Exam Nerves

Exam nerves is very common amongst students at Oxford
Exams of all varieties can be stressful

Improve your exam performance in Oxford, Abingdon and Bampton

Most people experience some degree of anxiety about exams, whether it’s academic or a driving exam. Whilst a certain amount of exam nerves is useful as a motivating force, it is important to keep on top of exam anxiety. The best way to do this is to be organised.

To start with drawing up a timetable of revision which includes mock exam questions. Don’t forget to include regular breaks and times for relaxing and times for fun and exercise. Research has found that brisk exercise of around 10 minutes whilst revising can help us retain information better.

What not to do for exam nerves 

Don’t drink too much coffee, tea and fizzy drinks; the caffeine will ‘hype’ you and make your thinking less clear. Also, don’t overdo the revision, take regular breaks and stop revising at least an hour before going to bed.

What can help exam nerves

It is important to learn some stress reduction techniques as well as using specific study tips for revision.

  • On the time table break each subject down into manageable chunks.
  • Do some of it with a friend or a family member.
  • Ask your tutors for practice questions/past papers.
  • Set definite start and finish times for your revision sessions and have a clear goal for each session.
  • Aim to break your revision sessions up with five to ten minutes break every half hour/forty minutes.
  • Use active revision techniques to make the best use of your revision time.
  • Build a system of a regular review into your revision, checking what you know and what you don’t know.
  • Develop a technique for question analysis and planning answers to use in the exam.
  • Practice making plans and answering questions under timed conditions.
  • Plan how you will use your time in the exams before-hand.

What other information may I need to know?

Not everyone realises they have symptoms of anxiety, so here are some things you may be experiencing which are all part of the anxiety process.

  • Feeling sick, so not eating.
  • Losing weight because not feeling hungry.
  • Dark thoughts such as worrying about death.
  • Having to put things in order before you can get down to revise – such as stacking books in order of size or colour.
  • Going to the toilet much more frequently.
  • Missing exams because of stomach problems.
  • Not being able to concentrate or focus.
  • Feeling that you are an impostor – that you’re not as clever as everyone says you are and worried they might find out.
  • biting nails more frequently.

How Hypnotherapy can help exam stress

Using self-hypnosis and hypnotherapy to help boost confidence can lower anxiety, which helps with concentration and motivation. The CD can help with relaxation, and if you create your own, you can also add in things you may need to remember too. I made a relaxation CD when I was doing A level Maths and Physics of all the equations and planted suggestions for relaxation in amongst them and would go off to sleep with a mix of the two going through my head, and it helped me remember some of the more complicated mathematics.

Solution focused therapy for exam nerves

By breaking down the schedule into doable chunks, and focusing on the end result can help change the way you approach exams. What’s working? Do more of that etc. SFT can help break the cycle of worry, by being able to future forecast, helping strengthen the neural pathways.

CBT for exam nerves

CBT can help challenge the unhelpful thoughts around exams, such as “I’ll never be able to remember all this”, “If I don’t pass these exams my life is over”, “I’m always rubbish”, “I’ll end up in a really rubbish job if I don’t get these grades”. and it goes on. These are self-limiting thoughts that stop you from really achieving good grades. CBT can help challenge them and to turn them around, seeing the resources you already have and develop skills to focus better.

Mindfulness to help exam nerves

Mindfulness is an excellent way to calm the mind, focus the attention away from the anxiety and to help stop the feelings of panic people feel, which stop the memory keeping hold of the information they need. Many of my students find the exercises and tools I give them really beneficial.

NLP to help exam nerves

NLP tools can be very beneficial for students studying for exams. Whether it’s to scramble negative thoughts, or helped build confidence. Reframing the fear into excitement and motivation is also helpful.

Driving exam nerves

pass your driving test

As far as driving exams are concerned, hypnotherapy can help in a number of ways.

  1. It can help eliminate past bad experiences.
  2. It can redirect and lower the anxiety.
  3. Using visualisation of how you want it to be, can help prepare the brain to do well.
  4. It can increase one’s concentration.

If you are coming up for an exam, don’t leave it too late, many people think one session will be enough, but it’s much more effective if you can do at least 4 or 5 sessions, so if you know you’re going to have the exam on a particular date, make sure you book with a hypnotherapist sooner than later, and make sure you pass with flying colours.

Case study 1 for exam stress

Bill was studying for his GCSE’s, and his anxiety was so high he felt like killing himself. Consequently, the outcome of these exams would determine what A levels he could take, which would determine whether he would be accepted into the career he was so determined to follow.

The parents were very concerned with his wellbeing and suggested he came to see me. Once he understood why he was feeling that way, he was determined to use all the tools at his disposal to help regain balance and perspective.


Over a period of 2 months we focused on getting the sleep right, he went back to exercising which he was missing as he felt he had no time – but realised he was wasting time panicking. His sleep improved, he began interacting with his family once more. He also found time to see friends and to indulge in some of his hobbies and passions.

The NLP and mindfulness exercises really helped keep his focus, and slowly he felt much more confident in passing. I saw Bill all the way through his exams, up until the last one. He passed them all with A*. As he went through 6th form, he took all the precautions and tools with him and passed all his A-levels with A*s and went on to the University of choice.

Exam stress Case study 2

Peter came to see me about passing his GCSE’s. He wasn’t sleeping so another therapist suggested to his mother to see me, as I’d had such success with her son. Being on the Autistic spectrum, very very intelligent and brilliant at maths and physics. As these were my subjects at school I felt we got off to a good start, and had plenty to talk about.

Tools that help

The MP3 was very helpful, as well as the tools I gave him. Other things that could help included Peter loving soft furry animals,  so slept better when his pet cat was with him, I suggested a furry fleece to take with him to bed just in case the cat was elsewhere. I also suggested a furry friend, as I used to have a furry mascot I’d take into exams with me. It helped me focus, and he found a troll he could use, to anchor the calm feelings I suggested for him.

He dealt with school so much better after seeing me and was able to go on and pass all his GCSE’s with ease.

Just a note, hypnosis works well with autistic students as long as they do not suffer from dysphonia, as the mp3 can make them annoyed. Otherwise, I have seen many autistic spectrum boys where the relaxation and hypnosis work very well.

Penny Ling is a widely experienced hypnotherapist who has worked with everyone from top executives to stroke victims since 2007. She has been editor of Hypnotherapy Today Magazine and is a supervisor and mentor for members of the AfSFH and NCH.

Read Penny’s inspiring story How I beat all my phobias, or find out more how hypnotherapy could help your problem by downloading How Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help with life. Feel free to send Penny a message here.