Last-minute guide to combating exam anxiety

It’s that time of the year again. After your months of hard work and weeks of all-nighters accumulated, your success or failure at college is still largely dependent on this heavily weighted piece of paper called “final exam”. 

And as the old saying goes, having some pressure at work can optimize your performance but we all know that such pressure can often spiral down into a dark hole of stress (thanks to the exam board who think putting 3 exams on the same day is a good idea!).

You certainly don’t want to experience the time when you studied hard for an exam but entered the hall with a “Blank Slate”. So having a good mind set and attitude is just as important as being prepared for your exams – here are what you can do to combat your exam anxiety right before your exams!


1. Treat yourself with nice self-talk!

In our last article on handling deadline stress, we have discussed using positive self-talk to stop us from obsessively dwelling on past actions and events. And this time, it’s about future actions. Your feelings are determined by your thoughts – pretty much like a garden: your constant fear of failing an exam will cause anxious feelings but your optimistic attitude will bring calmness and confidence. Often we are unaware of our thoughts, but your mind feeds on your thoughts – so pay attention to what you say to yourself!

Practice here:

•  “I’ve tried my best regardless of the results.”
•  “I will pass this exam and I am confident.”
•  “I know the content by heart and I won’t forget.”


2. Be a detective: Get to the bottom of your anxiety.

One of the effective ways of combating anxiety is confronting it. Ask yourself “why” and “how” those questions like a real detective when your anxious thoughts arrive. This way you can understand where you anxiety comes from and what you can do to tackle it. And if it’s a long-term anxiety, you may start to think why it persists to exist. Try with the scenario below!

Scenario: You are going in for your PSY401 exam and you still can’t grasp the language processing model. And you start thinking you will fail the exam.

Practice here:

•  What is the issue right now?”
(Don’t jump into the conclusion of “failing an exam yet” – start from the beginning e.g. can’t understand a concept)

•  Why am I feeling scared?” 
(You won’t fail an exam just yet if you don’t understand one concept. Is there other reason for you to feel scared?)

•  What can I do about it?”
(Try studying with your friends, asking your tutor or professor, or even watch a YouTube video if that helps.)

Detectives don’t make hypotheses without thorough research and sound evidence, and as an educated and informed reader here, neither should you frantically jump into a conclusion without thinking through your self-doubting questions!


3. Simple breathe in and breathe out!

If you are already at a distraught state of mind and can’t think straight, don’t worry about the questions and self-time and try this age-old breathing exercise instead:

•  Close your eyes
•  Take a deep breath.
•  Hold it in and count down 10 seconds.
•  Breathe out completely thorough your nose.
•  Focus on the up/ down movement of your belly as you breathe in and out. 
*Repeat this technique until you feel relaxed

To maximize the effect of this breathing exercise, imagine yourself at the most comfortable and soothing place of your memory (e.g. beach, mountain, cafe). For more benefits of practicing breathing exercises, click here.


After all, you can do better than the annoying voice inside your head. Complete your exam like you would normally with your mock paper. Skim through the paper first and then focus on each question at hand. Now off you go to smash the exam!

Adas is an English language graduate from the U.K., now transiting from recruitment to academia (exciting!). While she is not at her desk working or researching, she likes argue with strangers or watch strangers arguing in debating competitions as an avid debater and debate judge. Feel free to reach out if you want some job application, public speaking, or career advice!

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