Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Lots of students feel apprehensive before an exam, and sometimes a little bit of nervous energy can help you perform well under pressure. But what should you do if you think your stress is getting the better of you before or during an exam?
We have listed some tips to help you keep calm during exam time, but it is important to find the right techniques that work for you. Remember to talk to your family and teachers about your stress before and during exams, and seek help if you feel you need professional guidance on managing stress.
Keeping calm before an exam starts long before the actual day of the test. Practice exams are a great way to allow you to become familiar with the exam process and the types of questions that may be asked. This helps you keep calm on the day, as you know what to expect and are well prepared for the types of questions that will be asked.
Exercising the night before or morning of the exam allows your body to use up any nervous energy you may have. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones!) into your body, allowing you to relieve any emotional stress, tension or anxiety. It's important not to overtire yourself with exercise before an exam, however low impact exercise, such as a light jog or some yoga, will help you clear your mind and keep your body feeling less stressed.
Breathing is one of the best ways to relax your body. This is because controlled and deep breathing sends a message to your brain to calm down your body and relax. There are numerous controlled breathing exercises you can do before and during an exam. Here are two breathing exercises you can try:
Place you hands on your tummy and close your eyes. Slowly take deep breaths and feel your tummy move in and out at a controlled pace.
Take one deep breath, and hold for 3 seconds. Take another deep breath without exhaling your first breath, and hold for 2 seconds. Take one last breath and then slowly exhale.
The power of positive thinking has been proven to be effective when managing exam stress, according to counsellor Cat Williams. Cat states that the key to keeping calm is to put your fear into perspective! Even though exams are important and you feel pressure to do the best you can, an exam is not the most important and defining aspect of your life.
Here are some of Cat Williams’ key sayings to repeat to yourself when walking into the exam room:
'I have done my best, even if I feel I could have revised more, feeling this way is normal"
'I will be okay, whatever happens, this exam will not be the only defining point in my life, I can only do my best and accept the result"
'I am no worse, or better, than anyone else, whatever my/or their ability is, I do not need to be defined simply by how I successful I am in an exam, there is more to me than that'.
'I will do well, I can do this, I can remain calm and confident".
The 15 minutes before the exam
The 15 minutes before the test is a high-stress environment, and everyone handles this time differently. It is very important to not get caught up in what your classmates are doing and how they are managing their time, and focus on what works for you.
In the 15 minutes before the exam, you don’t need to do anything other than keep yourself calm and relaxed. Here are some ways to keep you relaxed in the 15 minutes before the exam:
If you feel that chatting with friends (not about the exam!) helps you take your mind off your exam stress, then you should find people who also want to chat.
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in this time, then take a moment to practise your breathing exercises.
Repeat positive thoughts and mantras to yourself.
Think about what you will be doing after the exam, later in the week or on the weekend.
Turn off your phone and put your notes away. Reviewing notes in the 15 minutes before the exam can lead to a build up of stress.
If your exam is long (2-3 hours), try and eat a small snack, so that you have energy for the exam but will not feel ill from eating a big meal.