How to overcome exam stress

Your hands are sweating, you feel nauseous, your hearts pounding and you’re thinking “I’m going to fail”. Recognize this feeling? It sucks to feel like that – but you’re not alone. We have gathered tips and tricks to help ease your exam anxiety and stress as well as found places to get help if the anxiety becomes too much to handle.

Karoline Denning

Exam anxiety is not something new and, unfortunately, a lot of students are dealing with the pressure and expectations of their own performance. Actually, it is estimated that between 15 – 20% of students across Denmark are so stressed and nervous that it hampers their performance at their exam. And let’s be real – Corona has left its mark on many students’ mental health

How to handle exam stress

So, how can you handle your stress and nervousness on your own? Start by making a plan; and here it’s important that the plan is realistic. How much reading do you expect to do throughout the process, and what do you need to prioritize? Make sure you write that down one way or the other so your mind has more space to absorb learning.

Facts about exam anxiety

Between 15-20% of students are so nervous it hampers their performance at the exam.

Student Counselling Service is free service for alle students who are actively studying.

Furthermore, it might be a good idea to implement some type of exercise into your routine, whether that be running, working out or simply just going for a walk. This is because your brain releases endorphins when you work out, which makes you happy and can soothe your stress and anxiety. Also, don’t study the entire night before the exam. Sleep! Get enough sleep so your brain is alert and ready for the exam – how much does a tired brain remember anyways?

That is the paradox with anxiety – the more we want it to go away, the more it tightens its grip around us.

Maria Bergström

How to deal with exam stress

You can also try to confide in someone close to you or someone you can trust – a friend, you mom, a student counsellor. Sometimes the thoughts feel heavier when you have to carry them by yourself. They may even share some of their own worries with you or maybe they have learned how to control their anxiety?

Student Counselling Service for exam stress and anxiety

It can easily be overwhelming to begin finding the necessary help – where do I start, what’s the price, what type of help do I need etc. Luckily, there exists an institution named Student Counselling Service (SCS), or Studenterrådgivningen in Danish. They are a free service for anyone who is an active student at an SU-approved education. SCS offers a variety of different services. For instance, they have several workshops regarding mental health. Amongst those are how you can change your habitual thinking patterns and how to deal with your perfectionism. They also have a workshop specifically for exam anxiety! Beyond workshops there are group sessions and individual sessions. And not everything has to be about mental health – maybe you’re just looking for a better study technique?

What is student counselling like?

We decided to speak with Maria Bergström who’s an adviser at SCS, and ask her what exam anxiety looks like from a professional perspective:

“Exam anxiety might look different in different people. Some students mainly experience anxiousness in the preparation phase of an exam – the days, weeks or months before an exam. Other students mainly get anxious in the exam situation.”

Maria Bergström

We continued to chat about how anxiety acts in our body. The sweating, the catastrophic thinking, the hyper vigilance and how we get rid of those feelings. Unfortunately, Maria tells me, there is no escaping the feeling of anxiety – it’s an unconditional part of being human. But, there are methods and tools you can learn in order to manage the anxiety. And that is what you learn when you contact the SCS. She went on to tell me one of the many success stories she has experienced as part of her job as an advisor.


“One student I was working with, had experienced intense exam anxiety during one exam, and now she was afraid that it would happen again in the future. Throughout our sessions, she learned to change her relationship to the feeling of anxiety. Instead of having her alarm system going off whenever she could feel the anxiety increasing in her body, she started to think of the anxiousness as a normal and logical reaction to something she was afraid of would happen. The more she could accept the feeling being there, the less frightening it seemed, and the less anxious she felt. That is the paradox with anxiety – the more we want it to go away, the more it tightens its grip around us.

By learning the profound soothing effect of calm breathing when being anxious, she could manage the situations where the anxiety was at its top. And by playing with shifting her focus and attention in situations where she was anxious, she could practice seeing the distracting and overwhelming catastrophic thoughts, just as thoughts – nothing more, nothing less.”

Maria Bergström

Your mental health will be a part of you for the rest of your life, so take care of it! Everyone wants to see you be the best version of yourself – both at your exams and in real life. Go conquer your exam, you got this. Read also guide with good habits for students.