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How to survive the pressure of the exam room

By Tom Lenton on 18 December 2017UKblogExam advice

Most of us do exams in rooms that we’ve been in a thousand times before. But there’s still something about walking in to see those gross, graffiti-covered desks and intense exam invigilators that really makes your stomach drop. And for some, those evil exam rooms can cause so much stress and pressure that it becomes hard to concentrate on the exam.

So, regardless of whether exam rooms freak you out a little bit or give you full on anxiety, here are our 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. 👎

It might sound weird, but it’s honestly worth practising the exam situation in addition to the content of the exams. Do 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 ask someone to give you a paper, leave you alone for the designated time and then get the paper off you afterwards. Maybe get your mum to walk around in a high vis jacket (kidding).

Sound a little OTT? Maybe, but it’s definitely going to help.

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

As soon as you step into the exam room, it basically feels like you have to be dead silent and obedient. I mean, that is basically true, you can hardly start chatting to your neighbours to relax. However, before your exam starts, you shouldn’t be too intimidated by those exam invigilators.

If you can pinpoint an issue in that room that’s going to stress you out and can be fixed, 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 life. No biggie.

3. Be prepared

As simple as it sounds, one of the best things you can do to help yourself relax is to prepare beforehand. Just like before getting 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…the list goes on. All this potential panic can be managed by being prepared.

So, you may as well be that keen bean that brings 11 pens to one exam. Also, listen to your mum and eat a decent breakfast. And why not go to the bathroom just before you walk in! Take any random thought you’ve had about that exam room, and 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 take all the steps above but still feel the panic rising in the exam 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 both calm yourself down and also make good progress on your exam. Different things are going to work for different people but you might want to try something like this:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Pinpoint the stressful thoughts (getting a certain mark, impressing/disappointing your parents, reaching a certain career), and focus on just finishing the exam instead.
  3. Go through the exam and find a question that you are comfortable with.
  4. Finish that one question.
  5. 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.

Finally, remember that it will be over soon, and that you’ll have forgot all about it soon enough.


An exam room is just a room, but it also tends to feel like it represents all the pressure and stress of studying your A-Levels (#deep). It’s so important to stay calm and focused on your work, so try your best to 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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