Updated: 08.11.2022 15:58:32

Exam! Terrible word. Even for those whose school and student years are long gone, it inspires fear and awe. At the mere mention of him, the palms sweat and the knees begin to shake.

Well, if control, exams, tests are your reality, then most likely you are familiar with all the unpleasant experiences associated with these events.

  • Fear of exams
  • Insomnia on the eve or a few days before the exam: you toss and turn and cannot fall asleep, pictures of the upcoming exam flash through your head, most often with a negative outcome.
  • Anxiety and restlessness: a constant feeling of psychological pressure.
  • Physical symptoms in the form of headache, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, indigestion, etc.
  • Memory impairment: information is difficult to remember, it seems to you that on the exam itself you will forget everything that you learned, and your own name to boot.

Fear of exams, brought to an extreme degree, goes into the category of phobias, becomes irrational and does not obey consciousness. Phobic fear has more severe manifestations — a panic state up to loss of consciousness.

You can change the situation and make stress work for you, not against you.

This information will be useful not only for students and schoolchildren. In the life of an adult, who already has more than one education behind him, there are also many responsible events and they can be equated to an exam: reports, projects, speeches at conferences, etc.

What is important to learn so that the control and the exam no longer cause so many negative emotions.

  1. Learn to regulate your condition before the exam.

  2. Concentrate and focus at the moment of surrender.

  3. Know how to relax and recover after.

In psychology, exam stress is considered as a separate specific state. But it is typical not only for a person who is here and now on the exam. Exam stress lasts much longer than the exam itself. It begins from the moment when the realization comes that the “Day H” is inevitable and in the near future you will have to “give up”. This realization comes to someone the day before, someone starts to worry when they find out the schedule of exams, there are those who fall into a stressful state from the first day of study. At this point, in response to the anxiety reaction, all the body’s resources are mobilized to adapt to the new state.

Gradually, the anxious expectation grows and the stage of exhaustion sets in, with a characteristic reduced tone and a feeling of loss of strength.

Stress reaches its maximum in the audience where the «execution» will take place.

Why the exam is stressful and where the fear comes from

Psychological stress has different sources — from external, pressing factors (for example, not getting the required number of points for entering a university or being left without a scholarship), to purely personal ones (damaged reputation, disappointment in oneself and one’s abilities, etc.). Whatever fears are behind exam stress, they all have to do with grades.

An exam is a situation of open assessment, when we are told that we deserve it.

What determines the intensity of stress

First, on the characteristics of the stressor. The more difficult the subject, the stricter the examiner, the tougher the conditions, the greater the strength of experiences.

Secondly, from the personal significance of the acting factor. Objective circumstances are one thing, but our perception of these circumstances is quite another. This means that the formula for reducing exam stress is simple and banal — you can’t change the situation (you can’t get away from the exam, you still have to pass it) — change your attitude towards it.

How to change perception

How to quickly learn everything for the exam

See the situation more realistically

To do this, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What am I really afraid of? How likely is this to happen? How often did it happen that I failed in exams? If that happens, how bad will things get?

  2. And now you can imagine the worst-case scenario and play it out in your mind.

  3. What would be the consequences of such a situation? Are they really that catastrophic?

It is better to write down the answers, and not just say it to yourself.

Use selective awareness to focus on the positive aspects of a situation

To do this, use the “But” technique. Think about the good you can get out of the exam situation and focus on that benefit.

The most obvious of these benefits is the opportunity to fill gaps in knowledge, to learn something new and useful. In addition to this, during the exam you will have the opportunity to prove yourself, demonstrate your abilities and knowledge.

Place the stressful situation in a favorable row for you

It means that,

assessing the situation as unfavorable for oneself, it is important to remember those who are much worse off. No, this is not about polar explorers who are now freezing in the bitter cold, or orphans and the poor. We are talking about your comrades who have the same exam, but, let’s say, they did not attend classes or have not so outstanding intelligence.

Manage your time properly so you don’t get overwhelmed

Postponing everything until the last day, you only aggravate the situation. You will feel much calmer if you have a clear plan and schedule in mind.

Master the skills of self-regulation

In order for the emotional state not to turn into severe stress reactions, it is necessary to be able to relax, i.e. master the skills of self-regulation. The best way to manage learning-related stressors is to use relaxation techniques.

One of the options for such relaxation is neuromuscular relaxation.. It helps to relax the body, and the release of muscle tension automatically leads to a reduction in anxiety. This fact was proved by the scientist Jacobson.

To perform the exercise, take a comfortable position and, in turn, tense and relax all muscle groups and parts of the body: feet, calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, shoulders, neck, facial muscles. Detailed instructions for this technique are freely available online.

Anxiety and fear lend themselves well to “treatment” using the method of hyposensitization — reducing sensitivity to psycho-traumatic events.

The essence of the exercise is to consistently imagine frightening images and respond to them with relaxation (with the help of meditation, for example). Your brain will remember this state (thanks to neuroplasticity) and when the situation you imagined actually happens, the body will respond to it not with a stress response, but with calmness.

This method is evidence-based and verified using MRI scans.

To perform the exercise, you need to find a quiet place where you will feel comfortable and safe. Relax (any relaxation technique will work, including neuromuscular relaxation or meditation). Now imagine the exam situation as a ladder. At the very bottom there will be not too intimidating actions and objects related to the exam. For example, a board with an exam schedule, completion of control and final work on the subject, etc. At the top of the stairs — the exam itself in its worst form (for example, you came to take it, but you don’t know a single question).

The more such steps you imagine, the easier it will be to rise to the highest step.

Gradually imagine each rung on your ladder and try not to get out of a relaxed state. Do no more than three positions at a time. Give each situation at least a minute and pause between the “steps” (2 minutes), during which you will return yourself to the present moment and relax.

Imagine situations like a movie playing in your head. It should contain not only pictures, but also smells, sounds, bodily sensations.

How to Reduce Exam Day Anxiety

How to Reduce Exam Day Anxiety

If you have done all these exercises, then most likely by the time you pass the exam you will forget about the usual tremor and sweaty palms. But a certain stress reaction will still be observed, although less intense than usual.

Soothing breathing will help to cope with emotions directly at the time of stress:

  1. take a stable position, sitting or standing;
  2. inhale with your stomach for 3 counts, while first the stomach should protrude forward, and then the chest should rise;
  3. exhale for 5 counts, first drawing in the stomach, then the chest descends;
  4. hold your breath for 3 counts.

Repeat these steps 5 — 10 times.

Through this exercise, you engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. The blood will be saturated with oxygen and the heart rhythm will even out, the muscles will relax, thoughts will clear up and you will be distracted from the source of stress.

How to calm down after

When confronted with a threat (an exam), certain hormones are released in the body, glucose levels increase, and the heart rate increases. All these processes once helped our ancestors to escape from a wild beast or defeat an enemy from a foreign tribe. As a result, the mobilized resources were spent on the fight/flight response.

Modern man has to deal with psychological rather than physical threats more often. Therefore, the resources provided by nature in the form of an additional portion of adrenaline, for example, remain unspent. A person gets stuck in a stressful state.

In order for the cycle of stress from “I’m in danger” to “I’m safe” to be completed, it is necessary to let the body (psyche, first of all) understand that now everything is over. This can be done in different ways. For example, sleep, do art, take care of your body, just lie down in front of the TV with a cup of tea. In general, perform those activities that you associate with a calming environment.


Shcherbatykh Yu.V. Psychology of stress and methods of correction

M. Chibisova USE: psychological preparation

Greenberg stress management

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