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Home Major exams are coming up and I'm getting nervous! How can I manage my anxiety and boost my exam performance?

Major exams are coming up and I'm getting nervous! How can I manage my anxiety and boost my exam performance?


Does the mere thought of taking exams make you jittery, your hands clammy and your stomach churn? Why is that? 

It may be because you are scared of failing, or you feel that you have not prepared enough. At times, text anxiety may also come from previous experience of not doing well in exams, or feeling immense pressure to do well. In some cases, nervousness before exams occurs because of our expectation to be perfect, and our self-criticism.

Anxiety as a normal physical and mental response to a stressful situation is not inherently bad. We can use strategies to manage it and even use it to boost our performance in exams! Knowing why test-anxious behaviors come up and how to manage the mental, motivational and social behaviors related to test anxiety are essential to using it to benefit us. 

How to spot test anxiety? 

Test anxiety is the feeling very nervous before an examination that causes the person to lose concentration and not meet their expected results. It is a kind of performance anxiety, where a person becomes fearful before doing a performance they deem as important.

  • Feeling you have “butterflies in your stomach” 
  • A headache 
  • Feeling that you want to vomit or pass out
  • Shaking hands, sweating, rapid heartbeat
  • Having a panic attack, in some severe cases
  • Having repeated negative thoughts, especially remembering past negative experiences related to tests/exams
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tendency to procrastinate

Effective strategies for test anxiety and increasing exam performance

Since test anxiety may be influenced by several factors like negative thinking, a lack of coping skills and faulty study habits, interventions to our mental, emotional and behavioral aspects may show positive results. 

  • How do you manage your time and plan for your upcoming tests/exams? 

It has been shown that creating a simple, easy to follow, and realistic schedule can reduce  test anxiety. When preparing for an exam, break down a study material into several manageable chunks and give them a place in your schedule. In this way, you can avoid cramming and you get to calmly prepare for the test well ahead of time. 

If you are given the exam topics ahead of time, you can use weekly calendars to space your studying out. Set an alarm for these time blocks. 

  • What do you think of yourself, of the exam and of your test performance? 

The way you perceive yourself, your ability to take the test, and the exam has a powerful influence on your mindset and behavior when you prepare for and take the exam. 

Examine yourself for repeated negative thoughts and replace them with more encouraging ones. Did you have a successful test performance once? Remind yourself of that or think of your strengths as you prepare. Also remind yourself that this exam does not define your value, your self worth and your intelligence. Do a regular pep talk on yourself and change anxiety to excitement.

  • How do you take care of your well-being? 

When our test anxiety goes out of control, we often neglect to take care of our body by stress-eating, choosing to eat only our comfort food (which can be delicious, but nutritionally imbalanced), skipping meals or skipping exercising, and worse, choosing to stay up late and  not getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Some even binge on sugary drinks, sports drinks, or coffee to increase their adrenaline. 

Unfortunately, these might give a boost in energy for a while, but they are not sustainable. In effect, our mind cannot think clearly enough, and our body cannot deal with our already increasing anxiety. 

Continue to do your self-care habits to improve your mind and body’s coping skills. 

If the anxiety becomes too difficult to handle by yourself, you can talk to a parent, teacher or even a school counselor or a mental health professional to help you handle exam stress better. 

Beating test anxiety is possible, but it will not disappear overnight. Take time to improve your coping skills and study habits as a more long-term and healthier solution. 

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Major exams are coming up and I'm getting nervous! How can I manage my anxiety and boost my exam performance?
Brandon Resasco