How to control your nerves minutes before walking into an exam

You have prepared as best as you can and line up in the hall before you enter an exam. You hear the people beside you quizzing each other and start to tremble as they come up with different answers to you and talk about how prepared they are feeling. It’s not long before you go into a downward spiral of nerves. All the hard work you have done is starting to seem insufficient.

Sounding familiar?

The crucial moments of preparation before walking into an exam can make or break you. The good news is that there are many things you can do so these moments don’t get out of control. James Kirby, a Ph.D Clinical Psychologist at UQ, has some useful and effective ideas on how to control your nerves minutes before walking into the exam.

Make friends with your nerves. Often when we feel nervous, we think something must be wrong. Rather, it makes perfect sense that you are a little nervous before an exam. Having a moderate level of anxiety can actually be very helpful for performance. So the key is to accept and allow that anxiety to be part of the experience. It can help to simply name the emotion you are experiencing: “OK that is anxiety” or “OK that is nervousness”.

Listen to music. Sometimes all you need to is switch off from your surroundings and allow yourself to chill out to some tunes. Select music that works best for you. If you need to slow down a little, pick songs that you know help shift your emotional state from anxious to calm.

Politely ignore those around you. It isn’t always easy to block everyone else out, but if you feel yourself getting worked up, then remove yourself from the situation and give yourself a moment to breathe. By listening to everyone around you it can sometimes knock your confidence. Just remember that you are all on equal ground and trust your preparation.

Manage your time to avoid increasing your nerves. There is nothing like adding to your stress with worry that you are going to be late. Don’t leave it till the last second to find your room. Get there quickly and avoid feeling flustered and panicked.

Look after yourself! Do you need a snack, fresh air or just need a moment to yourself? Listen to your body (and brain) and do whatever you can to make yourself comfortable and at ease. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how stress can sometimes take over your basic needs. Take some deep breaths and your body will automatically calm itself and allow you to think properly.

Scale it down. Think about this moment realistically. You have already done everything you can to prepare so don’t be so hard on yourself. Will you remember this day in a week, month, or year? Probably not, all you can do now is try your very best and that starts with a clear mind.

I hope these tips help you to manage your stress before exams. Good luck, it will all be over very soon and you will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Last updated:
9 January 2023