Ask Shelley – Coping with Exam Anxiety


Exam season is always a stressful period for students, but there’s no need to worry as Student Wellbeing Services are here to support you through this tricky time.

The Wellbeing team offers free support to all students experiencing distress arising from psychological, emotional or mental health issues and can offer support on a wide range of issues, including exam stress and anxiety.

The team is based in Keynes college and further details on how they can support you can be found here:

What is exam anxiety?

Exam anxiety is:

  • excessive worry about upcoming exams
  • fear of being evaluated
  • apprehension about the consequences
  • experienced by many normal students
  • not mysterious or difficult to understand
  • manageable by following a plan of helpful suggestions

General exam stress-busting tips

Believe in yourself. If you prepare for the exams properly you should do fine, meaning that there is no need to worry excessively.

Don’t try to be perfect. It’s great to succeed and reach for the stars, but keep things in balance. If you think that “anything less than a Distinction means I’ve failed” then you are creating mountains of unnecessary stress for yourself. Aim to do your best but recognise that none of us can be perfect all of the time.

Take steps to overcome problems. If you find you don’t understand some of your course material, getting stressed out won’t help. Instead, take action to address the problem directly by seeing or talking to your course tutor or getting help from your classmates.

Don’t keep things bottled up. Confiding in someone you trust and who will be supportive is a great way to alleviate stress and worry.

Keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now, but in the grander scheme of your whole life they are only a small part. Interrupt negative thoughts with positive ones. Examples:  “I can do this”, “I will do my best”, “I can pass this test”, “I will focus only on the question in front of me.” Actively challenge your irrational thoughts. Life will be worth living regardless of this exam. Respect yourself for taking this course and getting this far, regardless of the outcome.

Plan your study time. Too much material + Too little time = Anxiety.  Plan your studying with regularly scheduled study sessions about 50 minutes long separated by 5 – 10 minute breaks.

Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Anxiety increases when one feels run down and overwhelmed. Overall resilience depends on one’s physical and mental health, which can be strengthened by:

  • enough movement and exercise (vs. couch potato lifestyle)
  • balanced life (vs. over-stress)
  • positive thoughts/beliefs (vs. self-defeating thoughts/cynicism)
  • health focus (vs. self-neglect)
  • replenishing nutrition (vs. junk food)
  • regular and adequate sleep (vs. late night lifestyle)

Get accurate information.  Check your course syllabus and get an understanding of the grading procedure. If you don’t understand, ASK. Well before the exam, make sure you know where it will be held, the start time, how long it will last, whether extra time will be allowed. Ask your lecturer whether it is an open-book exam or not, when the marks will be available, what materials can or should be brought into the exam room.

Get yourself into exam mode. Practice on sample tests in the textbook or study guide. Have a look at past exams. Ask for suggestions from your lecturer what to expect on the exam, what course materials should be emphasised, how to prioritise study time for the course.

Plan. Rest well the night before the exam. Plan to arrive at the test location early. If you can pick your seat, choose one away from the doors, windows or other distractions. Plan to monitor the time during the exam so wear a watch or sit where you can see the clock. Plan to wear layers of clothing so you can adjust your need for more warmth or coolness. Check out the testing room ahead of time if you can.

Avoid bad things. Give coffee and other stimulants a miss the night before the exam or on the day of the exam. Avoid anxious or talkative students. Avoid other people or things that may disturb your self-confidence, focus and level of relaxation. Definitely avoid arriving late.

More information

Revision and exam tips, as well as anxiety reduction techniques can be found on the Wellbeing webpages.


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