Exam Anxiety – A Real Problem

“Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests.”

If this sounds like you, then you and I are in the same boat.
I’m was a part-time UNISA student and I have been suffering from exam anxiety since I can remember and when I say suffering; I mean suffering! It’s absolutely terrible.

No matter how prepared I am before I sit down at the examination venue, the minute I open the exam paper everything just goes out the window.

exam anxiety

A lot of people do not understand this struggle and simply dismiss it and say things like, “oh, you probably weren’t prepared enough” or “you should have studied harder” and personally I find these comments very disheartening.

I have experienced going “blank” numerous times and it is extremely frustrating because in the end my marks just look like I simply did not put in enough effort (those of you who have been through this know exactly what it feels like – TERRIBLE!). 

It’s performance anxiety if I’m being honest. I even failed my driver’s about 3 times before I got it because every time on test day, I would just freak out. I’d get so anxious that my foot would start tapping involuntarily, so badly that it made it impossible to drive, so I failed.

I got my license eventually though…

I have had this problem since primary school and it came and went. For as long as I have been writing tests and exams, I have had anxiety.

What I realized is that the times I got marks that I was satisfied with or that I was proud of are on the few occasions when I went into the exam with a “not caring” attitude.

When I am concerned and I know I have studied are the times that the anxiety kicks in and things go sideways. But honestly, how can you not care about something that’s important, especially when it has such a negative impact on your life? I have had to re-write numerous tests because of this and it really hinders one’s confidence.


Read numerous blog posts and articles about exam anxiety and a lot of them talk about being prepared by going through the work repetitively because “it makes it stick”, this doesn’t always work for me.

I recently finished writing exams, that’s what inspired me to write about this. Surely, I can’t be the only exam anxiety sufferer.

Tried doing a poll to find others like me out there. Thought maybe we could talk about this and help each other out. Unfortunately, there was no response but I’m still new at this so I’m guessing that maybe my approach was wrong…

Anyways, back to the problem at hand… I have tried taking Rescue tablets. They seemed to have a bit of a calming effect but it didn’t last (not even for my driving test).  So basically I would like to hear from you guys out there, how do you cope with exam anxiety? I could really use the help.

Here are 5 tips that have helped lessen the severity of my anxiety before an exam:

  1. Do not pull an all-nighter the night before an exam, get enough sleep
  2. Go for a walk before the exam to calm your nerves. If you feel yourself start to panic when you start writing; pause and take a few deep breaths
  3. Make sure you get to your exam on time. Leave home early enough to plan for any mishaps that may happen or cause a delay
  4. Know exactly when and where you are going to write your exam 
  5. Pack everything you need for your exam the night before so you don’t get frazzled in the morning

Another tip I can give you to utilise while you’re in an exam situation is a breathing exercise from my psychologist. She told me about it after I spoke to her about my upcoming exams and anxiety.

It’s a breathing exercise called the “4-7-8” technique. What you do is – inhale through your nose for 4 seconds ( I actually count in my head 1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato, 4 potato as I’m doing it), exhale for 7 seconds then inhale for 8.

This helps to slow down your heart rate and beat the anxiety!

A few more anxiety fighting tips from mayoclinic.org :

  • study early and in similar places
  • learn how to study efficiently by taking study skills classes or attending workshops
  • develop a pre-test or exam routine
  • if you deem it necessary, seek professional help

Exam anxiety is something that you can overcome then excel at your academics. You just need to apply these tips and see what works for you.

I got the 4-7-8 technique from my psychologist after speaking to her about my anxiety. It changed my academic life! That woman is a life-saver I tell you.

I’m sure there are some of you out there that have experienced this too, how did you deal with it?


A true-crime-obsessed, quirky lifestyle blogger from the coastal city of East London, South Africa whose interests include reading, writing and fitness. Find me on Twitter @WeirdnLiberated.
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