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Worried or Panicking about GCSE and A-Level Exams? CBT Therapist Tips for Exam Season

Pre-exam tip to calm yourself: Reverse Psychology

Go into the exam pretending to yourself that you don’t really care. It sounds strange, as you might think that this results in you doing worse! But actually, it’s quite the opposite. If you pretend you don’t care, i.e. say “Whatever, I’ll be fine no matter what happens here” You are therefore more relaxed, which means you do better!

Managing mind blanks

If you encounter a mental block during an exam, attempting to forcefully overcome it will be ineffective. In reality, it will only exacerbate the situation and increase the difficulty. Therefore, the initial step to take when faced with a mental blank is to acknowledge and accept it, understanding that a brief pause is necessary. Remind yourself, "This is simply a temporary mental block. There's no need to worry. I just need to take a few minutes to breathe, engage in positive self-talk, and gather my thoughts. It's perfectly normal!"

If you attempt to push through a mental block while feeling stressed and refuse to accept it, panic may set in. You might find yourself saying, "Oh my goodness, not another panic during an exam! This is a nightmare! I'm going to fail because of this!" Such thoughts are unhelpful and counterproductive. Therefore, a more effective approach is to simply acknowledge the mental block and understand that taking a five-minute break is necessary to restore the right mindset. The primary focus should be on calming yourself down.

Numerous studies indicate that controlled breathing can regulate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for anxiety. To begin, set your pen aside and avert your gaze from the exam paper to reduce additional stress. If possible, close your eyes. Inhale slowly through your nose for seven seconds, hold your breath momentarily, and then exhale through your mouth for eleven seconds. Repeat this process for a few minutes.

Notice the Automatic Negative Thoughts, and label them as just that, then replace with more helpful thoughts and positive self talk

You may have thoughts such as “I can’t do this” and “what if I can’t do it”. The automatic response is to believe these thoughts, but this sends you into a spiral and then you start worrying about getting the grade, getting into Uni etc.

Instead of believing them, step back from it and label it as just a stupid Automatic Negative Thought that is not even 100% true or realistic!

If you think you will do badly, you’ll feel anxious and nervous. If you think positively, you reduce those nerves because you have a sense of confidence.

How you think about a task, creates feelings about a task. And how you then feel about a task, results in if you can do it or if you panic about it. So positive self talk is vital!

  • “I literally know this content, why am I telling myself that I don’t”

  • “I’ve got this”

  • I know at least some so can use what I do know, and do my best from that

  • “If I can’t do this one, no worries, I’ll try the next”

  • “I have so much evidence that I am capable of this from my Mocks”

  • “Everything will be okay”

If the pesky thoughts about the future pop up, park them

Let’s say “I won’t get into University!” pops up. This is a future thought.You can cross that bridge IF you get there.

Imagine a car park in your head, a car park for worries. Imagine parking up that thought, and come back to it later.

This is easier to do that to completely push a thought away, because you’re tricking your brain, saying you can come back to that worry later.

Instead, say “There’s that future thought again, I’ll park that for later”

Worst case scenario rationalising

Say to yourself that even if Plan A, your first choice of Uni, is preferable. It is

NOT the only option. Everything will work out in the end, whether it’s Plan B, Plan C, Plan D etc!

  • “If I don’t get my grades, I can still go to Uni, it just might be a different one to originally planned”

  • “Thousands of students get into University through Clearing every year”

  • “I can always retake, it’s not ideal but I will be okay”

  • “Everything will work out, no matter what”

  • “Everything is figureoutable”

Grades do not define your worth

Exams and grades undoubtedly hold significance in our educational journey, but it's essential to remember that they are not the sole determinants of our worth or potential. While academic achievements can open doors and provide opportunities, they do not define who we are as individuals. Our true value lies in our unique talents, passions, and character traits that extend far beyond a letter on a piece of paper.

It's important to embrace the understanding that life is a diverse and multifaceted journey, and success can be found in various forms. Some of the most remarkable individuals have achieved greatness despite facing academic challenges or not conforming to conventional standards of success.

Your grades do not limit your ability to accomplish incredible things and make a positive impact on the world. Embrace your strengths, pursue your passions, and believe in your limitless potential. Remember, your grades are just one part of your story, and you have the power to create a future filled with remarkable achievements, regardless of what those grades may say.


In conclusion, when it comes to managing anxiety during GCSE exams, it's crucial to prioritize your mental well-being. Remember that experiencing moments of stress and mental blocks is normal, and beating yourself up over them will only hinder your performance. Instead, adopt a mindset of acceptance and self-compassion. Take the time to practice calming techniques, such as controlled breathing, and allow yourself short breaks when needed. Additionally, don't underestimate the power of positive self-talk and maintaining a healthy perspective. By implementing these tips, you can navigate the challenging terrain of GCSE exams with greater ease, confidence, and resilience. Remember, you've prepared diligently, and you are capable of overcoming any obstacle that comes your way. Good luck, and trust in your abilities!

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