Exam phobia? There’s help at hand

By Magnus Lia 8. May 2023

Stress and anxiety before examinations are normal reactions that actually help you perform better. But what can you do when this tension runs too high?

A healthy level of tension versus an excessive level of tension

When the actual day of the examination arrives, most students get a feeling of stress and nervousness. That’s not only normal – in most cases it’s a prerequisite for a good performance.

It has been shown that a healthy level of tension contributes to a better result. For some, however, the level of tension may be too high. When we talk about "exam phobia", this is the group we are talking about:

Those who have so many nerves that it goes beyond the ability to bring out the knowledge one possesses.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety gives a strong feeling of dread, and that you cannot control what happens to you. Sometimes you may experience that the anxiety comes suddenly and without warning. Physically, anxiety can be felt when you get palpitations, tremors, difficulty breathing or that you think you are going to pass out or vomit.

Source: Council for Mental Health

There are significant individual differences both in how one experiences such anxiety, but also in what one needs to manage it. Some advice can nevertheless be good to take to heart.

Here are psychologist Magnus’s five best recommendations to those who experience exam phobia:

  1. Remind yourself of a specific situation where you felt the same way, but which turned out well. “That time I was really anxious, but nevertheless did well.” This has proven to result in increased confidence in own abilities.

  2. Hang out with people you are comfortable with, and try to talk about something completely different before receiving the assignment. For some it can be useful to divert their attention by listening to something.

  3. Dare to feel your emotions, rather than push them away. Avoiding anxiety doesn’t work well over time and usually leads to greater anxiety. It’s also easier to handle anxiety when you feel it sneaking up on you, rather than when it has become full-blown.

  4. If anxiety nevertheless becomes overwhelming – focus on your breathing and actively work to notice things taking place around you. If you focus inward, for example on palpitations – this will often lead to further escalation of your bodily reactions.

  5. Remember that if you manage to face situations that have a potential to create anxiety – and you accept that you can’t control what will happen, your anxiety will usually subside. This is a basic principle of exposure therapy.

Get help from SSN's counselling service

Remember that you can contact us at SSN Health if you experience exam phobia.

Also check out our "Council Card" about exam nerves. This card can also be found printed on your campus.

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Magnus Lia


Magnus is a psychologist and has experience from working with all age groups. He is particularly interested in sense of accomplishment and how this can contribute to well-being and quality of life. Magnus is passionate about how one can better ones good mental health, and is also enthusiastic about working out, with an additional bachelor's degree in sports.