How to be Free of Exam Nerves

How to be Free of Exam Nerves

It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? All over the country young people are hunched over their desks trying to revise for exams. Some will be thrilled to be able to show their expertise. Others will be feeling overwhelmed and really rather sick as they gaze at their screens, tapping away at their keyboards and trying hard to avoid social media.

I have worked with students who have come to me feeling broken and despairing. They say things like, “ I sit at my desk, knowing what I need to do, but I just don’t know how or where to start.”

“What’s the point? I know I’m going to fail…”

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Overwhelming Anxiety

I can remember my own exams (O Levels in those days) and I too felt overwhelmed by the pressure of the treadmill. I thought that if I didn’t do well in my O Levels I wouldn’t be able to take A Levels and if I didn’t succeed at A Levels then university was an impossibility. My life would be over.

It’s easy to let the fear take over. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nothing is ever that black and white.

Fight, Flight or Freeze Response

There are techniques that can help us to relax, become calm and begin to give us back control.

When our minds believe that we are under threat from a perceived danger, for example failing GCSE English, they trigger our primeval fight or flight response. Our minds fly all over the place trying to predict what’s going to happen to us and how we can escape the danger we are in. Unfortunately when we are in this state our intelligent brains freeze. We can find ourselves avoiding situations, getting angry, not sleeping, feeling sick, predicting dire outcomes… But nobody can predict the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen in 5 minutes, never mind 5 months or 5 years…

The only thing we are in control of is…us, ourselves. This moment. Now.

And once we learn how to be calm and safe in this moment, we can be calm and safe in every moment. And when we are calm and safe our intelligent minds kick back in and we can concentrate, study, be the best person we can be.

Techniques to help with Anxiety

So, how do we do that?

  1. Circle the thumb & index finger together. Be aware of the feeling, the circling motion, the skin. Say something positive, “I’m here. I’m safe. I’m now”
  2. Take a deep breath and just let it go. Breathe out for the count of 5. Then breathe in for 3. Slowly, deeply, calmly. Take some time to be in this moment.
  3. Lastly, we can allow our vision to become peripheral, daydreamy and unfocused.

Our minds, when we perceive danger, are still in prehistoric mode, reacting as though our exam is a sabre toothed tiger. Nobody ever faced a sabre toothed tiger with dreamy vision and slow deep breathing. These tricks can fool and distract our minds into thinking that there can’t possibly be a real danger and so we begin to relax. When we relax we can work intelligently. And when we work intelligently we can achieve our potential.

Finding the right path

We often think that there is only one path – from A to B in a straight line. But in reality the path often takes a detour and that detour can be the making of us. We can still get to the place we want, but we might go via a few different and far more interesting places. That doesn’t need to be scary. That can be exciting.

There are other techniques that can help us really take back control and free us from anxiety. I am here to help today.


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