Exam stress

An exam hall full of wooden-topped folding tables and green plastic chairs.

It is perfectly normal to feel stressed in the lead up to or during an exam. This can actually be of benefit as it motivates you, helps you complete tasks more efficiently and boosts your memory.  

Unsurprisingly, revision and being prepared for your exams is the best way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of revision tips available online; take a look at the resources and links provided on this page.

Panic attack

If you become too stressed, you may have a panic attack - a severe experience of acute anxiety. It comes unexpectedly and can be very scary. You may think you are going mad or having a heart attack.

Despite how it feels, panic attacks are not actually harmful. If this happens during an exam, take five minutes to calm yourself.

How can I calm myself down?

Try some of the following quick exercises:

  • Remind yourself that your panic will end.
  • Do something you find easy that makes you think (draw a doodle, write your name backwards).
  • Breathe slowly through your nose and make sure you exhale for as long as you inhale.
  • Visualise a calm place or person and let yourself spend two minutes thinking about this.
  • Focus on the present – think about what the person in front of you is wearing.
  • Cup your hands over your nose and mouth to breathe in more carbon dioxide.
  • Observe and explain your symptoms to yourself as mere anxiety reactions, eg "I'm dizzy because panic leads to constriction of the arteries to my brain."
  • Remind yourself that panic attacks are not actually dangerous, just unpleasant (like exams).
  • Do something physical before your exam such as going for a walk or doing a handstand. During an exam stretch your legs, roll your shoulders, lean back or look at the ceiling.
  • Talk directly to the panic: "Forget it, you are not winning, now go away."

In crisis now

Call 999 for emergency services - or for security services on campus call 01904 32 3333 or use the Safezone app.

Related content


Still from the ODT Mindfulness video - image of a flower in sunshine

Mindfulness can help you focus and stay present in the moment while studying.

You may find our mindfulness videos helpful:

Excercise 1: Mindfulness

Exercise 2: Counting the breath

Exercise 3: Mindfulness of sound

Self-help podcasts and apps


The Mental Health Foundation has several podcasts that can help you relax.


Workshops and groups

If you're struggling with exam stress you might find it helpful to attend one of the following workshops:

See our Workshops and groups page for other workshops that may help with your wellbeing.