Exam Fever

Exam Fever

If you happen to have a son or daughter sitting their last year of school, you will know that at the moment IB students are almost done with their exams and A level students will soon be on their study leave. Yes. Exam fever is here.

Does your son or daughter suffer from exam fever?
Do they get stressed, nervous and even have panic attacks, as the exam date gets nearer? 

It is quite some time ago that I sat my A level exams. However, I still vividly remember my experience. I found it difficult to fall asleep the night before the exam. I tossed and turned and tried to banish, in vain, all the negative scenarios that had crept into my head. On the morning of the exam I was a bundle of nerves and could not eat a thing. In order to keep my energy levels up I used to suck a dextrose tablet every now and then. I used to look with envy at the other students who seemed calm. I could not understand how they could stay so calm and chat away to each other like any other day while I was almost falling to pieces.  I used to ask myself “How do they do that?”

I found the answer to my question 16 years later when I discovered NLP.

Representational Systems and Submodalities

 We take in the world through our five senses and, using the information we gather, we make internal representations of the world. In NLP these are called “Representational Systems” and the five senses are called ‘Modalities” and they are:

V = Visual (sense of sight)
A = Auditory (sense of hearing)
K = Kinaesthetic (sense of touch and feeling)
O = Olfactory (sense of smell)
G = Gustatory (sense of taste)

From an NLP perspective, we concentrate on the first three senses, as the olfactory and gustatory sense, tend to be included under the Kinaesthetic System.

Let’s examine each sensory modality in a little more detail. Visually for example, the pictures you see can have a specific location, be bright or dim in colour or black and white, moving or still, big or small and so on. Similarly the sounds you hear can vary in tonality, volume or speed and the source can be internal, as in hearing your own internal dialogue, or external, as the voice of someone other than yourself. The same applies to your feelings, which again can vary in intensity, location (where in your body you feel it) and size. These finer distinctions are not a coincidence and they are referred to in NLP as “Submodalities”.

These submodalities are unique to each individual and they are the way we code our experiences. When you change the submodalities of an experience, you change how you feel about it.

The following is an example of exam fever and an NLP approach to curbing it:

Due to the type of course my daughter was interested in studying, some of the universities she applied to require that she sit a special scientific exam, BMAT, before her application could be considered. This exam did not so much depend on knowledge as much as on aptitude and skills. The only way she could prepare for it was to do as many example papers as possible. It was also a very high standard test and the score scale was designed so that academically outstanding applicants would score around 5 out of 10. Getting an average grade was something my daughter was not used to. She prepares well, works hard and aims high. Therefore when she consistently wasn’t getting a 9 or 10 she decided that she was not capable and, therefore, a failure. As the exam date got nearer she was getting more and more frustrated, agitated and in an almost near panic state. I decided that it was time to intervene and see what  internal representations my daughter was making about this exam that was getting her into such a negative state.

“What comes to your mind when I say BMAT?” I asked her one afternoon.

“I get a picture in my head.” She answered.

“What kind of picture?” I asked

“Well, I am in the school hall where we normally sit our exams.” She said.

“Where do you see this picture?” I asked again.

“It is right in front of me.” She answered.

“Right. Do you see yourself in the picture or are you looking through your own eyes?” I said

“I see myself in the picture.” She said.

Knowing from previous exercises that my daughter’s positive feelings are usually associated with pictures in which she is looking through her own eyes, I asked her the following.

“ Can you change your picture so you are able to look through your own eyes?”

“Yes I can,” she said.  Then quite unexpectedly she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh mum I am looking at the paper but I can’t see the questions, that is why I am in a panic”

“Ok. I want you to make some changes in the picture so you are able now to see the questions. Can you do that?” I asked

“Yes, yes I can.” She said after a short pause.

“Mum, I am fine,” she then said. “Now that I am able to see the questions I feel so much better. I can do this” and walked off to practice a few more papers.

On the day of the exam she was reasonably calm and went ahead and did her best in the BMAT exam. All it took was slight key adjustments in the submodalities that she was associating with her future experience of this exam.


So next time your child is in a panic state about an upcoming exam, bring to their awareness the internal representations that they are making in their mind in relation to this exam. Make some changes in the submodalities and see which key adjustments create the positive emotion that they desire.

In addition to the above, creating a resourceful anchor like I mentioned in my previous blog can also help put them in a more positive and motivated state. Sometimes simply reminding them of a past achievement or success story can do the trick. It brings to their awareness that they already have the resources they need to succeed.

Recommended reading: De-stress for Exams by Summersdale Publishers

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