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3 tips for combating exam anxiety

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Many students approach exams with some anxiety. Some utilise this nervous energy to make Kanban boards, re-listen to lectures, memorise acronyms and make colour-coded notes. The rest? Those students procrastinate on their exam prep while worrying. Sometimes this can turn into exam anxiety which you need to combat to complete your exams in a healthy manner.

As we wrote previously in: Could stress be your superpower?, to an extent stress motivates us to take action and is positive and needed in life. But we also know that prolonged stress can make us sick. While we hope you have been strategically working towards your exams all semester by taking great notes, using repetition and discussing complex areas with your peers, sometimes life gets in the way. You may not be feeling as organised as you had planned and are starting to worry or are putting in long hours to catch up without looking after yourself.

Watch what you are thinking

Your inner critic might sound a little like: ‘’I am going to fail this exam. In fact, I will fail all my exams! Then I’ll be kicked out of my course and I won’t graduate! Without a degree, I won’t ever get my dream job. I will be a failure…’’ Whoa whoa whoa! Where does all this come from? What are we doing to ourselves when we catastrophise in this way with these very unhelpful thoughts? We start to dread exams and demoralise our efforts of studying for them at all. Worse we are causing suffering and damaging our mental wellness.

To overcome these feelings of exam anxiety, here are three techniques that can help:

  • 3 tips for combating exam anxiety
    1. Practical relaxation technique: STOP technique

    Stop whatever you are doing

    Take a breath

    Observe your thoughts/feelings/body


    1. Grounding exercise: Notice 5 things

    Notice five things you can see around you. Five things you can touch. Five different sounds you can hear. Notice anything you can taste. Notice what you can smell.

    1. Counteract flight or fight: Breathing with Numbers

    Start to breathe through your nose slowly and then:

    • Breathe in for four counts
    • Hold for two counts
    • Breathe out for four counts
    • Hold for two counts
    • Repeat until you note a calming effect.

You can use all three techniques together as a sequence or any of them anytime you feel you really need to reign in your anxiety about exam time.

It is important that you look after your mental and physical wellbeing extra well during the exam period, so don’t forget the basics while you are busy studying.

Exam self-care basics

  • Are you eating well, sleeping enough, or are you exercising?
  • Do you have some hobbies to balance out your studies?
  • Are you actively relaxing?
  • Are you spending time with loved ones?

Look after yourself and good luck with your exam studies. You’ve got this!

Need support adjusting to uni? With topics covering procrastination, anxiety, sleep, adjustment to culture shock, exams and more, the Lunchtime Life Skills webinar series can help.

If you think you experience anxiety at a level that affects your studies but aren’t sure what to do about it,  you can always visit Curtin’s Counselling & Wellbeing webpage to learn more about Curtin’s free counselling services, other group programs, and bulk-billed GP services for all students.



The information in this article is drawn from the information about managing exam anxiety as learned from Curtin’s Counselling Psychologist Graham Semple.

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