Typical Reactions to Exam Stress

Physical Symptoms

Anything can happen but typically: sleep isn't right, there's loss of appetite, skin rashes develop, neckache, headache, increased craving for alcohol, stimulants, caffeine. There may be actual nausea.

Physical Sensations

Again anything can happen but typically: sensations of panic, dizziness, muscular tension, hyperventilation, sensations of nausea.


Preoccupation with exams even though the exams may be ages away. Some of the thoughts are uncomfortable ones and may contain self critical ideas, running yourself down and comparing yourself unfavourably with others in more than one way. You may see the future as bleak with you as a loser - not getting your degree or being inferior to others. There may be some memory loss.


These usually take the form of unpleasant scenes or flashbacks from previous exams. They can be very vivid. There may be nightmares.


You may find yourself tending to try and block out the subject of exams - maybe you avoiding going near to the exam halls, not looking at old exam papers, leaving lectures or turning off when the subject is mentioned. You may be too easily distracted with very short spans of concentration. You may tend to find yourself forgetting easily and getting writer's block. One key factor is that your normal functioning at study tasks become lessened. A drop of a quarter of your normal efficiency is indicative of exam stress.

Effect on Interaction With Others

Other people can be involved in the worry. You may find yourself withdrawing, unable to talk to people as much as usual. You may find yourself frightened of what people may say about exams. People may be less reassuring than usual.


Your mood is usually slightly down or anxious; it can be exclusively one or the other but often comes mixed. There may be feelings of terror. You may experience some despair.