How to Beat Exam Panic

You know the feeling, you sit down and the examiner says now open your paper and start. Your heart is racing, you open the paper with trembling fingers and look down at Question 1. It appears to have been written in Klingon and you have no idea what they are asking. Your mind is completely blank apart from a panicky, squeaky voice saying "I don't understand any of this, I am going to fail!". Beat exam panic by understanding what is behind it and using the STOP method to minimize your panic.


  1. Image titled Beat Exam Panic Step 1
    Understand what causes exam panic. Assuming that you have prepared and revised for the exam that feeling that your mind has gone blank is actually your brain's way of dealing with a life threatening incident like being chased by a sabre toothed tiger. When you panic, the frontal lobes of your brain that are used for critical thinking (and thus for exams) are "switched off".[citation needed] This is to allow your amygdala to take over and save you from using the "fight or flight" response.[citation needed] When panic strikes, you are actually unable to perform quite simple tasks, such as putting letters in alphabetical order.
  2. Image titled Beat Exam Panic Step 2
    Overcome your panic response with the STOP method. Start with S. The S in STOP stands for stop, meaning press pause. In an exam, close the paper, then close your eyes. This may sound like madness in the time pressured environment of an exam but a few minutes calming down will make all the difference to your overall performance.
  3. Image titled Beat Exam Panic Step 3
    Take a breath. The T in STOP stands for take a breath. Use the "Technique of four". For four breaths, breathe in slowly for a count of 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and pause for 4 seconds.
    • Practise this technique outside of exams. It can be a great way to calm down in any situation or just to take a moment. Practise breathing right down into your stomach to really get the most from each breath.
  4. Image titled Beat Exam Panic Step 4
    Observe. The O in STOP stands for observe. Without judgement, just notice how you are feeling. Exam panic is perfectly normal and you are a human being. Notice how the panic is making you feel, in a detached way say to yourself (silently) "Oh look it's the fight or flight response". Listen to what the panicky voice is saying; you shouldn't agree with it but acknowledging it can quieten it.
  5. Image titled Beat Exam Panic Step 5
    Proceed. The P in STOP stands for proceed appropriately. You should be feeling calmer after the first three parts of the STOP process. Open the exam paper and reread the first question. Answer it if you can; if not, read through the rest of the paper and start with something you are fairly confident about. As you calm yourself and reactivate your frontal lobes, you should find that you can answer more and more of the paper. If it is all still gobbledegook, then try the breathing technique again until you feel able to start.


  • Make sure you know as much as possible about any exam before you go in. Ask your teacher or lecturer about the structure and the types of questions. Get hold of past papers and model answers.
  • Use a tutor to help you prepare if necessary. Confidence with the content can go a long way in an exam.

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