Exam anxiety

It's normal to feel tense and worried before exams, but there are strategies which can help you to manage your anxiety.

This tip sheet will focus on ways to help you manage exam anxiety to help you complete your exams.

Önder Kavakci and associates (2014) found that 48% of those taking a university entrance exam experienced test anxiety. Neuderth, and others (2009) examined the strategies for reducing test anxiety and optimising exam preparation in German university students. They suggested that study skills training and cognitive behavioural skills for anxiety reduction were the best approach.

Study skills training

Consult the Academic Skills website for more ideas on studying and writing exams, there is a wealth of information available. The important factor with study skills is using them. If you are having difficulty motivating yourself, Counselling and Psychological Services can help.

Cognitive behavioural strategies

How you interpret exam anxiety has been shown to have an effect on your academic performance. Strack and Esteves (2015) found that the more students interpreted their anxiety as helpful to their study, the less they felt  emotional exhaustion as exams approached, and the better their marks were for the exam and the course.

Cognitive strategies

Cognitive strategies might include:

  • Reminding yourself that you have studied, and might include you have done exams before
  • Reminding yourself that exam anxiety is a normal experience
  • A counsellor can help you work out more strategies specific to you.

Behavioural strategies

Some behavioural strategies that may be important include:

  • Physical exercise: Hashmat, and colleagues (2008) studied factors causing exam anxiety in medical students, they found the most important  factors contributing to exam anxiety were, extensive course loads (90.8%), lack of physical exercise (90%) and long duration of exams (77.5%) . While you cannot change course load and duration of exams you can maintain your exercise levels during the lead up to exams.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Zargarzadeh and Shirazi (2014) found that performing progressive muscle relaxation method was effective in reducing  test anxiety among nursing students.  You can find an audio track to do progressive muscle relaxation in our guided exercises area.
  • Mindfulness practice: Has also been found helpful (Sohrabi, et.al 2013) in reducing exam anxiety. There are a range of different mindfulness audio tracks on our site.

In addition, behavioural strategies that maintain your wellbeing could also be an important factor in assisting you to manage exam anxiety. These include regular sleep, managing alcohol intake, physical exercise, social contact and enjoyable activities that are not work related.


Managing your breathing has been shown in other areas to help with anxiety, and may be useful to manage exam anxiety.

Learning some skills to relax on cue has also shown some effect for exam anxiety (Russell & Sipich, 1973 and Russell, et.al, 1974).


Hashmat, S., Hashmat, M., Amanullah, F., & Aziz, S. (2008). Factors causing exam anxiety in medical students. JPMA. The Journal Of The Pakistan Medical Association, 58(4), 167-170.

Kavakci, O., Semiz, M., Kartal, A., Dikici, A., & Kugu, N. (2014). Test Anxiety Prevalance and Related Variables in The Students Who are Going to Take The University Entrance Examination. Dusunen Adam: Journal Of Psychiatry & Neurological Sciences, 27(4), 301-307. doi:10.5350/DAJPN2014270403

Neuderth, S., Jabs, B., & Schmidtke, A. (2009). Strategies for reducing test anxiety and optimizing exam preparation in German university students: a prevention-oriented pilot project of the University of Würzburg. Journal Of Neural Transmission (Vienna, Austria: 1996), 116(6), 785-790. doi:10.1007/s00702-008-0123-7

Russell, R. K., & Sipich, J. F. (1973). Cue-controlled relaxation in the treatment of test anxiety. Journal Of Behavior Therapy And Experimental Psychiatry, 447-49. doi:10.1016/0005-7916(73)90038-4

Russell, R. K., Miller, D. E., & June, L. N. (1974). Group cue-controlled relaxation in the treatment of test anxiety. Behavior Therapy, 5(4), 572-573. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0005-7894(74)80050-X

Sohrabi, R., Mohammadi, A., & Delavar, A. (2013). Role and Effectiveness of Mind Fullness Education on Students Exam Anxiety. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 84(The 3rd World Conference on Psychology, Counseling and Guidance, WCPCG-2012), 1639- 1641. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.07.006

Strack, J., & Esteves, F. (2015). Exams? Why worry? Interpreting anxiety as facilitative and stress appraisals. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 28(2), 205-214 10p. doi:10.1080/10615806.2014.931942

Zargarzadeh, M., & Shirazi, M. (2014). The effect of progressive muscle relaxation method on test anxiety in nursing students. Iranian Journal Of Nursing & Midwifery Research, 19(6), 607-612.

If you'd like more support, come along to one of our workshops or make an appointment for individual counselling.

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