Overcoming exam anxiety

22 January 2024

Many candidates suffer from anxiety at one level or another prior to exams. Nikita Phillips, Candidate Support & Business Development Adviser, Bespoke Training Solutions, offers some advice on how to overcome exam anxiety.

It’s that time of the year again – The CII exam season is here! If you’re working towards an exam right now, we hope that your studies are going well. We are often contacted by candidates who are ‘feeling it’ so, we thought it would be worthwhile to discuss anxieties that candidates feel in relation to exams. In this article, we’ll look at the causes of exam anxiety and most importantly, how you can conquer it and improve your performance in your exams.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural and widespread feeling that we all experience from time to time. It acts as a built-in alarm system in our bodies, notifying us of possible threats or discomfort. Whenever we come across a troubling situation, anxiety emerges as a sign that something is not right and needs our focus.

Consider, for example, the moment right before embarking on a rollercoaster ride, when a sense of unease might start to sneak in.

It may surprise you, but anxiety can actually have its benefits. Surprisingly, being too relaxed can result in subpar performance. The truth is, some of our best work happens when we feel a certain level of anxiety. This anxiety triggers the release of adrenaline in our bodies, helping us to tackle the task at hand.

However, it becomes an issue when we feel overwhelmingly burdened, making it difficult to think clearly. Exam anxiety is the overwhelming feeling of anxiety that occurs before or during an exam sitting.

Spot the signs

There are multiple signs that can indicate that you are experiencing exam anxiety. These signs can be classified into cognitive, emotional and physical indicators.

Cognitive: During exams, you might experience cognitive signs such as drawing a blank or finding it difficult to focus.

Emotional: Signs may manifest as feelings of panic, being overwhelmed, feeling as though you have a lack of control and feeling extremely tense.

Physical:  You might experience dizziness, sweating, a rapid heartbeat, a queasy stomach, vomiting and even wobbly legs!

Anxieties will impact some candidates more than others. It’s important to understand the causes in order to find a way to manage it.

Causes of Exam Anxiety

There are several factors that can contribute to candidates experiencing anxiety when it comes to exams. Some of these factors include:

  • Deferred success – If candidates have deferred success previously on exams, they tend to be more prone to feeling anxious in future exams
  • Lack of preparation – Procrastination or not studying for an exam can increase anxiety levels before or during the exam sitting
  • Fear of failure – Tying self-worth to exam performance can create immense pressure to perform well, leading to greater anxiety.

Exam anxiety can become a cycle. It is quite common for individuals who have previously experienced exam anxiety, whether due to inadequate preparation or external pressures, to continue facing it in the future. This cycle can feel a little like you’re stuck on that rollercoaster again, going round and round!

This can lead to a fear of experiencing anxiety symptoms, causing individuals to become even more anxious about future exam sittings.

5 Tips to Overcome Test Anxiety

There are steps we can take to alleviate the uncomfortable effects of exam anxiety. To help with managing my own anxiety, I have been using these five tips!

1. Preparation is key – My exam anxiety was worsened when going into an exam unprepared. One way that I have been avoiding this is by establishing a clear study plan and adopting the pomodoro technique when studying. The Pomodoro technique is a fantastic way to enhance productivity by dividing studying into easily manageable 25-minute intervals! Not only do you need to prepare well in terms of your studying, but it is also key that you prepare for your journey to the test centre or if you are sitting the exam remotely, spend time ensuring that your IT equipment is fit for purpose! The last thing you need is to experience technical difficulties or be late to your exam!

2. Master your breathing – In September, I took my first advanced exam. Unfortunately, I faced some technical problems beforehand (hence my mention to testing your IT equipment in tip number 1!), and when combined with my exam anxiety, my sitting was turning into a complete disaster! However, I believe the only reason I managed to get through the exam was because I was able to concentrate on my breathing. Whenever the anxiety started to overwhelm me, I made sure to pause and take deep breaths. By taking control of my breathing, it also helped to ease some of the physical symptoms I was experiencing.

3. Find your exam strategy – When I begin an exam and immediately encounter questions that I am unsure of, I feel a sense of panic and my anxiety starts to rise instantly. Instead of succumbing to this feeling, I have found it helpful to first read through all the questions. After that, I begin with the ones that I feel confident about. This strategy boosts my confidence and enables me to then tackle the questions that I am uncertain about. How you choose to approach the exam is up to you, but I have personally found this method to be more effective than working through the questions in numerical order.

4. Healthy habits – We’ve all experienced it before. After a long day at work, we find ourselves exhausted while trying to study, leading us to indulge in snacks or order fast food. However, research indicates that opting for healthier meals as you approach an exam can actually reduce your anxiety. And, as expected, getting a restful night’s sleep before your exam is also incredibly important. I understand how challenging this can be, though! So, why not consider going for a walk, engaging in some exercise, or even taking a relaxing bath? These activities can help tire you out and ensure you have a peaceful night’s sleep!

5. Perspective – Don’t let your self-esteem be determined by your exam scores and keep everything in perspective. Keep in mind that your exam results don’t determine your worth. If you happen to defer success in an exam, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll just have to re-sit the unit! So, don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s not the end of the world! Understanding this will help alleviate your exam anxiety.

We hope that you have found this article helpful and that it has provided you with some valuable tips for managing your exam anxiety in the future.

If you’ve had enough of being stuck on ‘that rollercoaster’, BTS can help. Yes, we provide some fantastic resources but, we are so much more than this. We are also well known for our ‘arm of support’ when it comes to taking your exams. So, if exam anxiety is something you are feeling, get in touch so we can chat things through.

Bespoke Training Solutions have been supporting regulated exams for 20 years this year! Known as ‘the exam experts’ within the industry, BTS provide support for the CII regulated exams by way of study guides, e-learning resources, and workshops for the full R0 suite and many AF units.

Visit https://www.bespoketrainingsolutions.com and check out the brand-new Careers Zone for study plans, answers to exam FAQs and lots more to support your journey.

Professional Paraplanner