Ask Brian: My son panics during exams. How can he get over it?

Simple techniques can help minimise exam stress

If exam stress gets too much, it can often be best to get out of the hall into the open air for two or three minutes. Photo: iStock

If exam stress gets too much, it can often be best to get out of the hall into the open air for two or three minutes. Photo: iStock


Question: My son has always done well in school but underperformed in his mocks. He gets stressed during exams and panics. Have you any advice on how he might avoid this happening to him in his Leaving Cert in a few weeks’ time?

Answer: Exams are by their nature stressful events in which students have to formulate a series of written answers to multiple questions under time pressure.

In such a scenario it is not unusual for a student to become stressed when they find themselves under pressure unable to remember how to address a particular problem.

Sports stars now employ psychologists to work with them daily to overcome stress. Many a green jacket has slipped away on Sunday evening on the back nine as stress enveloped the presumptive champion.

So how can Leaving Cert students overcome the pressures that sports stars can succumbs to under pressure?

There are a number of simple techniques that can be useful in reducing exam stress.

Firstly, always read the paper in full at the beginning of the exam. Then, spend about 15 minutes sketching out roughly at the back of your answer book the key points for each section of every question you intend to answer.

You will initially be able to remember only a proportion of the relevant points, but more than enough to start you answering your first question.

As you write, you will relax into the paper. Your stress levels will subside and the points you initially failed to remember across all your questions, will pop into your head.

Flip back to your rough work and record them and keep going until you have addressed all questions.

If things get too much, it can often be the best option to get out of the exam hall into the open air for two to three minutes. It’s the equivalent to switching off your computer and rebooting it.

Simply, put up your hand and indicate to the exam superintendent that you are not feeling well.

Remember: the role of the superintendent is to ensure every student gets the best chance to perform to the best of their ability.

Once back in your seat, try tackling other questions rather than the one you were just stuck on. As you relax into the exam, the answer to the question you were struggling with previously will usually become clear.

Also, be sure to use your time well. Never leave an exam hall for good until the last possible moment. Re-reading your copy will always bring improvements to mind and maximise your eventual grades. There is nothing more stressful than realises the evening after an exam that you could have performed better if you had used your time more effectively.

The most important point to remember is that everyone involved in the exam process wants you to perform to the best of your ability and will do everything possible to help you overcome any obstacles which arise.