3 simple ways to decrease your exam nerves

Update March 2018: Since writing this blog post, I have created a FREE eBook called 70 ways to ace your exams. This eBook contains strategies students say they use to help manage stress and anxiety when it comes to preparing for and taking exams. You can get your free copy here.


I just got home from presenting to the year 12 TEE students at Kalamunda Senior High School. For a group of students whose exams start next Tuesday and who have had tests and assignments due in all week, they seemed to be doing really well. I was impressed!

Even though the focus of my talk was on study skill strategies today, I feel they may have benefited from learning some simple stress management strategies.

Let’s face it, you can’t learn effectively if you’re stressed/freaking out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, stress makes you stupid.

So here are 3 simple ways students who have exams coming up can decrease their anxiety and stress levels.

1. Breathe deeply

This isn’t just any old breathing. I’m talking about deep breathing.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the amount of study you need to do and whether you’ll be able to get it all done in time before the exam, I want you to stop. Find a quiet place. Sit up right. Breathe in deeply for the count of 5 (counting in your head 1…2…3…4….5), pause by holding your breath for 5 (1…2…3…4…5) and breathe out for the count of 5 (1….2…3…4…5).

Keep doing this (as monotonous as it may seem) for 2-3 minutes. Just trust me on this one. Do it. It will calm you down and you’ll be able to think clearer and work more effectively.

2. Exercise

In my 7.5 years of study at university this has been the best way for me to decrease my stress levels. One hour at the gym everyday during exams has made the biggest difference. Of course, you’ll find yourself thinking But I don’t have time to exercise! I must study! but that’s just flawed thinking.

Engaging in one hour (or even just 30 minutes) of exercise will be an investment in your studies.

I recommend that you find a friend who is going through the same painful experience of doing exams and go exercise with them. Just make sure you don’t spend the whole time being negative about how terrible it is that you need to do these exams, trying to predict the exam questions, etc.

We all know and accept that taking exams isn’t a fun experience. Why waste your time and energy dwelling on this? You just want to get through this tough period. So by cutting out the negativity, you’re ensuring exercise is an uplifting experience for you. Not a downer.

3. Take breaks

I recommend putting a timer on for 45 minutes, study for that period of time and then when 45 minutes is up, take a break. Should you go on Facebook? Instagram? You could, but what will be better is to do some push ups/star jumps, go outside and get some fresh air … you want to get the blood circulating throughout your body. This will help to sharpen your focus and concentration for the next study session.

For some more general tips on preparing for exams, click here.

So I wish you all the best of luck with your exams. (Luck isn’t really the right word … but it will do!).

My advice is simple: do the best you can and just get through this tough time.

But do what you can to keep your stress levels down because stress impairs your ability to learn and recall information.

Remember to breathe deeply and hang in there folks!

8 thoughts on “3 simple ways to decrease your exam nerves

  1. You were right on, when you said, “Stress makes you stupid”. I’m 54 yrs. old and all my life I’ve had trouble trying to learn; wheather it be in school or a job. Sometimes I believe, it’s a wonder that I’ve ever learned anything at all. It’s as though a steel wall comes down that keeps me from understanding something.
    I want so much to do well, but I get so afraid. Every job I’ve had, I’ve had difficulties.
    With the last job I had, I almost had a break down. It sounds terrible, but I was glad when the company closed down in 2008. It felt like a giant weight was taken off of me. Thankfully my husband is working but we are just living from his pay check to pay check. If he was to lose his job we would be in bad shape.
    I want to contribute. I feel so guilty for him having to carry all the financal load. It’s not fair to him. I tried going back to school, but I’d get so stressed that the steel wall would come down. I couldn’t learn much at all. I was so overwhelmed in class that I almost ran out of the room. It was all I could do to stay seated.
    When in school I got a tutor to help me. I was so anxious that it didn’t work for me.
    I’m so flustrated. I want so much to do well. What can I do, or who can I see to help me? I’ve tried doctors but they couldn’t help.

    1. Hi Rachel
      How I can so relate to the things you write about!
      I’m not sure if I have shared in any of my blog posts how stressed out and anxious I have been in the past (particularly in high school, in the early years of uni and with tutors too!!). It is only (after years of doing courses, reading books, studying psychology, etc) that I feel confident in using various strategies and tools to control my stress levels so I can learn more effectively.

      I’m not sure medical doctors are the way to go (well I wouldn’t recommend them in Australia anyway). The doctors I know would typically administer medication for your anxiety. With the side effects associated with anti-anxiety medication and the fact you’re not getting to the root cause of the problem, I wouldn’t recommend going down this path.

      Speaking from my personal experience, I know the number 1 stress management strategy is exercise (without it I am a mess). I also meditated regularly for a time and practiced visualisation and that really helped me too.

      I am about to start doing a PhD so I am entering very new territory and will be working with a lot of academics who use big words and know a lot of stuff! Very confronting but I know if I exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep I will be able to do it.

      I recommend you start experimenting with different techniques (if you haven’t already). Try one technique at a time and trial them for 30 days. I work with a lot of students and find that after trying the techniques once they give up. Make sure you give each technique a proper shot. For instance, it can take time to feel the full stress reducing benefits of exercise.

      Don’t expect a result either because that in itself can be stress inducing.

      It’s never too late. Let me know how you go 🙂

  2. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educational and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.
    I’m very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something regarding this. Thank you!

  3. thank you so much cause i have an exam toorow morning and i was kind of nervous so i ve tried your way and i think it worked and i will keep doing it until i finish my bac examination and thnks alot <3

  4. I struggle a lot to not get nervous but I cant stop it is so hard to stop it I get it in everything but the killer is exams Charlie

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