Coping with Exam Pressure: 7 Tips for Successfully Dealing with Test Anxiety

Someone completing a multi-choice exam - Exam Pressure - Test Anxiety

It’s not uncommon to be a little nervous before an exam.

But when you struggle with test anxiety, that nervousness seems to increase drastically.

This anxiety can get to the point where you freeze, and either can’t finish the exam or avoid taking it in the first place. Not a desirable situation.

However, there are ways that you can successfully deal with test anxiety and complete your exams.

Consider these seven tips.

Tip #1: Recognise your signs

You have your own quirks when it comes to reacting to stress. I find that I’m clenching my fists or grinding my teeth. Maybe you start fidgeting with your hands, begin to feel the sweat on your brow or something entirely different.

Or maybe, instead of physical signs, they are mental ones. For example, you may start doubting yourself, which can lead you to a train of thought that spirals downward, draining your confidence away.

Whatever they are, get to know what triggers your stress response and what that looks like for you. The sooner you can identify that you are feeling anxious, the sooner you can begin to deal with it.

Tip #2: Learn to breathe

When you get nervous and anxious, your muscles begin to tense up, and that includes your chest muscles. Whether you realise it or not, your breath becomes shallower and more rapid. And that makes it harder for your body to take in enough oxygen.

Without enough oxygen in your blood, it becomes harder for your brain to focus. In turn, you struggle to make the right decisions and begin to feel anxious.

You can cope with this by focusing on your breathing. Taking a few deep breaths is all that it takes to start bringing in more oxygen.

Tip #3: Pause for a Moment

Even though exams often have a time limit, pushing forward while stressed won’t do you any good. Take a moment to pause. Try shifting your thinking away from the exam to something more calming.

You could think, for example, about:

  • The beach
  • Your favourite TV show
  • Being with friends
  • A meal that you enjoy

Anything that helps you feel calm.

Once you have that thought, stick with it for a moment and take 5 slow deep breaths. Count slowly to 5 on the in-breath then to 7 on the out-breath. Then, bring yourself back to the present and the exam.

Tip #4: Keep positive!

When you receive your exam questions, do you start thinking to yourself, “I don’t know the answers!” It’s easy when struggling with test anxiety to think negatively and underplay your abilities.

However, when this thinking does occur, switch that narrative to something positive. It could be as simple as, “I can do this.” Whatever it is, start repeating it silently to yourself to build up your confidence and beat back the anxiety.

Tip #5: Get enough sleep

You may be tempted to cram for your exam the night before, staying up late. However, that would be a mistake. It would be best if you had an adequate sleep to be able to think clearly and function. Without sleep, you will struggle more to get through the exam, let alone cope with any anxiety that arises.

Yes, you do need to study before the exam. But, go to bed at a reasonable time and make sure to get between 7-9 hours of restful sleep. That will pay a lot more dividend than that last few hours of late-night cramming.

Tip #6: Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Drinking a lot of caffeine the morning of the exam to wake up can actually have the opposite effect. Instead of keeping you alert, you become jittery and more anxious. Also, then the caffeine wears off; it can lead to a low that makes it even harder to function.

The same goes for alcohol. Although it is tempting to have something to drink to relax the night before, alcohol can negatively affect sleep quality. And, of course, you don’t want a hangover the morning of the exam, either!

Tip #7: Exercise

Exercising allows you to burn off that excess energy. Plus, research has shown that exercise can have positive benefits for your mood, too. Even if you don’t go to the gym regularly, an evening stroll or morning walk before the exam could be quite helpful.

Test anxiety doesn’t have to ruin your chances of passing the exam. By mentally preparing, recognising when you do get stressed, and coping with it by using these suggestions, you can achieve your academic goals.


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