With final preparations for the HSC exams underway, students could be experiencing heightened stress or anxiety. We all know that this has been a particularly tough year for Year 12 students (and their parents!) with navigating lockdown and its challenges, so as exam time approaches, it’s important that students have strategies in place to overcome exam anxiety.

What is exam anxiety?

Although most people are likely to feel nervous before an exam, this is so normal, some students may even experience a debilitating amount of anxiety that involves feelings of dread, racing thoughts and an inability to concentrate. This is commonly referred to as exam anxiety. This is also expected and normal, especially before an HSC exam. The symptoms of exam anxiety vary from person to person but can generally be divided into four categories: physical, emotional,  behavioural and cognitive.

 PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS have to do with anxiety triggering the body’s fight or flight response and can include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea or even diarrhoea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Difficulty swallowing or dry mouth

EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS are the feelings you can experience in relation to exam anxiety and can include:

  • Excessive worrying and fear
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Panic
  • Uncontrollable crying or laughing
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Disappointment



  • Racing thoughts
  • ‘Going blank’
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative self-talk ie I’m going to fail, its going to be so hard, I cant cope
  • Comparing one’s self to peers
  • Disorganised thinking

BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS – all of these feelings, thoughts and sensations often manifest themselves as behaviours such as:

  • Fidgeting
  • Pacing
  • Avoidance

The stressful experience of exam anxiety can make the days, weeks or even months of studying, feel pointless but fortunately, there are ways to manage this…

Step 1. Preparation is Key

You’re less likely to experience exam anxiety if you feel prepared. Create a study schedule to prevent any last-minute panic and cramming that can get in the way of getting enough rest leading up to your exams.

Step 2. Sleep Well the night before

Pulling an all-nighter can make anxiety much worse so getting enough rest prior to an exam is likely to be more beneficial than staying up late cramming.

Step 3. Eat Well and Hydrate

Having a nutritious breakfast, lunch or snack prior to an exam ensures that you have the energy you need to concentrate and not become distracted by your own hunger. Choosing healthy foods and drinks that are not too high in sugar can minimise anxiety and prevent a sugar crash.

Step 4. Arrive Early

Leaving early for school ensures that you don’t have to worry about being late on top of worrying about the exam itself. It also allows you more time to prepare for the exam and collect your thoughts before entering the exam room.

Step 5. Set the Pace

Assess the scope of the exam before getting started so you can prioritise your time and focus on your strengths. Rushing through an exam can lead to mistakes such as not reading instructions carefully.

Step 6. Breathe

Breathing exercises are especially helpful for students experiencing the physical symptoms of exam anxiety. Breathing can slow a rapid pulse and stop racing thoughts, bringing us back to the present moment. Practice breathing and mindfulness exercises as part of your exam preparation so you become comfortable with them ahead of the exam.

Step 7. Positive Self-Talk and remind yourself how far you have come to get to this point !!

Positive self-talk means telling yourself that you can-do it, that this is just another challenge in your life that will be over soon, that you have come this far and finishing regardless of the result is what it’s all about. We are often unaware of our thoughts, despite how much they impact how we feel. It’s important to pay attention to your thinking and any negative self-talk, such as thinking ‘I won’t do well on this exam!’ By identifying which thoughts lead to anxiety you can dismiss them and replace them with positive self-talk.

Step 8. At the start of the exam

Do the questions you know first and Time yourself and set up a time schedule for the exam paper  

o             Allocate a set time to complete each question, for example, two essays in two hours = 1 hour per question.

o             Start with the easiest question and leave the hardest until last. This approach reduces anxiety and helps you think more clearly.

Be familiar with the terminology used

Make sure you understand the question and are clear about what you are being asked to do. Terms like comparetraceillustrate and evaluate all have different meanings and require a different style of answer.

Take time to read the exam paper thoroughly

Not reading questions properly is a common mistake made in essay exams. Therefore, make sure you read each question carefully and ensure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Underline key words in the question like explain, compare, contrast, define, discuss

If the question is ambiguous, unclear or too broad, clearly and briefly jot down your interpretation of the question before answering.

Plan before you write the answer

Don’t write your essay off the top of your head—the results will be disorganised and incoherent. Before you start writing, jot down your ideas and organise them into an essay plan. This will help you feel organised and that you have a plan in terms of answering the question.

    • You can write a plan on the exam paper itself or on any spare paper you have with you.
    • Begin by thinking about how you will answer the question.
    • Note the main information in point form. Doing this will also help you think about your answer.

Number your answers

If you have to write more than one essay, always indicate the number of the essay so it is clear which question you are answering.

For essays: Answer the question in the first sentence and use the language of the question

Always answer the question in the introduction. To clearly signal your answer, use the language of the question.

For example:

Question: “How do the goals of liberal and socialist feminism differ?”

You could begin your essay with:

“The goals of liberal and socialist feminism differ in three main ways . . .”

This approach ensures you answer the question and makes the exam easier to mark.

If you run out of time, answer in point form

Markers will often give you some marks for this.

Write as legibly as possible

    • Print your answers instead of using cursive writing.
    • Be aware of grammar, spelling and punctuation.
    • If you are using exam booklets, write on every second line.
    • If you have time at the end of the exam, proofread your essay for grammatical and spelling errors.
    • Leave space in between answers in case you have time to add any information you didn’t include in your essays.

Write something for every question : If there is one you don’t know never leave anything blank- you never know what marks you can get !!

Step 9. Stay Self-Focused

Seeing that other students are finishing their exam early may make you more conscious of the clock ticking or you could experience feelings of inferiority. Try not to look at them. Focus on your own exam and performance rather than comparing yourself to others.

Step 10. Relax After the Exam

Do not conduct a post-mortem after the exam. Its finished. History. Better to focus on the next one. Ruminating on the exam you just wrote will only ruin your confidence for the next exam !!

Taking an exam can be intense both the time leading up to the exam and during the examination period. After the exam, do something that helps you to relax or have fun as a reward for your hard work and to release any tension that may have built up during the exam.

Congratulations to all the Year 12 students. Best of Luck!

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WAYS OOSH Bondi Beach 3pm - 6:30pm




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