Axe Your Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety is a phenomenon that is experienced by almost every student. After my article entitled ‘How to Ace Psychological Assessment,’ published in November issue of JWT, I received a number of emails from individuals preparing for the written exam as to how to deal with exam anxiety. The feelings of having butterflies in the stomach, nervousness, excessive worry, forgetting the memorized material, inability to stay focused and fear of failure are known to all students — even brilliant students face these problems. Actually, being well prepared is not enough; one must be highly confident before entering the examination hall. But, this confidence cannot be gained overnight. The suggestions presented in this piece will surely help the candidates in axing their exam anxiety.

Positive Approach

First of all, always adopt a positive approach. Taking the CSS exam is a long and tedious process and only a ‘can do’ attitude will help in sustaining its pressure. The way you think determines your actions. If you believe that you can perform well, you will study intently. Don’t ever get the feeling that “I can’t do it,” or “I will fail”. Try to consciously change such negative thoughts to positive ones by believing: “I am working hard and I will do it,” and “It’s not a big deal for me.”


Before preparing for an exam, you have to chalk out some study plan. You have to plan wisely the whole journey because if you begin haphazardly, you will always be facing the same question: Where to start from?

Before starting preparations, gather as much information about the exam as possible. Go through syllabus and course outlines of the subjects you select, and work out how much time you would require to cover those. But, while determining the required time, always be honest and realistic. Always avoid selective study, however, you can prioritize the most important topics.


After chalking out the plan, start organizing the study material. Arranging books and notes for each subject separately will, surely, save a lot of time hence you will be more productive and more efficient.

Study Habits

To ace the exam, you should develop good study habits. Always find a comfortable place to study that is free from all sorts of distractions. Also, choose the time when you think you are at the height of your brainpower — morning, evening or night. Do study difficult topics during these hours and leave the easier ones for the time when you don’t find yourself very productive. If you like group study, it would be much better. Don’t study for long hours at a stretch. Study for 45-50 minutes and then revise what you have learnt in the next 5 minutes. After each session, a 5-20 minutes break would help you reenergize for the next session. If you find something difficult, do seek help from a teacher or a friend.

Time Management

In the exam context, time management is distributing time for studying each subject. Time can be well managed if you schedule your study. This will not only help you track and monitor your progress, but will also make you more punctual. Usually, a schedule is made on weekly or monthly or daily basis. Another effective way to make your time is to divide the number of topics of each subject over the days available for preparation. This will give a fairer idea that how much course should you cover daily so that you get yourself amply prepared for the actual exam. The timetable you prepare must be kept at a prominent place so that it’s easily visible.

Avoid Distractions

While studying, various temptations like TV, music, cell phone, computer, etc. distract your attention. It is not smart to study in a place where such distractions are near. Do study in a place that is quiet and peaceful. Before sitting down for study, take all what you might need such as water, snacks, highlighters, pen, books etc.

Distractions can also be psychological. There might be different thoughts that intrude into our minds. But you can suspend such thoughts for at least 45 minutes and stay focused.

Sleeping Habits

You must have heard people complaining that as soon as they open their books, they start feeling drowsy. This is quite common and can be dealt with. Firstly, always sit on a proper chair and in a well-lit room. Avoid curling up on a comfortable couch or bed as you will only end up dozing. If you feel sleepy while sitting, take your book and study while walking. You can also wash your face with cold water and take tea or coffee.

Having an undisturbed sleep at night is equally important because a point comes when your body refuses to work more. Prior to sleeping, avoid the bright lights from the cell phones, tablets and computers. Turn the cell phone to silent mode. Also maintain a consistent sleeping schedule and sleep for a good 7 to 8 hours during night.

Learning the Study Material

New study material should preferably be learned when you feel you are alerter and more focused. Merely reading the material wouldn’t be effective. To memorize it completely, first understand it, then think and connect the facts you have understood. Later, you can recall the topic with questions such as “What were the main headings or what were the main points, and what is my opinion on the topic?” This will help you make it a part of your long-term memory.
You can also explain a topic to a friend to make sure that you have fully comprehended it. If you make a summary of each topic and then write it in bullet points, it would be highly productive. Important points can be remembered by using mnemonics. For example, if you want to memorize the seven conjunctions of English i.e. For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, you can take the first letter of each conjunction and make a word with them like FANBOY which is easily to memorize. This will not only help you revise the material but will also help you in recalling the material in exams.


You must have gone through the experience that once you learn something, you forget it the very next day. Don’t worry, most people forget nearly 80% of the information they learn after a day or two. This is because of the storage of information in short-term memory rather than the long-term one. To remember things, it is important that you store them in long-term memory and this can be achieved by revising the learnt material again and again. Do revise whatever you learn the next day, then the next week, after a month and so on. Needless to say, revise before exams as well.

Go through the papers of past ten years and identify the questions that have been asked on a particular topic. You can test your knowledge by solving those questions and getting them checked. Taking mock examinations will give a fair idea as to where you stand and on what you need to work on.

Fear of Failure

Preparation for examination and fear of failure often go hand in hand. An exam is always an exam as these 60-80 days of your life will never come back. Instead of thinking negative, instead of undermining your abilities, instead of fearing the future and instead of wondering how this exam would influence your life, just explain to yourself: These few days are extremely important and probably the most crucial ones. So, why not make the most of it?

Steve Nash once said:

“You have to rely on your preparation. You got to really be passionate and try to prepare more than anyone else, and put yourself in a position to succeed, and when the moment comes you got to enjoy, relax, breathe and rely on your preparation so that you can perform and not be anxious or filled with doubt.”

My suggestion to the candidates is almost the same. If you work hard and persevere, maintain good and strategic study habits and believe in yourself, you will succeed.


The writer is a Clinical Psychologist.
She can be reached at:

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