I'll be coding as part of a technical interview process.

I'm highly skilled-- wrote&aced many complex systems/algorithms also in technical interviews over the years, spoke before audiences, etc. But then, I get exam anxiety. If it gets me, I do real bad. If it doesn't, I do real well. Not much in between happens.

The exam I'll be writing is with an interviewer-- he'll give me a question and I'll code the algorithm for it. This will be my second attempt for this. I failed the first time because of that anxiety-- couldn't tune in. As an extra, I didn't feel any comfortable with the interviewer. He started typing and I started hearing his keystrokes nailing in my head halfway thru the session, till I "cleared my throat". I've found out that the same interviewer will be the one conducting it again the next time. I worry that he'll be biased/defensive because of his mistake the last time. This isn't about hostility-- I didn't feel any such thing, and I don't think/assume he'll be that the next time. But still.

If I fail again, I'll be able to try but much later. There's no deadline for re-taking it. I don't know for how long, but I can delay it without a date.

Such exam is exposing yourself to something/someone you don't really know behind the curtain, on the spot. Or so I feel, and that's the part that gets me. I've done and still do many client calls. But can prepare for those-- have some control/choice in the situation. There's been many times I got stuck with the client and said sth like "let's do this the next time, need to prepare".

So, I'm very reluctant to write this exam, more so with the same interviewer.

What's your take on this, how would you go about it?

How do you handle exam anxiety?

Saw Anxiety during coding interview, How do you overcome interview anxiety when writing code?, Dealing With Pressure in Interviews and many other useful discussions. But asking still.

Note: This is not to blame the interviewer for my poor performance the last time-- I've been laying out the situation. I simply performed poorly. We can't always choose the circumstances in such process.


Writing my comment as the update here-- too long for comment.

I do agree the coding performance is the best indicator, but what's being tested there is whether i'm cheating (i.e. having someone else code for me - like jcmack says), NOT my coding.

never the 100% performance when someone watching over your shoulder, esply the mind-worker's, and will press the button if you'd fail. i sometimes gave multiple Qs to chose from in such exams, this gave them room to relax. once we hired someone who couldn't code well at all over one that way outperformed and we nowhere near regretted.

i don't believe the interviewer's judgement is much accounted either. i'd rather do these live still, but with a seeing hearing eye automated relieving me at least such tensions.

  • I don't like live coding either, but it's best way to assess an individual's performance. Whereas code samples could have been heavily reviewed by someone else or completely done by someone else if there isn't any revision control.
    – jcmack
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 18:19
  • I think it's a little much to say live coding is the best way to assess an individual's performance, @jcmack. It's a way, and better than some ways, but studies have shown that giving someone a paid two week trial is far better for assessing how they will do on the job. Unless the job has all the stress of live coding, you aren't testing for the qualities you want.
    – Kathy
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 18:32
  • @Kathy If you had the study (studies ?) link or source I'd be interested to learn more. What you say seems reasonable and intuitive but I'm curious how things are measured and how big is the gap.
    – Diane M
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 19:36
  • So I agree with you @Kathy that some sort of paid trial period would give you better information than a live coding exam, but it's also difficult to gain a lot of information in a short time frame. In two weeks, you could onboard into our engineering architecture and product and complete a pretty surface level assignment that wouldn't tell me much about you long term besides if you could onboard quickly. A 3 month internship would work better, but again we need some way of vetting people before they go into the internship, which brings us back to live coding again.
    – jcmack
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 0:23

4 Answers 4


You need to follow the principles of exposure therapy.

In other words, if someone is deathly afraid of snakes, the idea is to gradually expose that person to snakes (i.e. photos of snakes, plastic snakes, VR snakes, garden snake, etc.).

For coding interviews, you could start with http://pramp.com

That site is to practice mock technical interviews with other job-hunters. They interview you remotely. You interview them back. There is no pressure. They're job-hunters just like yourself. They couldn't hire you, even if they wanted. The site gives you a shared code editor, video-conferencing, and both the questions and answers.

Just be aware, if you do not show up for a tele-appointment on Pramp, your flaking score goes down, and you'll be paired in future appointments with other people who have not shown up for their own appointments.

Then, you should try http://interviewing.io

There, you can do remote coding interviews with employers anonymously (there is no video, just shared sound and a shared code editor). And you can choose to unmask your name to them, but that choice is only given to you at the end of the interview.

And finally, once you feel you have enough virtual experience, my suggestion would be for you to interview in real life with as many local companies as you can. Just don't be picky about which company you interview for. The less you actually want to work for a company, the less pressure you'll actually feel during their coding interview.

So my advice is to apply to as many local employers as you can, even to the ones that you wouldn't necessarily want to work with. The more you do it, the more it will feel second nature to you.


I'm not going to try to help with the process of learning to handle the pressure and anxiety that comes with interviews and/or exams. I will however share this tip...

Our interview process includes a coding challenge. It ranges in complexity from something as simple as nested for loops to more complex performance and optimisation questions that can result in candidates looking at the code for a long time while they try to formulate an answer.

I'm happy to sit in silence and wait while the candidate mulls things over. However, where they can't come up with an answer, the person who talked through their thinking generally comes across better than somebody who didn't. Presumably this is because I've had an opportunity to see how methodical their approach and how intelligent their reasoning and decision making is as they worked the problem through.

So my advice is talk trough what you are doing with the interviewer. Not just because it will show the interviewer how you work - it will also naturally force you to slow down a little since you need to explain what you are doing and it might give your brain something else to focus on other than anxiety.


This question's kinda striking me weirdly. Two main things:

First: Your panic is coming through in the question.

Halfway through reading it, I couldn't help but imagine it being voiced by someone getting more and more nervous. Slow down, take some slow deep breaths, take your time. When you're getting nervous, about the best possible thing you can do is slow the tempo down and focus on your breathing.

Second: You're not alone.

Part of that is a positive message. You're not the only one dealing with the problem, and you'll get empathy/understanding from people when you talk about it.

But part of this is a negative message. You're not alone with this problem - did you even consider simply googling "How to handle exam anxiety" or "Dealing with interview anxiety" or similar phrases? I mean, I found oodles of online resources for this - youtube videos, psychology blogs, business articles, etc, etc.

  • you're right in a way. i guess i rather wanted to open this to discussion- my specific case. i been in various situations/spots w.r.t. exam anxiety, even devised/advised useful method myself! online exams are different. not the kind you see how others are doing, and i'm not so used to it all along. the online exams of companies are often different from one another also. you get less anxious when it's not vague, and part of it is knowing how others are see
    – xavierz
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 20:12

Something doesn't add up here. If you are experienced then an employer should not be asking you take exams. Your experience is proof of ability, along with your references. Exams are generally only useful for entry level jobs where the person has little to no history in the field.

So perhaps the solution is to look for higher level jobs where you don't get these kinds of requests. And if they do ask you to do exams maybe it's a sign that you should avoid that job anyway.

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