exam anxiety

Exam anxiety: How to keep calm during exams

Exam Anxiety: Before the exam

Get good rest

Avoid exam anxiety by getting a good night’s sleep before every exam day. You might be tempted to stay up cramming until late, but it is usually a mistake. You will think better and be calmer in your exam if you are properly rested. Have an early cut-off point for revision the night before, and then stop working. Get your clothing and everything organised for the morning so you will not have to rush around – then relax.

Have a proper breakfast

It can be difficult to eat when you are feeling nervous but try to at least eat some carbohydrates, such as toast or cereal, to keep you going. If you can also manage some fruit or fruit juice, and some protein, so much the better. Skipping breakfast is likely to leave you tired and make it more difficult for you to concentrate. Your brain will not function at its best if you are hungry.
Related: Supporting your child’s memory

Be organised

Being organised on exam day will help with exam anxiety. Leave plenty of time to get to school or the exam centre; you don’t want to be in a position where you need to rush. That will only increase your stress levels. Being organised is key to keeping calm.

Keep hydrated.

Dehydration will make it difficult to concentrate and if it is combined with stress it may make you feel ill. Take a bottle of water with you. You may not be allowed to take a bottle of water (especially if it has a label on it) into the exam, but ask if water is available.

Exam anxiety is a reality

Expect some level of anxiety – it’s perfectly normal to feel nervous before an exam. In fact it can be helpful as it will give you a burst of adrenalin that will help power you through the exam. Just try not to let your anxiety get out of control. If you start feeling panicky, or dizzy, try to breathe deeply and slowly. Count to 8 as you breathe in, hold the breath for a count of 5, and then exhale slowly for a count of 8. You should soon feel calmer.


During the exam

Take time at the beginning

Take a deep breath!  Read the paper carefully and make sure you understand exactly what you need to do. You must pause at this point because it is vital that you understand the instructions. Don’t let exam anxiety get in the way of this crucial step; a mistake at this point can cost you the exam.

Watch the time

Once you are into the exam and working hard, remember to keep an eye on the time. Pace yourself! Hopefully, you will know and understand the marks available for each question at this point (you should have done this in your revision and exam preparation) and remember to move on if a low-mark question is holding you up. There no point spending ages on a 4-mark question if you have a 20-mark question coming up and time is getting short.

Exam technique 

If you get stuck, just move onto the next question. Usually, if you come back to something towards the end of the exam, after you have finished the other questions, it suddenly makes sense. If not, at least you haven’t wasted too much time on it and you can focus on those questions you can do well.

Don’t waste time

If you have any time left over when you have finished your paper, don’t waste it, use it to check over your paper. Sometimes you will spot an obvious mistake, or something missing that you can pop into the answer. If you have 25% extra, use it. This can be very hard when everyone else is finishing up and leaving, but don’t sell yourself short. You have been awarded the extra time for a reason, so make the most of it.

After the exam


Take some time to relax. You deserve it! You may well want to do a ‘post mortem’ with your fellow students, but don’t let it freak you out if they have thought of answers that you didn’t think of. The paper is done, you did your best, and what will be will be. Let it go and focus on the next exam.

Keep going

Depending on when your next exam is, start preparing as you did before. Keep calm. Keep going and you will get there.

Related: 5 Ways to revise for exams

About Dr Rose

Dr Janet Rose studied at The University of Oxford & tutors internationally for The Tutor Team. You can find her full profile here

Janet also runs The Tutor Team Facebook page  and The Tutor Team’s Virtual Book Group

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