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How to survive the pressure of the exam room

By Lauren Condon on 4 August 2017Exam adviceMotivationHSCTrialsNSWblog

We usually do exams in rooms that we’ve been in a thousand times. But there’s something about walking in to see those individual desks and intense exam invigilators that really makes your stomach drop. Yep, something about exam rooms causes so much stress and pressure that it’s unnecessarily hard to calmly concentrate on your work.

So whether exam rooms freak you out a little bit or they give you full on anxiety, here are the four big steps to surviving that pressure:

1. Practise the situation beforehand

This is going to sound a bit bizarre but one of the reasons an exam room will freak you out is because it’s such an unfamiliar and intense situation. It’s the kind of pressure that could turn coal into a diamond except you don’t get any diamonds at the end, just sadness.

Boo. 👎

So it might sound weird but it’s really worth practising the exam situation as much as it is worth practising the content of the exams. Work yourself up to the exam room by doing practice papers in a room you don’t spend much time in (your parent’s study, a library study room, a generous teacher's office) and asking someone to give you a paper, leave you alone for the designated time and then get the paper off you afterwards. Sound like a TITF? Maybe, but it’s going to help you a lot in the long run.

2. If there’s a problem, speak up straight away

It basically feels like you have to be in exam mode as soon as you enter the room which is a pretty good attitude to have. But until your exam starts, don’t be too intimidated by those exam invigilators. If you can pinpoint an issue in that room that is going to stress you out, speak up about it straight away.

Can’t see the clock? Tell them. Need to go to the bathroom? Tell them. Feel like you’re a bit panicky and need some fresh air? Tell them. Once that timer starts, it’s going to be a lot harder to sort out your problem and you’re going to feel really trapped. Take a few deep breaths once you sit down, work out if there are any potential issues and say something straight away. If your invigilator is grumpy or uncooperative, just start crying and tell them that they’re ruining your HSC. No biggie. 🤷‍

3. Be prepared

In saying that, one of the best things you can do is to prepare beforehand. Just like before we get on a flight or a roller coaster, our minds like to fixate on worst possible situations before an exam. Running out of pens, being so hungry you can’t concentrate, needing to go to the bathroom… all this panic can be managed by being prepared.

Be that keen bean that brings 11 pens to one exam, listen to your mum and eat a decent breakfast, go to the bathroom just before you walk in. Any random thought you’ve had about that exam room, work out a way to prepare for it beforehand so you don’t have to deal with the panic (let alone it actually happening).

4. Take small steps if you start to panic

If you’ve taken all the steps above, you sit down in that exam room and you still feel the panic rising then don’t worry, we’re not abandoning you there. If you’re prone to anxiety, prep yourself a game plan of really small steps you can take in the exam room to simultaneously calm yourself down and make good progress on your exam so you don’t lose time. Different things are going to work for different people but once the timer has started, maybe you could try something like this:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Pinpoint the stressful thoughts (getting a certain mark, impressing/disappointing your parents, reaching a certain career) and instead, focus on just finishing the exam
  • Go through the exam and find the question that you are comfortable with
  • Finish that one question
  • Go back to the beginning of the exam, work your way through the questions and if anything is too hard, move on and come back later if you have time


An exam room is only ever going to be just a room but it basically represents all the pressure and stress of year 12 (#deep). It’s seriously so important to stay calm and focused on your work so manage the panic of the exam room by: practising the situation, preparing yourself, being ready to speak up straight away and having a game plan for mid-exam panic. That way, you’ll be in the perfect mindset to nail these exams. 👌

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