Exam anxiety

What is exam/test anxiety  

Within this resource, we will refer to Exam anxiety and test anxiety interchangeably, and what we mean by either term, is the tendency to view situations where performance is being evaluated as threatening, and the response to be an elevated state of anxiety. This can be categorized differently to exam stress, where some pupils will feel worried about exams, but this does not ‘take over their life’ or hinder their performance drastically. This information aims to provide resources and signposting for education professionals in both cases.  

Understanding exam/test anxiety  

The following section has been informed by Prof. Dave Putwain’s British Psychological Society article and Dr Rob Buck and Professor Kevin Woods from the University of Manchester’s Institute of Education Ofqual blog.  

Many psychologists believe that test anxiety has a cognitive and emotional element  


  • Negative thoughts are about the test, such as ‘I can’t do biology and “I will fail.”  
  • Test-irrelevant thoughts, such as ‘when I fail, everyone will laugh at me.’ These are generally about what happens before or after the test.  


  • Tension  
  • Sense of distress/unease  
  • Bad stomach  
  • Nausea  
  • Sweating  

Test anxiety can be different between students, and this can depend on different factors, such as:  

  • General anxiety 
  • Perceived ability  
  • Previous exam experiences  
  • Fear of the consequences of failure 

Some students, test anxiety can fear the consequences of failure, and some are worried about how they will be judged by others. Some pupils find it difficult to define their concerns, and associate exams and tests with a more general sense of dread.   

Worries and anxiety can also present themselves on the day of the exam or be negatively impacting the student for some time beforehand. 

You can watch a presentation on exam anxiety from Prof. Dave Putwain.  

Advice for teachers 

Information in the following section has been informed by the UK government’s Ofqual blog 

The way adults communicate with pupils can have a big impact on the levels of anxiety around exams. One suggestion is for adults to not talk about exams in a negative way to motivate pupils, including on a whole class or year group level; for example, not saying, "you've only got three months left..." or talking about the negative consequences of not doing well. This is shown to increase anxiety in most pupils, rather than motivate them to work harder. Instead, try to focus on talking about what options can open to them if they succeed in exams, and what they can do to make this more likely, can be more helpful. 

Resources for working with pupils  

Young minds have a resource with advice for pupils, and some strategies They also provide free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis. Their staff are trained volunteers, supported by experienced clinical supervisors. 

The Red Cross have a lesson plan resource with activities for tackling exam stress