How to Cope with Exam Nerves.

GCSE & A Levels

Exam Nerves can be horrible. This post aims to help you overcome them by giving you simple techniques to use.

If you, or someone in your house, have exams coming up or if you are in the middle of them, then I hope you are excited to show all the work you have done, the knowledge you have gained over the last year or so. Some of you, though, might be feeling nervous rather than excited. Some of you might be scared.

Its easy, when you have worked really hard to do well at something like exams, to feel overwhelmed with the desire to do your best. You might, on the other hand, realise, “Oh no!! I haven’t done nearly enough work!!” That can overwhelm you too.

Anxiety, Worry, Nerves … they are all fear of the future, fear of something that has not happened yet and actually might never happen. They are your brain looking for patterns, trying to predict the future, and we all know that really nobody can predict the future. All we can do is our best in this moment we are in.

When that future moment arrives and we sit the exam, or open the results envelope, we will deal with what happens then. In that moment.

butterfly on lavender


Symptoms of Exam Nerves

So…how do you feel? Nerves can vary from person to person, but you may well be feeling some or all of the symptoms below:

  • butterflies in your tummy
  • heart beating too fast
  • shallow breathing
  • sweaty hands
  • a feeling of dread
  • a feeling of being out of control
  • tearful
  • nausea

The good news is that you can learn techniques to get these feelings under control.

How to Get Your Anxiety Under Control

Be Aware

When you feel yourself beginning to be upset, nervous or worried, recognise that this is happening. If you are aware that you are not feeling ‘right’ then you can do something about it. Knowing that you have techniques at your finger tips will give you confidence that this is going to be ok. You can regain control. Stop and tell yourself that this is your brain trying to do something impossible, predict the future. Tell yourself that its time to use your techniques.


Wherever you are, slow down your breathing. There are a couple of techniques you can use…

7 – 11 breathing…. breathe in for the count of 7. Then breathe out for the count of 11. In for 7. Out for 11. Keep doing this fora little while until you feel yourself calming. The counting will distract your mind from its ‘out of controlness’ (technical term!) and the long breath out will stop you from doing those short, out of control in breaths.

Triangle breathing… trace a triangle on your hand, maybe some paper, perhaps just imagine a triangle. Breathe in slowly as you trace along one side, and then out slowly as you trace along the other two. In for one side…out for two sides. I like the physical touch of drawing with my finger on my palm. It focuses the mind again.

Focus on Now

Bring yourself to Now….this moment. When we are tired, perhaps from late nights studying, or because you are not sleeping well, our brains return to Basic Mode. Our analytical, sensible brain, the Pre-Frontal Cortex, simply decides not to play any more and we are left with our ancient, emotional, irrational brain. This results in us reverting to our Fight, Flight or Freeze response. Our hearts beat faster as adrenalin courses through us, preparing us to run away or fight to the death.

Bring yourself back to Now by using the breathing above, but also a good trick is to draw a circle between your thumb and index finger. Round and round and round. Feeling the texture. Saying to yourself, “I’m here. I’m now. I’m ok. I’m here. I’m now. I’m ok” Have a look at my video below to see how it works…


When you think of exams…how do you see or feel them? Are they close up to you? Are they in colour? Are they big or small? Do they have a temperature? Stop for a moment and really think about what it is that is making you worried. Consider how it appears or feels…

What would happen if you thought of an exam and it was looming at you, big and daunting…..but you, somehow, made it smaller? What if you could push it away so that it seemed to be way in the distance? Maybe tiny….like a little kitten exam? Maybe you can find another way of changing it so its too small to worry you? Or maybe when you imagine it, its in colour, maybe like a film? What happens when you change it to black and white? Or into a cartoon? Perhaps an old still photograph? What happens if you put music to it? Does it change if the music is classical or heavy metal? What sort of music makes it feel better?

These are things you can experiment with when you are calm so that if you feel yourself getting nervous you can use the Change Techniques to alter how you see or feel about a situation.

Distract Yourself

Sometimes we can feel so filled with nervous energy that its overwhelming. There is only so much sitting revising that any human being can take!! So give yourself a break! Get up, go out, be kind to yourself. When I study I set my timer and every now and again I reward myself by stepping away from the books. I either go for a walk or make myself a cup of tea. Maybe I just go and sit in the garden or I have been known to go for a really good run. Its amazing how physical exercise can release all the feel good chemicals you need to be able to relax and be calm.

You Will Be Ok!!

When you are in the midst of exams it can feel like a conveyor belt of responsibilities and stress. I can remember thinking, during my O-Levels (olden days type GCSEs!!) “This will never end. I have to do well in these exams to be able to do A Levels, to be able to go to University, to be able to get a job, to be able to live well….”

Actually, that was my brain tricking me, running away with me. Whatever happens, good or bad, you will cope with it. Your parents and your school will help. You will keep being you. The world will keep on turning. You might just have a slightly different path to follow from A to B. Sometimes the path we thought would be straight gets a bit wiggly. But that is ok. As long as you make this moment Now the best you can, you will be alright. You will still be loved. The sun will still shine and chips will still taste great.

And actually, it might turn out fine!! Imagine opening that envelope, or opening your paper and its all ok….how wonderful will that be??

Take time to breathe, be in the moment and understand that if you can have control of Now, using the techniques above, you have control of forever.

If you are affected by the issues I have written about in this post then you can call me on 07894564287 for a complimentary telephone consultation, or email me at

Just because something has always been a certain way…doesn’t mean it always has to be.



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