Overcoming Exam Anxiety

Feeling nervous before an exam and during an exam is normal. Some butterflies and tension can help us perform to the best of our ability as the adrenaline helps us to feel alert and focused. Too much anxiety however, can block thoughts, make us ‘go blank’, create a negative frame of mind and lead to panic and lessen our performance potential.Anxiety might be created by negative thoughts and beliefs, for example: “I am going to fail” or “everyone else is better than me/studying more than me”. These ideas cause excess anxiety or panic by raising adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) levels.It is important to learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of anxiety in our body and behaviour so that we can deal with them before they become a problem. You might notice your heart pounding; shallow, rapid breathing: feeling sick etc. 

How can I turn anxiety into creative tension?

  • Use relaxation breathing techniques to help calm your nerves – this will take care of the physical symptoms
  • Challenge your negative thoughts.
  • Try not to compare yourself against others; everyone learns in different ways. A few hours of structured, effective study time balanced with physical and social activities can be more helpful than staring at books or a computer screen for 12 hours and accomplishing very little

Preparing for an exam

  • Understand yourself as a learner: when and how do you learn best
  • Timetable an achievable revision programme well in advance
  • Balance study time with breaks and rewards
  • Create an area where you can study (avoid distractions) Set targets and give yourself treats
  • Make notes using ‘trigger’ words
  • Look up past papers
  • Ask for help with things you don’t understand
  • If you need some extra support speak to your subject teacher

Get exam fit

Just as an athlete trains for a race or a match, it is important that we get our minds and bodies ‘fit’ for the pressure of studying and exams

  • Make time to socialise and exercise: walking, sport etc.
  • Eat healthily: lots of fruit, vegetables, protein etc.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Try and get into a regular sleep pattern, if you wake up early make the most of your day
  • Turn negative thoughts into positive ones e.g. “I’m rubbish at exams” – “The past is irrelevant, I am working well and have techniques to help me”

On The day

  • Eat well (e.g. breakfast or lunch)
  • Give yourself plenty of time to arrive.
  • Talk to yourself “I am calm and thinking clearly”
  • Breathe slowly and steadily e.g. breathe in for 3 hold for 4 breathe out for 5
  • Avoid people who will stress you out
  • Wear something or bring something with positive associations – touch it to calm you and remind you of positive thoughts

During the exam

  • Visualise yourself as competent and ready, see the exam as an opportunity for you to shine
  • Take time to read through the questions, answer the ones you know best first
  • ‘Budget’ your time. Look at how many marks are allocated to each question and spend the appropriate amount of time on each. Allow time for checking/editing afterwards
  • Do an ‘info dump’ first – jot down key points that you don’t want to forget at the beginning.
  • Use positive self-help talk “I can do this”: “Anxiety can’t harm me”
  • Can’t find any questions to answer? Look for familiar words and phrases. Read through the questions slowly and think about how to answer them
  • Can’t write enough? Concise answers that answer the question specifically are more likely to be more effective than writing pages and missing the main points out

After the exam

  • Remind yourself you have done your best.
  • This is not a life or death scenario
  • Avoid analysing answers with others. This provokes anxiety. This exam is behind you now; focus on the next task in hand
  • Set a time to begin studying for the next essay/exam
  • Time to relax recuperate and reward yourself
  • Look at what went well. What techniques worked for you? Review and see what needs improving

Relaxation Techniques

Breathing exercise

Try ‘7/11’ breathing- breathe in slowly for the count of 7; imagine filling your stomach first then your chest. Hold the breath for as long as it’s comfortable. Breathe out slowly for the count of 11. Repeat until panicky feelings subside.

Emergency Stop Technique (During an Exam)

Say Sharply to yourself “STOP”
Breathe in and hold your breath for a moment before slowly breathing out. As you do so relax your shoulders and hands.
Pause, then breathe in slowly again and hold. As you breathe out relax your forehead and jaw.
Sit quiet for a few moments, notice your breathing then go on with what you were doing moving slowly and smoothly.

Please have a chat with subject teachers, Progress Leader or Assistant Progress Leader
Guidelines from Counselling & Wellbeing Reading University

The Oldershaw School
Valkyrie Road, Wallasey
Wirral CH45 4RJ
T: 0151 638 2800 E: schooladmin@oldershaw.wirral.sch.uk Executive Headteacher: Mr S Fisher