How to remain positive and overcome Exam Anxiety

Exams are a big deal. But what happens when you experience exam anxiety?

So you feel like your mind freezes when you are sitting for that important paper. You constantly think “I can’t do this” and your heart beats faster and you find it hard to breathe during an exam.

Majority of us feel anxious when sitting an exam. However, there are those that suffer most from anxiety than others. So, what causes this and how can you calm your nerves?

Read on…

What is exam anxiety?

This is an intense feeling of panic or fear before and/or during an exam.

It is of two types:

  • Low anxiety
  • High anxiety

Low anxiety

If you are experiencing low anxiety, you may feel a bit nervous about an upcoming exam but still remain focused on your studies or the questions asked. A student with low anxiety is not struck with distressing feelings or thoughts about the exam.

High anxiety

A student experiencing high anxiety shows an immediate anxiety reaction when the feared exam situation is exposed. He/she will attempt avoiding the situation by either not showing up for the exam or even take the exam with extreme fear.

People respond to tests differently in both scenarios. But, managing your anxiety effectively can greatly assist in performance.

The challenge, however, is knowing when your anxiety levels have gone beyond the optimal level. If it at a high level, then it may impact your ability to complete the exam.

You can recognize high levels of anxiety if you experience:

  • sweaty hands
  • speeding heart
  • shortness or rapid breath
  • queasiness

How high anxiety impacts on performance

There are a number of things that can be triggered by high anxiety. The most common ones are:

  • It can lead to a decline in performance
  • Concentration problems: people who see assessments as a threat respond with intense emotions making it difficult to focus on tasks at hand.
  • Interferes with performance on intellectual and cognitive tasks. This impacts on your ability to achieve good results.
  • Test anxiety can also interfere with a person’s ability to show their cognitive and academic capabilities.

How to manage test anxiety

Now that you have identified high anxiety in yourself, the next step will be to find ways to manage it.

However, not everything will work for you.  You can only manage your anxiety if you know what triggers it.

If, for instance, you experience high anxiety levels prior to an exam, engage in self-care techniques at this time. You can exercise, sleep through the night and implement a few relaxation strategies.

One of the most important relaxation techniques is Mindfulness. This is where you try to focus on the present moment, while you calmly acknowledge and accept the anxious thoughts, feelings and physical reactions.

Tips for coping with exam anxiety

When preparing for exams, try doing the following:

  • Prepare ahead of time: By preparing ahead of time, it means working on sections of the course each day. Reading from different sections at the same time can result in a mix up of the content and you might miss on the most important concepts.
  • Use practice exams papers: These are a good resource to help you manage the anxiety.
  • Identify your anxiety early: Be keen to notice your physical reactions whenever the exam situation is presented. You can then slowly work on adjusting your emotions.
  • Practice Mindfulness: As much as possible, try focusing on the task at hand rather than being anxious.
  • Positive self-talk: Replace your negative self-talk with more positive and encouraging self-talk. Challenge your anxiety and push away the negative thoughts.
  • Good self-care: Pay attention to what you eat, how you sleep, exercise and the relaxation routine. Remember social support is equally important.

Read also how to write a great exam paper.


We are in a world where competition is the order of things and even the smallest of improvements can mean a big difference. This applies even to your exam.

If you can manage your exam anxiety, then you get the control over so many important things. That scholarship that you dream about every day, college admissions and good employment opportunities.

Yes, exam anxiety can be controlled.

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