easier. Here are some great stress alleviation techniques:

  • Healthy diet - Keeping a healthy diet not only improves your physical health but can also improve your mental wellbeing. Keeping a balanced diet doesn’t just mean to cut out sugary foods, but to eat them in moderation with all the other food groups. It’s a common misconception to believe that cutting out “unhealthy” food such as chocolate will improve your health, but that is not always the case. Did you know Dark chocolate can regulate the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and stabilize your metabolism?!
  • Exercise - Exercise can reduce the intensity of how you’re feeling. By reducing this it allows you to deal with your emotions in a calmer manner. Exercise releases endorphins which help you to maintain a positive attitude.
  • Positive self-talk - Sell yourself, to yourself! Try reading into some positive affirmations to say to yourself every day. They are shown to strengthen self-worth by boosting both your positive opinion of yourself and your confidence in your ability to achieve your goals.
  • Muscle Relaxation - Stress can make your muscles tense. Try tensing your muscles holding for 15 seconds then release the tension. Continue to do this until your muscles feel relaxed.

Be Organised

The best way to reduce stress is feeling like you have everything under control, show up early to your exam to look over your notes one last time. Start revision early (less stress to cram everything in a small amount of time). Set up a calendar so you know when all your exams are – it will give you a better sense of what you need to focus on in order to be prepared.

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