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How to cope when you start to feel panic in an exam

Updated: May 19, 2023

You have worked so hard, you felt you were are prepared and ready. Then, you get into that big exam room and you become aware of a panicky feeling inside. You start to think you can't do it and think you might need to leave. That feels so scary, have you blown it, what do you do, will you fail now?

Read on to find out five simple steps you can take to manage a panicky feeling to find your calm and carry on. But what has a LLAMA got to do with any of this?

That panicky feeling is anxiety, this is a normal feeling that gets triggered when our brain considers something scary is happening. Exams can be really scary because they are important and of course you want to do well. Trouble is when you brain feels something scary is going on, it can trigger what is called a fight or flight response and it gets you ready to fight something or run away from it. This is not exactly what you want to be doing when you need to stay and focus in your exam.

This is where the following 5 steps come it. They are designed to help you notice and calm these responses so that you can stay in the exam room and focus on what you need to do.

This is where the llama comes in, an easy way to remember these steps:

  1. Label - notice that you are feeling nervous, a little panicky. Say to yourself "I know what this is, I am feeling nervous because I want to do well". Remember this is a normal feeling to have.

  2. Let it go - notice any thoughts you are having such as "I can't do it", "I haven't worked hard enough", "I'm rubbish at exams", "I'm going to fail". Notice these are thoughts, imagine them floating by in thought bubbles.

  3. Allow - allow the thoughts and feeling to be there, just notice them. It makes sense in many ways that they are there. Remember they are just thoughts.


These first three steps help to stop the panic getting larger, you just notice it, do not argue with the thoughts, notice the panic and any worries you have about the panic getting worse You just notice these things.

The next step focuses on helping your body to come back to a calmer state.


4. Mindfulness - There are a few simple things you can try as you are sitting in the exam room to send signals to your kind and body to calm.

  • Notice your feet on the floor, your bum on the seat and your hands on the desk.

  • Find a rectangle shape in the room (e.g. a window, poster or board on the wall). Follow the rectangle with your eyes. Whilst following the short sides, breathe in, whilst following the long sides breathe out. This calm breathing will send signals to your body and mind that your are safe.

  • Look around the room, notice 5 things you can see (e.g. window, desk, blinds, pencil, pen), notice 4 things you can hear (e.g. clock ticking, birds outside, sounds of someone writing), notice 3 things you can feel (e.g, feeling of the table, your shirt, your tie), notice 2 things you can smell (e.g. your tie, your blazer or jumper). If you are allowed to take in a mint or other sweet, notice what that tastes like.

  • Continue to breath in a calm way. You should start to feel calmer and less anxious.


You may have thoughts and worries about spending your time doing this rather than focusing on your exam but it is far better to get to a calm place before continuing rather that keep going in a panicking state.

If you get these thoughts, let them float away and focus back on getting to a calm place.

Once you feel calmer it is time to get back to your exam.


5. Action - Now focus in on the next question you need to tackle in the exam, if thoughts turn up again - just notice them, notice they are just thoughts. Keep your breathing calm and steady, tell yourself you are okay, you are safe.


If you do feel you have to leave the room, once outside, try these techniques to get yourself to a place of being able to go back into the exam room and carry on.


Want to know more?

These are suggestions about things you can do move away from panic and gain a sense of calm. You can use them anytime, not just in an exam.

If you try any of these techniques let me know how they work for you. You can leave a comment below or send an email to or DM me on instagram @blooming.gcses

Dr Beck x



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