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Developing exam confidence


Most people experience some level of anxiety when they face an exam. The students who perform better during an assessment or exam tend to have developed confidence by establishing strategies for coping with anxiety in productive ways.

Exam confidence is healthy. It works for you and provides you with heightened awareness, which will enhance your ability to do well in exams. The key factors are to be prepared, to practise relaxation daily (so that your body can relax on demand) and to think positively.

If an upcoming exam has you feeling so worried, stressed or anxious that you find it difficult to concentrate or experience panic attacks, the following information may help you develop exam confidence.

What to do

Find balance

A good study routine and adequate preparation are essential in developing your confidence. But try not to overdo it. It’s important to find balance and make sure you still have time to sleep and eat well and spend time doing activities that you enjoy. The DeakinWELLBEING app can help you to find this balance.

Challenge negative thoughts

Thinking positively and challenging negative thoughts about your ability to perform in an exam is a very useful technique to become confident. The first step to challenging negative thoughts is identifying them. For example, you might be thinking ‘my life will be ruined if I fail this exam’.

You can challenge this thought and question the belief behind it. Will your life really be ruined if you fail? No, it will not. You might feel disappointed, but you will be able to attempt the unit again next year, or choose another unit instead.

Once you have challenged the thought, it’s time to replace the negative thought with a positive thought, such as ‘I am well prepared for this exam, and I will try my best. If I pass, I will be very proud of myself; if I fail, I know I tried my best’.

Remember, speaking negatively about the exam with your peers can establish or reinforce negative thoughts. If you are discussing the exam with your peers, try to focus on how well you are prepared for the exam and that you are feeling confident.

Relaxation techniques

Practice makes perfect! Practice these techniques regularly in the lead up to your exams and at the first sign that your confidence is wavering.

Breathing exercises

  1. Hold your breath and count to 5 (do not take a deep breath)
  2. When you reach 5, breathe out and say the word relax to yourself in a calm manner.
  3. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose in a 6 second cycle. Breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 3 seconds. This will produce a breathing rate of 10 breaths per minute. Say the word relax to yourself every time you breathe out.
  4. At the end of each minute (10 breaths) hold your breath again for 5 seconds and then continue breathing using the 6 second cycle.
  5. Continue breathing this way until the symptoms of over breathing have gone.

Muscle tensing and relaxing exercises

  1. Find a quiet place and choose a comfortable chair.
  2. Clear your mind of all worrying or disturbing thoughts. Let your mind be clear and calm.
  3. Practise slow breathing. Imagine the tension flowing out of your body every time you breathe out.
  4. Relax your muscles in the following order - hands, arms, shoulders, neck, forehead and scalp, eyes, jaws, chest, stomach, back, bottom, thighs, calves and feet. For each muscle group tense the muscle for 7-10 seconds then slowly release. Every time you release a muscle imagine the tension flowing from your body.


Imagine a very peaceful scene, like lying on the beach, walking through a rain forest, sitting by an open fire in a log cabin. It can be a real or imagined place.

  1. Involve all your senses as you imagine being in this very peaceful place.
  2. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What is the temperature? Is there a breeze?
  3. Are there birds around? For example, you might imagine the sun on your face, the cool breeze on your forehead, the salt tang of the ocean, the gentle sound of the waves, the soft grit of the sand.
  4. Once you have found the location where you feel totally calm and at peace with yourself, describe your image into a tape recorder, together with some soothing background music. Listen to your recording daily. There are also commercially available tapes that lead you through visualisation exercises.

Keeping calm during the exam

Once exam day arrives and you are feeling relaxed, positive and confident, you might like to try the below relaxation technique throughout the exam to stay calm, positive and focused.

  1. Periodically close your eyes and take a comfortable deep breath in, then let the air out slowly and quietly.
  2. As you breathe out say the word relax to yourself and feel any tension flowing from your body.
  3. While relaxing during the deep breath, allow your hands and arms to dangle at your sides. Feel the warmth of your blood flow into your hands. Imagine the tensions flowing out through your fingertips.
  4. Flex and relax your finger muscles several times to promote blood flow.
  5. Change your body position slightly to allow more blood flow to your thighs, buttocks and back.
  6. Stretch your arms, legs and back.
  7. Take another slow and deep breath and say relax and then return to your work on the examination.

If you find your mind going blank in the exam, or you are having trouble concentrating, try this:

  • Look at something in the exam room, such as, a chair or a clock. Study it in precise detail; look at the colour, texture, shape and particular markings. Do this for approximately 3-5 minutes, and then return to your exam.
  • Test the validity of your thoughts. For example, if you feel 'I cannot think straight', or 'I cannot understand a single thing', test the validity of this. Read one sentence and write a brief summary of it. You will discover you do understand it.
  • Write down anything related to the question and look for links. Paraphrase the question in your own words.
  • Leave a difficult question and go onto one you know better.

Getting support

If you’d like to speak with someone at Deakin for assistance in developing exam confidence, you can make an appointment with Deakin's Counselling service or a Language and Learning Adviser.

The DeakinWELLBEING app can help you find balance and develop healthy habits, which may help you manage exam stress.

More help and advice

Read the exam preparation information provided on the study assistance webpage.

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