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How to Avoid Exam Anxiety

How to Avoid Exam Anxiety

Almost everyone suffers from exam anxiety at some point. Taking your GCSEs, A Levels or entrance exams can be stressful. It’s completely natural and normal to feel a little overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to your exams.

The good news is, you can take action to prevent this anxiety. We have a surprising degree of control over our thoughts and feelings. We’ve set out 6 points below to help you overcome any anxiety you may be feeling and to give you the best possible chance of exam success.

1. Preparation

Nothing will make you more anxious than knowing that you are under prepared. On the other hand, nothing will prevent anxiety more effectively then a deep seated sense of certainty in your own preparation. Be sure to develop an effective revision timetable. Take some time to figure out which areas you are least confident about, by directing your study time in this direction you can tackle anxiety head on.

Preparation goes beyond just revision. Print off a timetable of your exams so you know exactly what you have to do and when. Pack your bag the night before and exam and make another note of your exam time and place. This thoroughness will help create a deep sense of confidence within you.

2. Avoid Last Minute Cramming

We’ve all been there. It’s 12pm the night before an exam and you’re still desperately revising. This doesn’t help one bit. All that a last minute cramming session will accomplish is increasing your sense of overwhelm and anxiety. If you have prepared well then there is just no need to cram.

The evening before an exam should be used to put yourself in the best possible mindset for success. Use this time to take care of yourself. Run a bath, read a book, play some sport with your friends or even watch your favourite tv. Allow yourself time to relax so you can face the mornings exam fully rested and ready to go.

3. Exercise

There is a clearly established link between exercise and a reduction in anxiety. Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to elevate mood, improve sleep and boost self-esteem. Anxiety UK recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity per week however anti-anxiety effects are stimulated after just 5 minutes of exercise.

Exam anxiety and tension create a build up of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Exercise helps to burn off excess cortisol as well as increasing the level of feel good endorphins in the blood. One study found that those who partake in regular, vigorous exercise are 25% less likely to suffer from anxiety.

If the thought of hitting the gym creates anxiety in itself you’re not alone! Something as simple as a brisk walk around the block can have a profound effect on your overall well being.

4. Keep things in Perspective

If you’re under stress, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Relax, even if you completely fail your exams it is far from the end of the world (despite what your teachers might say!) If you’ve been doing well in your mock and past papers, chances are you’ll do well in your exams. If you’ve been struggling, don’t worry. Many of the worlds most successful entrepreneurs and business owners have very few formal qualifications.

This isn’t to say exams are unimportant. The important thing about exams is the process you go through to prepare for them, not the end result. An unexceptional student who learns how to deal with anxiety, works hard and develops self discipline whilst studying for exams will more then likely go on to have a far happier and successful life then a gifted student who is unable to deal with stress.

5. Use positive affirmations

Our thoughts have amazing power to help us or to harm us. If we’re not careful, negative self talk can destroy our confidence and lead to overwhelming anxiety. Like weeds in a garden, negative thinking patterns can creep up on us and cause a great deal of damage if untended to. One highly effective way of countering this is to work with positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations are short repeated statements that can help overcome negative beliefs and self sabotage patterns. They can increase self esteem and in time help you to develop a bullet proof mental attitude. Practicing positive affirmations may feel strange (or even a little silly) at first, but stick with it. Learning to control and direct your attention and develop inner strength is a skill which will stand you in good stead throughout your life.

Here are some positive affirmations for you to try, we recommend repeating each of these 5 times every morning and before every exam.

“I’m confident, calm and prepared to succeed”

“I enjoy studying and learn something new every day”

“I’m proud of my progress and know that I’ve worked hard”

“I can do this”

6. Breathe

One of the simplest and most powerful ways of controlling anxiety is to focus on your breathing. When we are stressed or anxious the body activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones. By breathing deeply we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest, relaxation and positive emotional states.

Breathing in and out slowly for just 5 minutes a day can have an enormous impact on your stress levels and subsequent exam success. To experience this for yourself, breathe along with the animation below- how do you feel afterwards?


Exam anxiety is completely natural and normal, it affects everyone. Hopefully you now have some strategies to help you manage and control this anxiety. 20 minutes a day spent breathing, practicing positive affirmations and exercising will be far more beneficial to your exam success then an extra half study session.As ever, feel free to reach out if you need any help or support, and please do share this blog with anyone else you feel may benefit from it.Good luck in your upcoming exams!

Jan Ball | Founder - BasingTutors

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