Dealing with exam nerves

Whether you are contemplating sitting your first AAT exam, or are preparing for your ICAEW finals, most accountancy students will suffer from a degree of exam nerves from time to time. Feeling exam nerves is completely normal. In fact, not feeling those nerves would be a more worrying sign of complacency and arrogant over-confidence. These are challenging exams, and can make a big difference to your career

exam nerves

Dealing with exam nerves

Whether you are contemplating sitting your first AAT exam, or are preparing for your ICAEW finals, most accountancy students will suffer from a degree of exam nerves from time to time. Feeling exam nerves is completely normal. In fact, not feeling those nerves would be a more worrying sign of complacency and arrogant over-confidence. These are challenging exams, and can make a big difference to your career

I recently asked a number of students for their thoughts on good ways to minimise exam nerves, and I have put together some of the most common tips they gave me.

Overall, the most common advice was to use controlled breathing to ward off stress and panicky feelings. Spending 3 minutes breathing slowly in and out sends a powerful message to your brain to calm down and regain control.

Here is a summary of some great ideas:

In the final couple of weeks leading up to the exam

  • Being prepared for the exam you are going to sit is an important way to avoid getting stressed about being under-prepared. The process of reducing exam nerves can start several weeks before you go anywhere near the exam room.
  • Practice breathing deeply and slowly for 3 minutes at a time on a regular basis.
  • Revise for 45 to 60 minutes at a time before taking a short break.
  • ‘Little and often’ is better than trying to study for long sessions in one go.
  • Turn your focus more and more to mock exams and past papers the closer to the date of your real exam you get.
  • Make sure your diet and sleep are both regular and healthy.
  • Relaxation apps like Headspace can be very useful.
  • Have a ‘home team’ of friends and family who you can share your stresses with, and who can help take pressure off you for jobs like shopping or school runs.
  • Don’t just study. Do other things like going to the gym and out for meals.
  • Treat yourself when you hit key targets in your study plan.

The day before the exam

  • Don’t try to learn anything new at this stage.
  • Make sure you know where the exam venue is and how you are going to get there. Consider a ‘dry run’ if you haven’t been to the venue before.
  • Prepare your ‘exam kit’ ie pens, calculator, bottled water, chewing gum.
  • Get some exercise, some fresh air and some green space.
  • Get to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. You really won’t improve your performance by staying up late trying to cram last-minute knowledge.

Immediately before the exam

  • Plan to arrive at least an hour early in case of travel problems.
  • Have a routine to calm you down and make things feel familiar. I used to sit in the same little café before each of my exams having beans on toast and fresh orange juice.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for 3 minutes if you start getting stressed.
  • Visit the bathroom.
  • Avoid comparing how much revision you have done with anyone else.

During the exam

  • Breathe deeply and slowly before starting.
  • Remind yourself that failing an exam really isn’t the end of the world, and that you will give it your best shot.
  • Write down any equations or acronyms you have memorised that might be useful.
  • Spend a few minutes looking through each of the questions.
  • Start with questions that you feel most comfortable with. Leave harder ones until later.
  • Take the time to read each question properly, clearly identifying what they want you to do. I think it is worth reading each requirement two or three times.
  • Summarise the key points in the question on a sheet of paper.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly if you find yourself panicking at any point.
  • I used to ask to go the bathroom if I started getting overwhelmed. Even if I didn’t really need to go it gave me a few minutes to clear my head.
  • Try to avoid second-guessing yourself and constantly changing your answers. Trust yourself that your first answers are likely to be good.

After the exam

  • Don’t spend ages dissecting the exam and your answers; it’s done now so try to forget it.
  • Relax and celebrate getting through it!

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