10 ways to beat exam nerves

There’s no getting away from it. Sitting your exams can be a stressful experience. However, there are strategies you can employ which will help you cope. We asked you for your top tips, and here are some of the best


A positive mindset can do wonders for your confidence in the exam hall. Matt Holden, ACCA course manager and management tutor at Reed, advises: ‘When you start getting those exam nerves and negative thoughts you have to counter them with positive thoughts. Tell yourself that you are going to pass the exam. A positive mindset will improve your chances, so why not?

Make sure you have done the right kind of studying – this doesn’t mean just reading notes all day and night, you must also practise past exam questions. If you are unable to complete any part of a question when answering a past paper, don’t just ignore it – phone a friend, or better still, contact your tutor. Remember that if you find a question difficult, it’s likely that other candidates will too.’

Fifteen minutes before the start of the exam, instead of spending time worrying about the next three hours and what the exam questions will be about, get your brain warmed up. Go over a few of the basics in your mind – get yourself tuned into the subject.’

Girish Samtani, a student from Singapore, agrees: ‘It’s never easy to manage exam stress but a positive approach and not fearing exams is where you should start. It’s all about attitude.’


Many students will be familiar with that shaky, nauseous feeling you can sometimes get as you enter the exam hall. But there are ways you can ease these feelings. Victor Zhou, a student from Shanghai, has these tips for controlling anxiety: ‘Before entering the exam hall, I feel very nervous, even though I know I’m well-prepared. Try to breathe more slowly and deeply, and say to yourself: ‘Take it easy, just relax’. You’ll find the anxiety often passes quite quickly and you can concentrate on the questions.’


The best route to confidence in the exam hall is knowing you’ve prepared as much as you can. ‘Know a bit about every topic in the relevant module,’ advises Esinam Baeta, an affiliate from Ghana. ‘This way you will feel confident enough to talk about any topic relevant to the question.’ Question spotting is not recommended. Know your way around the syllabus.


Keeping track of time in the exam hall can be difficult when you are concentrating on completing your exam. Deonarine Gopaul, a student from Guyana, suggests a way to avoid this: ‘I plan the exact time that each question should be finished. This stops me panicking in the exam, wondering whether I’m going to finish or not.’


There are certain types of food and drink that will help you think clearly during your exam. Drinking water before you go helps, but don’t drink too much otherwise you’ll be going to the toilet all the time. Keep a small bottle of water on your desk to keep yourself hydrated as the exam progresses. Make sure you have something to eat at least an hour before the exam starts so you don’t get disturbed by hunger pangs. But be careful not to eat too much as this can make you sleepy. ‘Drinking herbal tea, especially camomile, can help you relax before an exam,’ points out Claude Licari, a student from Malta. ‘Coffee and caffeinated drinks may stimulate you, but this doesn’t last long and you’ll end up feeling tired.’


Arrange something fun for after the exam. There’s nothing more you can do if you haven’t got any more exams to sit – so why not relax? Shane Honey, a student from the UK, says: ‘I find that arranging a treat after an exam is good to reward myself for all the effort I’ve put into studying. This helps to reduce my worries of performing well in the exam as I have the treat to look forward to. For example, last year I met my daughter afterwards and we both went ice-skating and then to a cafe.’


Even though it’s tempting to talk to other students as you prepare to enter the exam hall – sometimes it isn’t the best policy. ‘On the actual day of the exam refrain from discussing the syllabus with other students. You might discover that you didn’t cover certain areas, and as a result will needlessly panic before the exam,’ says David Mwonzora, a student from Zimbabwe.


Before your exam, worrying and thinking too much about what is ahead of you can sometimes make your anxiety worse. An ideal way to combat this is to take your mind off it by finding something to do. Apollon Leontas, a student from the UK, offers the following advice: ‘Take a walk in the park, or try drawing or painting to reduce stress and relax your mind. Half an hour of physical exercise is also another way to release tension. Lying down and listening to music can also be a great way to keep your mind off the exams.’


‘If you have one, meet with your tutor to discuss topics you don’t understand,’ says Tasha Campbell, a student from Jamaica. To get maximum benefit, summarise your knowledge of the syllabus and check if there is anything missing or anything you don’t understand. Do this a couple of weeks before the exam, then arrange to see your tutor and make notes from their advice. Then make sure you include it in your revision sessions so it’s all fresh in your mind before your exam.


If you can, revising in a group can really help, and will remind you that you’re not the only one facing the exams. ‘Instead of revising alone get together with a group of friends,’ says Maham Farooqui, a student from Pakistan. ‘Try and meet weekly and set targets for the following week, for example choose two subject areas to study. Then you can test each other and all attempt past paper questions on those topics. This helps to make you feel really confident.’ 

"Know a bit about every topic in the relevant module. This way you will feel confident enough to talk about any topic relevant to the question"

Esinam Baeta