SOAS University of London

Student Advice and Wellbeing

Exam Anxiety - how to be better prepared

Common fears....

  • Going blank
  • Having a panic attack
  • Not finding any questions I can answer
  • Not having enough to write

Exams……

  • Are designed purposely to test your performance under stress
  • Are a highly artificial situation – absence of normal resources: books, telephone, other people, food, drink, distractions
  • Are physically and mentally demanding – 2-3 hours in one seat without moving around, talking etc
  • Do not test intelligence or overall academic ability

Exam stress…..

  • Is entirely normal in the circumstances
  • Can be managed in relatively straightforward ways
  • Is catching from other people
  • Some stress is probably necessary for an optimum performance

When the perceived demands greatly exceed your perceived resources then stress is more likely to feel unmanageable and disabling

Ways of making stress manageable

They are not highly complex, are easy to learn but require patience and practice

Dos:
  • Do remember it’s impossible to feel anxious and relaxed at the same time so relaxation techniques will help reduce anxiety
  • Do approach the exams a bit like running a marathon and prepare yourself mentally and physically
  • Do approach your exams positively – focus on what you understand, what you have prepared, what you can do
Don’ts:
  • Don’t make big changes to your lifestyle just before a stressful event such as exams e.g. giving up smoking, coffee, change your diet drastically. Change (including beneficial change) can add to stress and familiar patterns may be part of your immediate support system. This is not a time to throw away your existing support system. Such changes are best made gradually AFTER the exams, ready for next time. However some small changes may be helpful immediately eg cutting down on coffee, eating more fresh foods (nb carbohydrates are more likely to make you sleepy and protein less likely, sugar will boost your energy quickly but likely to lead to a sudden energy drop later)
  • Don’t approach your exams negatively – eg by telling yourself you always fail, never do well, always go blank etc
  • Don’t dissect the exam with other people afterwards – take yourself off and give yourself a treat instead. Post mortems will only make you more anxious and uncertain

Relaxation techniques

  • Practice centring
  • Become aware of your breathing and learn to slow your breath down more than breathing deeply
  • Take regular, short breaks while revising
  • Exercise helps, including swimming, running, walking, yoga, dance
  • Treat yourself occasionally to something special
  • Use lavender oil e.g. in your bath, in an oil burner, on your pillow, on a tissue
  • Imagine yourself in a dream place, a tropical island, a mountain top, a beautiful room and imagine it in as much detail as you can, using all your senses
  • Listen to relaxation tapes

First aid

if panic strikes
  • Centring
  • Grounding
  • Focusing on your breath
  • Taking time out
if you go blank

Write down anything you can think of or remember even if it seems gibberish – try using spider diagrams, brainstorming or images

not finding any questions to answer

Read through the questions again and underline words which relate to material you know. Read through the questions that seem most relevant, slowly and think how you could answer them

not having enough to write

Taking too long to answer a question and writing too much more common. Concise answers that really answer the question are likely to be more effective than writing pages and missing the question itself