How to Deal with Exam Anxiety


With exams around the corner or already in our midst, our nerves start to act up and we find it difficult to study. For some, their phobia affects them more so before the exam. For others, they get a case of the jitters more so during the exams.

Since exams have a role to play in our future prospects, it becomes important to find a way to treat this problem. So in this article, we’re going to go through some techniques to overcome exam anxiety using Psychology.

What is Exam Anxiety?

Exam anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. While having some form of anxiety before exams is normal, exam anxiety in particular is characterised by:

  • Excessive worrying about exams
  • Fear of evaluation

From a broader perspective, we can look at exam anxiety as a form of “ego threat”. You may perceive your self-esteem hanging in the balance, you may be worried about the consequences of failure or success, or you may be concerned about being judged negatively by others.

Causes of Exam Anxiety:

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exam anxiety is often caused because of three main reasons:

Fear of failing: If you put your self-worth into how you perform in the exam, it can affect your ability to answer it. Some pressure to do well can act as motivation (called eustress), but in excessive amounts, it can prove to be detrimental.

Not being prepared: Last-minute studying or not studying can cause anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Poor past performance: If you didn’t do well in the past or had some issues last time, it can affect your mindset and leave you in a negative state.

Some Symptoms of Exam Anxiety:


Easily distracted/irritable

Nervous tendencies (nail-biting, difficulty sleeping, worrying about not doing well, feeling paralysed, etc)

Physical symptoms like headache, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, light-headedness, panic attack (abrupt & intense fear or discomfort where you may feel like you can’t breathe or it feels like a heart attack).

Emotional symptoms like helplessness, anger, fear, disappointment and such.

Behavioural/Cognitive symptoms like negative thinking, difficulty with concentration & comparing yourself with others.

How to Deal With It:

Based on the symptoms you are experiencing, there are different techniques that you can employ to treat your exam anxiety. Here are some suggestions to help you cope with it:

Positive visualisation: See yourself taking the test in a relaxed alert state (remember eustress?). If you do this a couple of times, it may slowly reduce your anxiety. You put yourself in the stressful situation but see yourself being calm. This helps your brain get desensitised to the situation so that it doesn’t look at it as a form of danger.

Prepare: Studying for the exam beforehand can help reduce stress. If you study a bit everyday in advance (say a week or more before), then you won’t be bugged by the insecurity of not being prepared.

Have good test-taking skills: Read the instructions properly, answer the questions you know first and handle the other ones later, and outline the answer in your mind so you have a better idea of what you have to write.

Be positive: You are not your exam results. Your self worth should not hinge on it. A negative mindset won’t help. If you have fair expectations & reward yourself for each bit that you complete, your studying will be far more effective than if you just criticised yourself.

Remain focussed during the exam: Try to avoid looking at other students and maybe even talking to them before the exam. This can give you unnecessary self-doubt. You’ve prepared what you have and now it’s time to put the information out there.

Relaxation methods: Stress during the exam can be alleviated by slow, deep breaths. You can also try to relax your body, one muscle at a time (from your head till your toes). These two practices can help you calm down and relax yourself.

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