Preparing for Exams

Remi Carreiro, via Flickr

Anne Muir and Nick Page look at the problem of test anxiety, or exam nerves. What are the best ways to fight this problem?

Watch Video


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Nick Page.

Voice 2

And I'm Anne Muir. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Hanna Lee is a good student. Before every test or exam, she studies for many hours. She tries to sleep well the night before. But this does not always prevent a particular problem. When she gets the test paper, she feels like she is frozen - she cannot move, or think. She told reporter Wendy Owen,

Voice 3

"I would sit down and forget everything that I had just studied."

Voice 2

Exams, or examinations are the major tests that all students have to take. So Hanna is not the only person to experience this problem. It even has its own names: 'test anxiety', or 'exam nerves'. This form of extreme worrying can cause a student to fail important exams. Today's Spotlight is on exam nerves. What are the best ways to solve this common problem?

Voice 1

Scientists from the University of Chicago recently suggested one simple but unusual method for fighting exam nerves. They did not ask students to avoid negative thoughts. Instead, they asked students to write about their worries.

Voice 2

This study had two parts. The first part was in a laboratory. The scientists created exams for the students. But they also made the students feel extra pressure. They offered the students money for a good result, they filmed the students, and they told the students that teachers would watch and measure their performance. All this made the students more worried, more nervous.

Voice 1

Then, ten minutes before the exam, the scientists asked some of the students to write their thoughts and feelings about the exam. Most students shared their worries and concerns. Some also expressed positive thoughts - they still had worries, but they also felt that they had studied well. The scientists say that the students that wrote down their feelings earned higher marks in the exam than those who did not do any writing. Then, the scientists did similar experiments in normal classes. They did not put extra pressure on the students. The results were the same. Students who wrote their fears and worries were more successful. Students who also expressed positive thoughts were even more successful!

Voice 2

The lead scientist for this study was Sian Beilock. She told reporter Tara Malone:

Voice 4

"It is getting negative thoughts and worries down on paper that seems to create the advantage."

Voice 2

Doing this may take worries away. This way, a person is more able to concentrate on the exam. Beilock added that it is like running many programs on a computer. Closing some of these programs makes the computer operate faster.

Voice 1

Another important way to fight exam nerves is through preparation. Preparing for exams can help students feel confident. Here are Liz and Robin with some ideas:

Voice 4

The process begins long before the date of the exam. As you learn a subject, work to understand it as you learn. Try not to just write facts in your notes without thinking about them. If you do not understand something, then talk to other students who do - or ask your teacher to explain it in a different way.

Voice 5

As the time for the exam gets nearer, make a plan. List the material you need to review. Then decide the amount of time you will need. For a very large exam, you may need several months. But for a smaller exam, you may only need a few weeks. Many students stay awake late to study the night before the exam. This is not a good idea. It will make you tense and you will not sleep well.

Voice 4

Find a quiet place to study. Study where there is no music and away from other people. And no television! Nothing must tempt your eyes away from your studies.

Voice 5

There are many different ways to study. But one of the best ways is to write your studies using different words. Then do it again . . . and again. Writing about the subject will help you to learn it completely.

Voice 4

It can be also helpful to study with other students in your class. However, a study group is only helpful if you fix your talk on your subject, and not on other things. Read through old exam papers and discuss how you would answer those questions. Ask your friends or family to test you.

Voice 5

On the day before the exam, study your weakest subject in the morning. Later in the day do physical activities, like sport. This will help you to sleep at night. Do not lie in bed and worry. You have finished your hard work.

Voice 4

On the morning of the exam, eat a good meal. Do not go to the exam room hungry. Wear clothes that fit well. Make sure you do not have to hurry. Bring everything you need, including extra pens and pencils to write with. If possible, bring a drink and maybe even a small food snack.

Voice 5

As the exam papers are given out, take three deep breaths to stay calm. Read the exam paper carefully. Choose which questions are easy and answer them first. Leave more difficult questions until later. When you have answered the questions, read what you have written. Change what is not clear. In this way, you can answer clearly and completely.

Voice 2

Do you remember Hanna Lee, from the beginning of this program? For Hanna, studying well was not enough. She prepared, but when she received her test paper, she was so worried that she could not think. What should you do if you have an experience like Hanna? What can you do if you simply cannot think of anything at all? First, try to relax your body. Slowly release your tense legs, back and shoulders. Breathe naturally. Use an extra piece of paper to make notes - anything that you can think of. Write words that connect to the subject. This will help to start moving your ideas forward.

Voice 1

Hanna also received help from a trained school counsellor. The counsellor suggested many ways to help calm her fears. She learned relaxation and breathing methods. But she also recognized the reason for Hanna's fears. Hanna's parents never finished school. Because of this, Hanna feels strong pressure to succeed. Dealing with this pressure will be the most important part of dealing with her exam nerves.

Voice 2

If you use the ideas we have shared today then you need not fear taking an examination. Enjoy learning and look ahead with joy to the proud day when you will earn your award!

Voice 1

The writers of today's program were Alan Harris and Christy Prins. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can visit our website at This program is called "Preparing for Exams."

Voice 2

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


How do you prepare to take a difficult exam or test? Are you usually nervous or calm?


Avatar Spotlight
said on May 02, 2011

Hello everybody and good afternoon all people in this beautiful world. I had finished my University and school as well and i had those experiences many times and i completely agree with author of that program that nerves can cause fail our exams or even make our rates worse.I already work and don’t study but me need study that improve my knowledges and get more money in future))) I try improve my English as well and if you want communicate with me you can add me in your skype list of contacts. My skype is: gelezniyden

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 05, 2011

Hello! It is a very informative program. Because I am a student. And I study any subject for many hours. I try to sleep well the night before, too. But when I go to bed before important exam I do not have a dream. I constantly think of something… Ill try to use your advices.

As for my method, for some time past before exam I tried to think of pleasant things… sea… sun… rest… beach… love…))) It helps me!

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 05, 2011

Thank you so much about advices program.I will do all steps befor the exam ,i think it’s very useful for everyone,special students like me !

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 06, 2011

Thank a million for providing such a very helpful advice. Yes, exam nerves are really very common among us ( students ), so advising how to handle the test anxiety is very very useful.

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 14, 2012

I am studying English at one center and I usually take the exam at every three months in order to get the next level and now I am in 9b at that center. I often feel tense and anxiety whenever I am sitting in the exam room but I think that I come to this school to study and take the exam to receive the real ability and knowledge not only pass the exam so I must accept my result . This is what I tell myself during the exam and then I am looking for award .

From Cambodia

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 16, 2012

I’ve always felt the excitement and fear before the exams. But the older I became more easily I perceived to the future outcome. I tried a lot of joking with friends - that helps. And when, directly on the exam, I was lost in fear, I sat quietly a few minutes and then the answers appeared in my head. The main is relax

humble71's avatar
said on August 21, 2012

Thanks Spotlight to release this program. I’ve learned new vocabulary and you showed an investigation about how students feel when they are taking an exam , and it’s true that in the right time exists anxiety, lack of confident and forgetting about all . Your counsels are very worth , especially about to control nerves during the test like breath deeply three times and before the exam to rest well and make sports. Thanks for this subject , it will help me very much and of course to all students at Spotlight family.
Good bye , all Spotlight members all over the world ....
From Ecuador,
A. Lenin

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 05, 2013

Very helpful and interesting. A good method of study and a effective strategy to take an exam is the best way to pass the exam.

Avatar Spotlight
Mabel Estrella
said on June 20, 2016

Hello everybody, I think the best way to study is understanding what are you learning or remainding, ‘cause you can process the information and after the days or hours even you remember it.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on June 28, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Tuesday 28, June 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Anne Muir, Nick Page, Alan Harris, Christy Prins, and Nick Mangeolles:

First of all, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
I study hard since of the beginning of the studies. For example, today my teacher explained some subjects to me and my classmates. So, I am going to study them and review them at home to fix them into my mind and to remember them on the day of the exam or test. And never forget them. However, to study one day before of the exam or test, It is not good idea. On the day’s exam or test students should relax and to stay calm.
I usually stay calm to do everything in a good way to get the best mark in the exam or test. Also, It is very important to stay calm to do other things to get a good result.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on July 02, 2016

At school, especially high school, I was resort to the cheating! Looks like all students as a general phenomenon in Arabic and Islamic world.
At unvericity, when I change my fith and my mind, I depended on more study only, So I was became felt nerves more especially with difficult subjects and teachers.
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
Vuong Huu Dinh
said on May 09, 2018

Particular Subject.

To be a good pupil or student, first of all you have to study very hard and then is intelligent.

But you know, there are thousands of subjects in this life, so how you can have its all, too difficult to have it, therefore you should choose what you like the best thing to study.

Some parent wants their child to become a doctor, teacher, sky expert,  they ask them study this trending in which their child does not want, so they become the lazy children and the outcome is a bad child, and always leave the class.

Please do not request doing what the child does not want to do, please choose what the child chooses.

Everything is a important thing if you like it and work it, it will be a successful thing for us.

When someone love that working, please do not prevent, that is a useful too.

Please let the child develops naturally.

Avatar Spotlight
Vuong Huu Dinh
said on May 10, 2018

The studying

The studying is a important working for whole human life, when we were born, we were just a zero number, then we would be taken care anything by our mother, and teach us anything, for example, eating the mother milk. that action everyday go and back, our brain are familiar.

Then is language, our mother teachs us from the song, idiom, poem.  Our brain will be more and more complete.

“Study, study and study”, that is a famous idiom sentence that almost people on the world know.

So,  we should remember that idiom and teach our children have to study gradually, it is gradual studying that help the child have a complete adaption.

You imagine, if you want to build the house you should do three steps such as study, plan and build, and the studying will be do these steps too.

The children, they can not do that program, therefore adult must do that to help their.

First of all, We basis on the age we should do a program how to that program adapt that age level.

Second, we have to, with that age level, do a plan about the time and environment with good condition to do the children like to come and enjoy anything there.

And the end, we will teach the childtren things that they like and there is useful in their future life.

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 11, 2018

Relaxation techniques are a good method for those who are nervous when undergoing tests. But the main advice I give is to always study a little more than what is considered sufficient. The certainty that you have studied the content to be explored in the test is also a great tool to calm us down at the time of the test.

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 17, 2018

I am preparing for the IELTS test and the TOEFl test. This summer. The tips you mentioned are very useful. Thank you so much.
God bless you
Keep up the great work