How to deal with Exam Nerves

By Goguitar1977


Why have exam nerves?


Nerves are a natural emotion when going into any new situation, you won’t know the person, examiner in this case, or be familiar with the environment or know the protocol. Any exam is an un-natural environment, they are often not representative of the real world use of whatever it is that you are learning, be it guitar, bass, ukulele, keyboard or maths. They can feel quite clinical, this is not intentional, but the examiner can’t give you any feedback on how you have performed, they are there to check you have reached the required level for the grade, not assist you on the day. This is the opposite of any lesson, music included, that you will have had. Feedback is essential when teaching to inform the student what they have done well and what can be improved on. There are many ways in which exam nerves can be overcome

Also remember that the examiner is not there to try and catch you out or trick you. In my experience, they are on your side and genuinely want you to pass. They are aware that there will be exam nerves and will make some allowances for these. I have known examiners say such things as ‘would you like to try that again’, without saying as much this obviously means that you weren’t quite right first time and you have been given another chance.


What can help me?


I always give my students mock exams in the weeks leading up to their actual exam, I treat them exactly as the examiner would, ask for scales/chords/pieces etc and not giving any feedback until after the mock exam is over. I feel this helps in two ways, firstly they will be aware of the procedure and how the examiner might address them during the exam. Secondly, it will highlight any sections that are weak and need improvement.

Remember to warm up on the day, take the time to play through everything before you leave for the exam, don’t go into it cold, this way the syllabus will be fresh in your mind and your fingers will be warmed up and be ready to play. Just before you leave home, tune the guitar and make sure you have packed the things you need – Plectrums, grade book, entry confirmation etc. you don’t want to arrive to find you have forgotten something essential!

When you arrive at the exam centre try and find a quiet corner, get the guitar out, check its tuning again and run through a couple of scales, strum a few chords etc, then check its tuning -yes, again!. This just loosens you up and gives you a bit more confidence.

When you are in the actual exam try to relax. Before you start – make sure you are comfortable and you have everything you need out of your case. When the examiner asked you to play, remember you don’t have to be play 1/100 of a second after he asks, take a few seconds to repeat what has been asked for in your head and think before you play, avoid the temptation to play the first thing that comes to mind as panic can often lead to this being wrong. It is perfectly acceptable to take some time to digest what has been requested, what seems like ages to you in only probably five seconds. If you are unsure – ask, I’ve never had a student lose marks by asking for clarification.

The last thing is that you have done all the hard work, all those hours of practice, the repetition of the scales/chords etc this is what it was for, so enjoy it, and show them what you can do.


You did it!


Congratulations. Not everybody has the desire to put themselves through the commitment of an exam, it is a lot of hard work. It is a good thing to put yourself under pressure sometime, this is the part of an exam that is representative of the real world. It is important that you now go and have some fun with the instrument, play some songs you love, jam with friends, remember the reason for learning in the first place and put your knowledge to good use.

When your certificate arrives, display it – this is a recognition of your achievement and hard work, don’t just shove it at the back of the drawer or let the dog eat it. When the next exam comes round you can look up at this and use it a confidence that you have done it once, you can do it again.


What if the worst happens?


If you are unsuccessful on the day and don’t manage to pass, don’t let that get you down. You will get a marking sheet through even if you don’t pass, sit down with your tutor and analyse what went wrong, work on your weak points and try again. You will have an even greater satisfaction when you do finally pass.


I hope these tips have been of some use and Good Luck to anyone taking any exam in the future.