How do I stop turning into a bundle of nerves when I’m taking exams?


Few people like formal tests, but for people with ‘test anxiety’ the fear and stress become especially problematic – they dread exams in advance, experience unpleasant symptoms during the test and fret intensively afterwards.

Psychologists say there are two main components to test anxiety – a cognitive element that involves worrying about the consequences of poor performance (for example, ‘I’ll never get a place at a good university’) and an emotional element related to the physical effects of stress during the test, such as a racing heart and sweaty palms. In worst-case scenarios, people with test anxiety will avoid evaluations and procrastinate over their studies, ultimately harming their education and career prospects.

The good news is that there is a significant amount of research on ways to deal with test anxiety. Many of these interventions are unsurprising and involve using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to deal with anxious thoughts and feelings, combined with building test-taking and study skills.

More creative approaches include colouring mandalas (geometric shapes) or doing physical exercises to calm your nerves. Other anxiety-busting approaches with some support include taking time at the start of a test to skim through the questions, and spending 10 minutes before an exam writing about your values and what matters to you – a stress-busting strategy known as ‘self-affirmation’.

For more resources, visit this site from Ofqual: bit.ly/test-anxiety-1

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