How to make sure exam nerves don’t get the better of you

09 February, 2024Joshua Downes

Exams often go hand in hand with frantic late night cramming sessions, endless cups of coffee and a general sense of panic.

What’s more, in addition to their capacity for nerve shredding, LIBF’s recentcropped student stress small survey on exam nerves also revealed that they can actually stop people from studying the subject of their choice or even put them off their chosen career altogether.

But exams remain an important part of education and developing strategies to deal with pressure can prove hugely beneficial in life.

So, what are some of the best ways of dealing with exam nerves? We discussed some potential strategies in a recent podcast.

The importance of exams

Exams can reveal what we really know about a subject and test our ability to recall important information. Studying for exams also requires hard work, discipline, and good time management skills – all of which are attributes highly sought after by employers.

In fact, exam nerves could be compared to job interview nerves. “There is a correlation – if you’re nervous for exams, you're likely to be nervous for job interviews. And job interviews are probably one of the most stressful things that people can undertake,” says Nadim Choudhury, Director of Careers & Employability at LIBF.

Strategies for overcoming nerves

“It’s expected in our society that you just have to ‘deal’ with exam nerves. But no one really teaches us how to deal with them,” says Choudhury. So, what are some techniques for dealing with nerves ahead of a big exam or job interview?

Get a good night’s sleep

“If you're sleeping less than seven hours a day it can affect the way stress impacts your body,” says Choudhury. “So having a good night's sleep before an exam or job interview is definitely recommended.  I would also suggest avoiding caffeine. People often think that they need caffeine before a job interview, for example, but it can make people a little jittery – which is particularly unwelcome before an interview.”

Deep breathing

“One of the one of the best things you can do before an examination, test, or interview is to practice deep breathing,” suggests Choudhury. “This might sound like a basic thing to do, but taking four or five really, big belly breaths, can actually bring your nervous system down to such an extent that you will feel in control again. So practising breath work before examinations is really, really helpful. And everyone can do it.”

Practice mindfulness

“Practicing some mindfulness is also a really good idea,” continues Choudhury.  “ For example doing visualisations – imagining yourself in the interview or exam scenario before it starts, perhaps the night before, making sure that you plan your journey ahead and imagine it. This process may help to alleviate your stress symptoms.”

Use available support services

Universities have huge amounts of support for students with mental health issues and not just mental health, there's loads of wellbeing resources available as well. “But”, says Choudhury, “don't leave it to the last minute. Seek out the advice of your students support teams, your lecturers, anyone within who can help.”

“At LIBF, for example, we have a fantastic counselling service, which is available to all our students and staff as well, to undertake counselling with professional, professional, qualified staff who can help you develop coping strategies and strategies. Sometimes just talking about your issues is a great believer of stress.”

Learning to cope with exam nerves

Being able to manage the stress of exams and perform under pressure is a highly transferable and worthwhile skill, regardless of your chosen career path. As such, developing habits and strategies to help minimize the effects of pre-exam or interview nerves could prove hugely beneficial further down the line.

“If you know that you suffer from exam nerves, the most important thing to do is understand it and then be able to seek out support to help you deal with those nerves before the actual exam or interview takes place,” adds Choudhury.

Related content

Listen to our exam nerves podcast here