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Nausea, wet hands, a rapid heartbeat or trembling knees – those who suffer from exam anxiety know that it can be a real challenge. The anxiety can even go as far as blackout, so everything you have learned is suddenly wiped away. So, what can you do if you suffer from exam anxiety? Exam nerves can be overcome with the right strategies. In this article, you will learn more about exam anxiety and what you can do about it.

Why is the fear of exams blocking us?

Exam anxiety can affect any of us, even if we're well prepared and have learned a lot. Logically speaking, there's no reason to be afraid of taking an exam. So, what triggers exam anxiety?
The following points may cause or aggravate anxiety about the exam:

  • bad experiences
  • uncertainty and self-doubt
  • an unfamiliar environment
  • high demands on oneself and perfectionism
  • pressure from the outside

If we're nervous before the test, this is also stressful for the body. To some extent, this can even increase performance during the test. The hormones cortisol and adrenaline increase blood flow to the hippocampus. This area is the brain's memory, so it's where you can retrieve what you've learned. But if the stress level gets too high, the nerve cells in the hippocampus are attacked. The nerve cells react by protecting themselves, and you lose access to the knowledge you've acquired: the famous exam blackout.

The best tips against exam anxiety

1. Use breathing techniques

In situations of anxiety and stress, your breathing is usually very fast and shallow. The result is a lack of oxygen in the brain. Therefore, a first step against exam anxiety is to breathe in and out slowly into your stomach. This will calm you down, stimulates your circulation and supplies your cells with enough oxygen. Count to five as you inhale, hold your breath for five seconds, and finally count to five again as you exhale. Focus entirely on your breath and on how your stomach rises and falls.
BU: Exam anxiety can be overcome with the right strategies

tips against exam anxietyExam anxiety can be overcome with the right strategies

2. Change your focus

Exam anxiety can increase over time. Therefore, a good strategy is to say "stop" to yourself right at the beginning. Remind yourself that you are prepared and that you are going to do your best. You can also consciously remember situations where you've mastered things. Instead of focusing on fear, you should focus on what you can do.

3. Redirect your attention

Here's another tip to help you avoid focusing too much on your exam anxiety: Think back to a moment you’ve enjoyed, like your last weekend or a great vacation, and wiggle your two big toes. This does not only help you to focus your mind on something else, but also helps you to release tension in your body.

4. Get yourself in a good mood

One of the triggers of exam nerves is the unfamiliar situation and new surroundings. Therefore, try to make your circumstances as comfortable as possible. Pack your lucky charm or take your favorite non-alcoholic drink with you to the exam. If you have some time before the exam, you can eat your favorite breakfast or take a walk in nature.

5. Prepare yourself

It sounds trivial, but it's another building block that can help you overcome your exam anxiety. It's important to start revising your notes early in the semester so that you can organize the material well. This way you don't get stressed or feel overwhelmed when you're studying. Remember to plan enough breaks and strengthen what you have learned with repetitions and learning checks.

We hope we've been able to help you with our tips on exam anxiety. If you're looking for more tips for studying, check out ISM student Erblina's tips for your study time in Germany.

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