• Ian Gibbs

Exam Tip #12: Handling Nerves


One of the things most often stated as a problem regarding exams is pre-exam nerves.


It’s not surprising.


Being too nervous can cause serious problems with your ability to function mentally.


It can cause you to forget stuff you are easily able to recall under normal circumstances. I was once so nervous giving a presentation, I forgot the name of a friend I’d been working with for two years!


Obviously, you don’t want this to happen to you in your exam. So controlling nervousness is an important skill.


One reason why you feel nervous is the overproduction of adrenaline.


Back in the Stone Age, adrenaline is what prepared your body for fight or flight if you suddenly met an enemy.


One way of dealing with adrenaline is to burn it up by doing something physical such as going out for a run or a swim or even a brisk walk (the fresh air will clear your head, too).


Even just dancing around your room for five minutes can help reduce your level of nervousness.


Even better is to do exercise that involves mental concentration as well.


This is because it not only deals with your adrenaline, it also takes your mind off what is causing you to be nervous.


So if you go for a walk, focus on your surroundings.


If you dance, try a few challenging moves.


If getting physical doesn’t work for you, just go for the mental distraction.


Mandalas, sudokus, jigsaws, reading (the non- academic sort), socialising, painting or storytelling. Anything that requires concentration and will take your mind off your exams might be just what you need.


Activities like meditation and mindfulness can also be great in reducing your mental stress level.


However, learning these skills is not something you do overnight. But if you can develop the habit of meditating a bit after each study session, it certainly won’t do you any harm.


A variant of meditation is hypnosis. If your pre-exam nerves are becoming so bad they’re becoming a serious problem, hypnosis is a serious suggestion. I know of several people who have had hypnotherapy to deal with problems relating to anxiety and stress.


It helped.


Another way to deal with nervousness is to ask yourself if you are genuinely nervous.


This might sound like a pointless question but I suggest this because it’s surprisingly common for us to misinterpret our own feelings.


For example, many people mistake boredom with hunger, or fear with anger.


If you see an Olympic athlete being interviewed before a race, they don’t say they are nervous, they say they are excited.


Nervousness involves an amount of worry.


The athlete is not worried.


She is 100% prepared.


She has done everything to make sure she is on peak performance.


She is energized and ready for anything.


Her adrenaline is flowing.


She is excited.


Excitement is a healthy state.


So one thing to do if you have butterflies in your stomach is to think about them in a different way.


You can reframe what you’re feeling and instead of looking at it as nervousness, look at it as excitement.


Being excited is a healthy and positive state to be in.


This in itself can be reassuring.



On a cautionary note, one thing I don’t recommend is using medication to relax you. Heavy duty drugs that force you to calm down, such as tranquilisers and sedatives, mess with your mind.


And messing with your mind is the last thing you want to do before an exam.


For exactly the same reason, neither do I recommend using stimulants such as energy drinks with copious amounts of sugar or caffeine. It’s a short-term benefit with a long-term detriment. Negative effects associated with energy drink consumption include insomnia, an inability to concentrate, palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, type 2 diabetes, sensation-seeking behaviour, risk of addiction to other harmful substances, bad teeth and obesity.


Honestly, it’s not worth it.


If I want to calm down, I simply find a moment and have a nice, quiet cup of tea. I don’t consider tea a heavy-duty drug. I consider herbal teas (and let’s put aromatherapy into the same basket) pleasant ways to stimulate your senses and calm your mind without messing up your mental capacity.


So if pre-exam nervousness is becoming a problem, bear in mind you have several options…


✔ Physical exercise

✔ Distracting activities

✔ Relaxation techniques

✔ Hypnotherapy

✔ Reframing

✔ A nice cup of tea


Pre-exam nerves are common.


Keeping them under control is important for getting the best grades you can.


Tip 12: Don’t let exam nerves get in the way during your exams.