Friday, 21 November 2014


Almost everyone feels nervous before an exam. Butterflies in the stomach and worrying thoughts-
Will I be able to answer the questions? Have I done enough revision? – are indications of exam nerves that are probably familiar to all students. In fact, a certain amount of nervous tension probably helps us perform to the best of our ability, producing a rush of adrenaline that helps us to feel alert and focused. But too much anxiety can BLOCK thoughts, create a negative frame of mind, and lead to panic and potentially poor exam performance.  

What is stress? Stress is neither negative nor positive. It is our body’s normal response to challenge, threat or excitement. The stress response is only a problem if it occurs too often, exists for too long a time before dissipating, or occurs with a force that is too strong.

The consequences of stress depend on your interpretation of the physical symptoms. Whether you experience these feelings as help or a barrier determines whether you label your stress as positive or negative, motivating or paralyzing.

Consider how differently these two label their feelings. One is a student prior to a final arts exam, the other is a rugby player before a big match. Both are aware that the palms of their hands are sweating; they can feel their hearts racing and have strange feelings in the pit of their stomachs. They student might typically feel distressed about his aroused state and view his feelings negatively as almost a sign of impending doom and failure. He may lie awake worrying about his physical condition a well as about the exam. The sportsman on the other hand takes exactly the same bodily sensations and interprets theme positively as signs of being able to motivate him to run faster, jump higher, throw better. He may be glad of the extra wakeful time to think and plan. We often hear of athletes ‘psyching themselves up’ or ‘getting their adrenaline flowing’ before an important event in order to improve their performance.

 These situations tell use something important about stress. It can either be a barrier or an aid to success depending on how you interpret, label and control it. It would be a mistake to get rid of all stress during exam time, because it is useful and necessary for you to perform to your optimum level. But in order to use it to your advantage you need to:

a.           Learn to accept the physical sensations of stress and label them positively

b.           Know at what level you are motivated or paralyzed by your stress

c.           Bring your stress down to manageable level

Now read: MANAGING EXAM STRESS: 1. Before the exam
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This is the first of a series of articles was written by Cindy Dring of Student's Services Health Promotion. If you have problems or worries you feel you would like to talk about confidentially, contact Cindy at 091-492048. Alternatively e-mail her at or just drop in to Aras Ni Eimhigh.

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