Exam anxiety and exam stress tapping for academic success with Eleni Vardaki

Test Anxiety and Exam Stress (Year 9)

WHAT’S THE ISSUE: “He has a lot of stress. He’s scared of failure. And he gets anxious. We spend an hour shouting before he sits down to study every afternoon. One hour trying to make him study and he doesn’t listen. I understand that he finds studying boring. I tell him, ‘Listen to what the teachers say. Take notes. Make flashcards.’ It’s difficult. He refuses to listen to what people tell him. He doesn’t want to. He wants to play. I’ve tried finding someone who could help him become more organized. I found someone who taught him study skills, like flashcards, but he didn’t do that either. That’s when I realized that the issue is probably stress – not study skills.” 

This was the starting point of my work with a Year 9 student (pre-IGCSEs) back in October 2020. These words come from the child’s mother (let’s call the child ‘George’ – a pseudonym, to protect his identity). George had gotten bad grades in his summer exams, and he hadn’t had a good start to the new school year.

Both George and his mum have given me permission to share George’s turnaround success story here on my website and on my social media. Enjoy!


George was aware that things like stressful friendship conflict, feeling too bored to study, and his cravings for Monster Energy drinks were affecting his concentration and motivation to study. He felt that if he studied for his tests and wasn’t so stressed about other things, his test anxiety, which was highest for Maths and French, would melt away because he would go in prepared. Stress and not being motivated to study were holding his exam anxiety in place. 

He struggled to feel motivated to study when so much time and energy was consumed by his cravings for energy drinks. He was aware that he had developed a negative stress management coping strategy – drinking energy drinks. In his words, he was drinking lots of energy drinks because “Me and my friends, we’re all really addicted to Monsters. It’s an energy drink, like Red Bull. I drink them because I’m tired and I need it and it’s like ‘Look, here’s some energy.'” 

Now if you’ve never heard of Monster Energy drinks, a 500mL can contains the equivalent of about four times as much caffeine as an Espresso – plus 13 tablespoons of sugar. So you can understand why ministers in the UK, where more children and teenagers drink energy drinks than anywhere else in Europe, have been trying to make the selling of energy drinks to children under 16 illegal for years; they harm children’s education as well as their health.

George had responded really well to the tapping techniques I taught him when his mum signed him up to a Tapping for Exam Stress workshop with me via Zoom. So we agreed for me to work with him 1-to-1 through my 12-session tapping and academic coaching package . Here’s how those 12 sessions panned out.


In the first session, we started by tapping on what was stressing him out about school, generally. On that day, it was “I’m stressed about going back to school after one week of online learning because a friend’s dad died from Coronavirus in April/May 2020, and because the school is really cramped, and because classrooms are small.” 

He felt the stress in his body at the thought of going back as “legs feel weak”, which went from an 8/10 in intensity, to 6/10, to a 0/10 as the session progressed. The emotion he felt at the thought of going back to school was worry. That started on a 7/10, which then shifted to 2.5/10 after only one round of tapping, and then dropped to a 0/10 after a second round of tapping. The worry then shifted to to excitement at the thought of seeing friends. 

In the second 30 minutes of the session, we tapped on the stress caused by his craving to have an energy drink in that moment, during our session. The emotion we tapped on that was behind the stress, in his words, was “Impatience, because I had one last week and I haven’t had one since. So I’ve been craving it.” The feeling of impatience started at a 6.5/10 in intensity. It was accompanied by the thought “I want it right now”, which he rated as feeling 100% true. We tapped on his impatience, which as a result, dropped to a 0/10. The craving was gone, and the new thought that came up for him was “You can wait, it’s not a priority.” 

In tapping we call this a Client Cognitive Reframe. What this means is that instead of me offering a Cognitive Reframe (a different way of thinking about the situation), it’s the client’s brain that spontaneously reframes their way of seeing a particular situation, once the stress and emotion have been processed. As EFT Practitioners, we value intervening as little as possible so as to let the client experience their own Cognitive Reframes, as opposed to us offering them a different way of thinking about a particular situation.

Next, in the second and third session, George and I continued to tap on the stress caused by his all-consuming cravings for energy drinks that he was experiencing during our session. This is another value we have as EFT Practitioner – meet the client where they are at. We tap on whatever it is they need to tap on that’s causing them a level of distress. And in George’s case, it was the distressing withdrawal symptoms of not having an energy drink. We needed two full sessions tapping on those withdrawal symptoms to help him be more grounded and present.

We now have research that confirms what George was learning through painful personal experience through our tapping sessions back in 2020. On January 19th 2024, ITV News published an article highlighting a recent Public Health journal publication that found “highly-caffeinated drinks not only have an impact on the physical health of young people, but also on their mental health, impacting everything from academic performance to diet and sleep.” The study found that consumption of energy drinks is linked to ADHD-like symptoms, including hyperactivity and inattentiveness, which impact a student’s school life.

This research didn’t exist in 2020 when I was working with George. But tapping away his energy drink cravings was helping him become a more attentive learner. By the end of the third tapping session, George’s ability to focus, both in our sessions and when studying for school, had clearly started to improve.

A few days after this break through session, George got his first Report Card. Understandably, his stress-related concentration and motivation problems, which were intense up until that point, had affected his first half term Report Card grades.


The following week, George was upset – “I failed 5 subjects”. He’d got his first Report Card of the year, and it wasn’t good. He’d got 50% or less in Religion, French, Maths, Physics, and Geography. The first thought that came to him when he looked at his report card was “I don’t like going to school.”

We did some academic coaching so as to clarify what his grades-related goal was that he wanted to get by the time this 12-session cycle of us working together was over. He set a goal for himself – to pass all his subjects in the mid-year exams that were coming up in 3 months.

We then started tapping on what was blocking him from achieving that goal. What came up for him was how stressed he felt about having failed 5 subjects. This recent failure was holding him back from being able to focus on the future.

We then did a tapping technique that I like to call Question Tapping around the following academic coaching question: “What needs to happen for me to pass all my subjects next term?” The thoughts that came up for him after that round of tapping were the following:

  • “Be more organized”
  • “Pressure myself so I can concentrate more on homework”
  • “Study for tests”

Next, we did some tapping on an area he knew he would need to improve in order to achieve his goal, but had resistance to changing – his poor sleep habits. He didn’t want to go to bed sooner, even though his mum had been trying to get him to improve this self-care habit. After all, sleep deprivation affects test performance. 

So we tapped to acknowledge how the resistance that he felt in that moment: “Even though my bad sleeping habits are getting in the way of my ability to concentrate on tests in class BUT I don’t want my sleep schedule to change, I acknowledge this is where I’m at right now.”  

And since just thinking about changing his sleeping habits was bringing up frustration and anger in the 9/10 range, which he experienced as a red/orange kind of sensation in his hands, we also tapped on that emotional aspect of the problem.

So by the end of the session, he had:

  • Set a specific, time-bound goal of trying to pass all his exams after Christmas to get a better report card at the end of term.
  • Acknowledged that he had an identity-related belief around sleep. In his words, “Sleeping at 5am is a part of me. That 100% feels true.” And that he felt huge resistance to changing this habit (“Nobody can mess with my sleep schedule. Feels 100% true.”)
  • Acknowledged that his habit of drinking energy drinks was getting in the way of going to sleep earlier because it made him not feel sleepy. 

I let him know that we didn’t have to continue tapping on his resistance to changing his sleep habits if he didn’t want to in the next session. But that if at some point he wanted to come back and revisit this to help himself sleep better and therefore concentrate better the next day in schools and tests, we could. I showed him fMRI brain scans of how lack of sleep affects test performance. But it was his choice.



In this session, George reported he’d done better in his Maths test (92%) that week. He now wanted to do well on his upcoming 2-hour French test. He was feeling stressed out this French test. 

So we tapped a bit on the stress, and he acknowledged that his exam anxiety for the French test “would depend on if I’d prepared well for the test.” I asked if he would be open to letting me guide him through a Success Visualization exercise for fear of failure in preparation for his test. He agreed. 

After some breath work and grounding exercises as warm up, I asked him, when he came to a metaphorical crossroad in his mind’s eye, what the ‘path of failure looks and feels like?’ What came up for him was ” a red path” and “disappointment”. When I asked what the path of success looks and feels like, he reported seeing:

  • A green path
  • Happy
  • Confetti
  • Feeling good about myself
  • Achievement

Next, I asked him some academic coaching questions: “What needs to happen for you to be well prepared so that you can go down the green path? Can you paint a picture of what you see, what that would look like?” 

Here’s what came up for him: 

  • “For me to be at my desk, staying in my chair, listening to something (like piano music – no words).”
  • “My French books are on my desk. I’m studying.”
  • “Me on my bed – this is the last scene – I feel confidence and calm.”

The result? George started to take the need to prepare for tests more seriously after this session.


In the next two sessions, George was really stressed out over a particular friendship issue. He wanted us to tap on something that had happened with a friend from school that was making it hard for him to concentrate on his school work.

After tapping on this issue together for two sessions, by session 7, he acknowledged that he had been on the receiving end of a serious boundary violation (physical assault) during the school day. He concluded that he needed to set a healthy boundary with his friend. 

I did ask that we bring mum in after the session for a quick chat, in case she wasn’t aware about the incident. Mum was aware and wanted George to end the friendship as she wanted to protect her child from this unhealthy behavior. George said he wanted to try setting a boundary with the friend. George said he wanted to try telling him, to make it very clear, that if he were to ever do that again, they would no longer be friends.

When George told his friend how he felt, and confronted him about the assault not being OK, his friend apologized. He never bothered him again and George felt safe in school again.



In session 8, I observed a new level of calmness and test taking confidence starting to emerge by this stage. George’s study habits and concentration had markedly improved, and it was now paying off. In his words, “I have two tests coming up. I have a Maths Test tomorrow. I’m OK because I’ve done a lot of prep.”

What was causing George stress at this stage was the lack of a stable school timetable. Because of Coronavirus, his school had moved to one week online learning (students in Group A), and one week in school (students in Group B). This was due to having to having overcrowded classes. So they split the classes into online/on site cohorts for COVID management. 

So George wanted to tap on the physical sensations of the stress caused by this continual disruption in his school timetable. At first the stress felt like a 10/10 discomfort around his eyes (“Like I want to cry”), so we started by tapping on that. And then we tapped on the emotion that was behind the stress (frustration, 7/10 in intensity). By the end of the session, both the physical and the emotional component of his distress about this issue had dropped to a 0/10.


By session 9, George was continuing to make progress in tests: “In Geography I got 72%. I feel motivated because I previously got a 48% and 25% in the practice tests. So I think the teacher must have been proud.”

We talked about his habit of forgetting and procrastinating on doing homework tasks, as he’d forgotten to do a homework task I’d set her for self-reflection last session. This was mirroring what was going on with school, where he was also forgetting to do some of the homework tasks his teachers were setting him.

He was experiencing some resistance to improving his organization skills, but agreed to do a Pros and Cons list as self reflection. Here’s what came up for him.

Benefits of getting organized:

  • “I will get better grades”
  • “It will help me get me into a better school (my sister’s school)”

Downside/costs of getting organized: 

  • “It’s going to be more work”
  • “How much more work will be needed?”
  • Part of me is like “I don’t wanna know”, another part of me wants to know.
  • “It’s gonna take away time with my friends if I work more”

Since he said that achieving his goal of getting into a better school was really important for him, we agreed to do some Future Tapping. I asked him to “Imagine you are in that better school that your sister is in that you want to get into by getting a good report card, you are starting your IGCSEs in Year 10, and you’re getting good grades. What does that look and feel like?” 

Here’s what came up for him:

  • I’m organized
  • I’m doing more work because I’m organized
  • I feel happy
  • I feel success
  • I feel proud of myself
  • It feels like a pink kind of dream or feeling.

Before we wrapped up session 9, he reporting feeling more aware that he procrastinates and how he wanted to feel. He felt he needed some time to think about it because he was also more aware of the personal cost that becoming organized would bring.


As the term was coming to an end, and Christmas break was just around the corner, George’s habit of sleeping late on school nights was starting to affect his ability to concentrate in tests. He acknowledged that “In my French test today, I just couldn’t stay awake. I thought it was just 5 minutes, but it was actually 15 or 20 minutes. The French teacher was grading the exams for the next class. She didn’t notice.”

He also acknowledged that he continued to feel resistance to change this habit, though he was now open to doing so at least for his mid-year exams that were coming up after Christmas. “I go to sleep at 3am. I don’t wanna sleep early, except for in January when I’m studying for my exams.” This new desire to make an exception to his resistance to improving his sleep habits for his mid-year exams felt like a 10/10 true.

For clarification, I asked what ‘early’ meant for him. Reply: 10.30pm to 11pm. I asked why he wanted to set himself this new sleep habit goal for January? What had changed since we last tapped on it a few sessions ago? His reply, “Because I don’t wanna fail. I hate sleeping early, but I also hate failing. I’m gonna have to choose one or the other.” This showed me that he was ready for us to revisit the tapping for better sleep aspect that we’d parked after session 4 until he chose to work on it. 

He’d remembered the fMRI brain scans I’d shown him of how sleep deprivation affects test taking performance. He’d had an experience of struggling to concentrate during a test that allowed him to connect the brain scans with a real struggle to concentrate on a test. He was now ready to make a change.

We finished the session by tapping on reducing how stressed he felt at the thought of getting back his Maths results on a test he’d done last week. We discovered that this tied in to his fear of failure. His stressed dropped from a 6/10 (“I really want to get a good grade”) to 0/10 (New thought, “If I don’t do well, I’ll think to myself ‘I’m gonna do better next time, and get a greater mark”). As you can see from his new thought (a Client Cognitive Reframe), his reduction in stress from the tapping we did led to more of a Growth Mindset towards tests. And a Growth Mindset it important for academic progress and academic success. 


The last two sessions were about helping George prepare for his mid-year exams in January 2021. We tapped on his limiting belief of “I’m lazy”, which felt like a 10/10 true as negative memories came to mind. His belief dropped to feeling like a 5/10 true after we’d tapped as positive memories of him not being lazy then came up.

I then taught him how to put together a study plan for his mid-year exams. He finished his study plan for homework before our last session.

When we started session 12, he reported feeling good about the study plan he’d made for himself. His stress was only a 4.5/10 when he thought about his upcoming exams. We agreed to tapped on that exam stress since he wanted to feel more confident about his exams. It went down to a 3/10, and eventually a 0/10.

To get there, we tapped on the positive affirmations of how he wanted to feel when thinking about his exams:

  • Feel ready to do it
  • Ready to get a good grade
  • Optimistic, confident, positive
  • Want to try my best in the exam, so that I can feel happy about my result

His last thought about his exams at the end of the session was “I’m willing to put in the effort needed to do well”. And he reported that feeling 100% true. Yet another Client Cognitive Reframe. Another success!



George, his mum and I met for a quick 10 minute end of program chat after the 12th session to talk about his progress. She reported noticing that he had become more mature compared to before the tapping sessions. He was now able to sit down and study without conflict and shouting. Also, his grades had improved.

George was proud that he had passed 4 out of his 5 exams in his Year 9 mid-year exam after failing in 5 subjects in his previous Report Card – a turnaround success in the space of just 3 months. He then passed the 5th exam during the re-sit.  

When I followed up two years later to check in with George’s mum on how he was getting on, she reported that the gains had stayed. He was still doing well in school. He’d even made it through his final IGCSE exams with just a normal level of stress using the tools and skills he’d learned without having needed any further interventions. 

And you know how we’d tapped on goal’s goal of getting good enough grades to get into a good school – his sister’s school – his session 9? He’s now in his sister’s school, and liking it! Another one of his goals achieved. 


Perhaps, best of all, George was proud to show me the healthier ways he had come up with for expressing his emotions. He had gotten some lights that changed color as a Christmas present from his parents. 

Since talking about feelings was still quite hard for him, as a way of communicating how he was actually feeling, he came up with the idea of changed the color of the lights. He explained:

  • “When I feel mad, it’s red”
  • “When I feel sad, it’s blue. Dark blue”
  • “When I feel annoyed, it’s green. Like ‘please don’t’’.”
  • “When I feel happy, it’s yellow, orange and pink”

He added, “I also have music on my playlist that has sad songs. When I don’t feel in the mood, I skip the happy songs.”


Want to read up on the evidence base for the effectiveness of EFT/Tapping with students? Check out this bibliography for key research papers and books.

Aremu, A. O., & Taiwo, A. K. (2014). “Reducing Mathematics Anxiety Among Students with Pseudo-Dyscalculia in Ibadan through Numerical Cognition and Emotional Freedom Techniques: Moderating Effect of Mathematics Efficacy.” African Journal for the Psychological Studies of Social Issues, 17(1), 113–129.

Gaesser, A. H., & Karan, O. C. (2017). “A Randomized Controlled Comparison of Emotional Freedom Technique and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Adolescent Anxiety: A Pilot Study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(2), 102-108. Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Doi:10.1089/acm.2015.0316 

Gaesser, A. H. (2014). “Interventions to Reduce Anxiety for Gifted Children and Adolescents.” Doctoral Dissertations, 377. Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/dissertations/377

Jain, S., & Rubino, A. (2012). “The Effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for Optimal Test Performance: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, & Treatment, 4(2), 13-24. Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Doi:10.9769.EPJ. 2012.4.2.SJ 

Lambert, M. T., Smith, S. E.; Moss, S., Kirshbaum, M. N. (2022) “Emotional Freedom Techniques (Tapping) to Improve Wellbeing and Reduce Anxiety in Primary Classrooms”, Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 7 (3). https://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol47/iss3/5/

Sezgin, N., & Özcan, B. (2009). “The Effect of Progressive Muscular Relaxation and Emotional Freedom Techniques on Test Anxiety in High School Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 1(1), 23-30. Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.

Sezgin, N., Ozcan, B., Church, D., (2009). “The Effect of Two Psychophysiological Techniques (Progressive Muscular Relaxation and Emotional Freedom Techniques) On Test Anxiety in High School Students: A Randomized Blind Controlled Study.” International Journal of Healing and Caring, 9(1). Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.

Stapleton, P., Mackay, E., Chatwin, H., Murphy, D., Porter, B., Thibault, S. Pidgeon, A. (2017). “Effectiveness of a School-based Emotional Freedom Techniques Intervention for Promoting Student Wellbeing.” Adolescent Psychiatry, 7(2), 112-126. Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.

Benor, D. J., Ledger, K., Toussaint, L., Hett, G., & Zaccaro, D. (2009). “Pilot study of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Wholistic Hybrid derived from EMDR and EFT (WHEE) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for treatment of test anxiety in university students” Explore, 5(6). Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.

Boath, E., Stewart, A., Carryer, A. (2011). “Tapping for Success: A Pilot Study to Explore if Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Can Reduce Anxiety and Enhance Academic Performance in University Students.” Innovative Practice in Higher Education, 1(3).

Boath, E. Stewart, A. Carryer, A. (2013). “Is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Generalizable? Comparing Effects in Sport Science Students Versus Complementary Therapy Students.” Energy Psychology Journal, 5(2). Doi: 10.9769.EPJ.2013.5.2.EB.AC.AS.SU

Boath E., Good R., Tsaroucha A., Stward T., Pitch Sh., & Boughey A. (2017) “Tapping Your Way to Success: Using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to Reduce Anxiety and Improve Communication Skills in Social Work Students”, Social Work Education: The International Journal, 715-730, Doi:10.1080/02615479.2017.1297394

Dincer B, Özçelik SK, Özer Z, Bahçecik N. (2022) “Breathing Therapy and Emotional Freedom Techniques on Public Speaking Anxiety in Turkish Nursing Students: A Randomized Controlled Study. Explore (NY). 18(2), 226-233. Doi:10.1016/j.explore.2020.11.006.

Nenden LW, Tukimin S., Dwiagung R., Agus S. (2022) “The Effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Technique on Public Speaking Anxiety in University Students: An Integrated Review”, Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 10(F):263-268 Doi:10.3889/oamjms.2022.7919

Patterson SL. (2016) “The Effect of Emotional Freedom Technique on Stress and Anxiety in Nursing Students: A Pilot Study”, Nurse Education Today, 40:104-10. Doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2016.02.003.

Rogers R, Sears SR. (2015) “Emotional Freedom Techniques for Stress in Students: A Randomized Controlled Dismantling Study.” Energy Psychology Theory Res Treatment, 7:26–32. Doi:10.9769/EPJ.2015.11.1.RR 

Papers listed below show EFT impacts cortisol, HRV, epigenetics & the brain (we now have 4 fMRI brain scan studies proving EFT’s effectiveness).
Anastasia, et al (2013) “Effect of the Emotional Freedom Technique on Perceived Stress, Quality of Life, and Cortisol Salivary Levels in Tension-type Headache Sufferers: A Randomized Control Trial”, Explore, Vol 9.

Bach, et al (2019), “Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health”, Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, Vol 24.

Church, et al (2012) “The Effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques on
Stress Biochemistry: A Randomized Controlled Trial”, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol 200.

Dawson, et al (2018), “Is Tapping on Acupuncture Points an Active Ingredient in Emotional Freedom Techniques? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Comparative Studies”, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol 206.

Stapleton, et al (2020) “Reexamining the Effect of Emotional Freedom
Techniques on Stress Biochemistry: A Randomized Controlled Trial”, Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

Maharaj, M. (2016) “Differential Gene Expression after Emotional
Freedom Techniques (EFT) Treatment: A Novel Pilot Protocol for Salivary mRNA Assessment”, Energy Psychology, Vol 8.

Church, et al (2018) “Epigenetic Effects of PTSD Remediation in Veterans using Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study”, American Journal of Health Promotion, Vol 32.

Stapleton, et al (2018) “An Initial Investigation of Neural Changes in Overweight Adults with Food Cravings after Emotional Freedom Techniques”, OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine Journal, Vol 3.

Stapleton, et al (2022) “Neural changes after Emotional Freedom Techniques treatment for chronic pain sufferers”, Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Vol 49.

Wittfoth, et al (2022) “Bifocal Emotion Regulation Through Acupoint Tapping in Fear of Flying”, Journal of NeuroImage: Clinical, Vol 34 .

Wittfoth, et al (2020) “Emotion Regulation through Bifocal Processing of Fear Inducing and Disgust Inducing Stimuli”, BMC Neuroscience Journal, Vol 21. 

Stapleton, P. (2019) The Science Behind EFT: A Proven Stress Management Technique for Mind and Body.

Stapleton, P. (2023) Memory Improvement Through EFT Tapping: A Way to Boost Recall and Clarity. 

Eleni Vardaki Academic Success Coach and EFT Practitioner

Eleni Vardaki is an experienced teacher and EFT Tapping Coach who specialises in stress, anxiety, and academic success. She works with school and university level level students online who want to work with her on clearing inner blocks to achieving their personal, career-related, or academic goals. She also leads online and in-person group sessions for staff, parent, and student well-being.