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Getting Through Exam Season: Exam Day Panic


Whether this is your first year at university or your last, exam season can feel overwhelming. We are here to give you some tips to help prepare you to approach each exam with a healthy outlook. 

We’ve all had that feeling, you open your exam paper and start to feel panic set in. 

Panic in exams is unpleasant (to say the least!), frightening, and interferes with your ability to produce effective answers. The ideal way for you to prepare involves advance relaxation and looking after yourself. We have plenty of tips for this on our website, however here we will focus on panic on the day, and how to combat it. 

What is exam panic? 

woman in black long sleeve shirt covering her face with her hands 

At some time or other most people experience panic and when this happens we notice changes in our body. These are a series of physical and emotional responses to excess anxiety or strain. The responses interfere with the achievement of immediate tasks. In an exam you may notice some of these bodily changes: 

  • Nausea 

  • Excessive sweating 

  • Feeling too hot or too cold 

  • Fast breathing 

  • Stomach troubles 

You may also feel some of the following mental challenges: 

  • Racing thoughts 

  • Blocked thoughts 

  • Becoming easily distracted 

  • Feeling that you can’t concentrate 

  • Feeling that your memory has been completely ‘wiped’ and you can’t remember anything 

Phew! I’m feeling panicked just writing about these things… 

These feelings really affect our ability to work, and the longer we sit looking at the paper, the worse we feel. 

When does this anxiety become unhelpful? 

We all need a certain amount of stress to push us to carry out tasks and want to do well. Many of us have felt the ‘buzz’ of anticipation of tackling and achieving difficult goals. Generally speaking, this alert and excited feeling can disappear when we feel overwhelmed, underprepared or we can’t see the purpose of what we are doing. The best way to prepare for this is to set up a good routine and revision strategies in advance. Part of this preparation is putting some practical things in place to carry out when you start to feel that panic creeping in on exam day. 

Stage 1: Panic Starting 

If you feel panic starting, allow yourself up to five minutes to deal with it. You may feel tense, so concentrate on trying to relax your muscles, use breathing to calm down. Here, the 54321 technique can be useful: