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How To Cope With Exam Stress


Mahnoor
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The thought of sitting an exam can be quite stressful and create feelings of worry, especially when a lot is depending on them. GCSE, A level and university exams can all trigger feelings of being under pressure. 

For a select few, sitting exams might be an enjoyable experience. Revision is second nature to them and they could breeze through the exams with their eyes closed.

Teenager stressed out about exams

However, for most people, memories of exams consist of endless hours of revision and last minute panics. Sweaty palms and heart palpitations are no stranger to them. And of course, who can forget those anxiety-inducing post-exam chats with friends which often led to you believing that you had gotten everything wrong.

A little stress can be a good thing and this is positive stress (or eustress). It can lead you to accomplish your goals and allow you to be successful. The problem arises when (yes, you guessed it already) that stress becomes unhealthy and unmanageable. It is easier said than done but it is crucial to manage this stress in order to prevent burnout as well as achieve your best. 

We have collected some advice in order to help you achieve your very best in those oh-so-dreaded exams because we want to see you succeed!

Exam Stress Relief

Keeping Things In Perspective

You might hear this a lot and that is because it’s true - exams aren’t everything. Regardless of what happens in your exams, you can still have a successful future. If things don’t go as well as you had hoped for, try to keep things in perspective. 

Once you come out of the exam hall, try to forget about it. Don’t mull over every single thing that you wrote and most importantly, don’t compare your answers with your peers. It will only stimulate feelings of anxiety and distract you from your next exam. And remember, no matter how much you worry, it won’t change what’s done. Move on from what has happened and focus on what’s next. 

A sign warning exam stress isn't good

Exam success doesn’t define your worth as a person. Everyone has a different coping mechanism in such situations but try to remember how far you have come already. 

And remember, future employers won’t just be looking at your exam scores. They are equally interested in your attitude, your transferable skills and what you bring to their team. 

Staying Organised For Your Exams

This one is so incredibly important. Think of your exams as a time-bound project. Are your exams 40 days away? That’s your 40-day challenge. Such a mindset gives you a goal to work towards and it is less likely to go off-track.

Make a list of what exams to have. Go over the specification or curriculum thoroughly and work out how much you are expected to know for each exam. Break your revision down into small, manageable chunks. Work out a plan. This will eliminate any dilemmas (or that feeling of procrastination) at the start of the day about what to work on.

A person looking at his exam prep

Write down everything you want to get done and tick them off when you get them done. Just the act of feeling like you are in control of your revision can help.

And also remember to not panic if you go slightly off schedule (ideally try not to) but tomorrow is another day.

Getting Support From Friends and Family

If you are feeling stressed to the point that it is overwhelming you and is affecting your day-to-day life, reach out to someone. Asking for help is never shameful. In the most extreme cases, it can help save a life.

A person receiving help

When struggling, talk to your family, friends or your personal tutor about how you are feeling. Your school or university will also have a service where you can speak to people about your concerns. They will be able to offer professional advice and practical strategies to manage the exam stress. It helps to get it out of your system. You will be surprised to know that you are not alone in feeling like this.

Developing Good Habits

Below is a list of some habits that we recommend you incorporate in your life, especially closer to exam season. They will not only help you concentrate well but also reduce stress.

Take Regular Breaks

According to psychologists, the human brain can only concentrate properly for 30-45 minutes. You could try using the Pomodoro technique which we explained in our article here:

When you do take a break, don’t stay glued to your desk as this is not helpful at all. Move around a bit and do something that will take your mind off revision for a while. Watch some TV or listen to a podcast. But stay self-disciplined and know when it’s time to get back to work.

Eat Well And Stay Hydrated

Lots of salad

Remember, your brain needs glucose to function and in order to make your studying time efficient, you need to stay hydrated. Maintain a good blood sugar level to avoid highs and lows of energy. Eat slow energy releasing foods like bread, rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables. 

Exercise And Get Outdoors

Stay active! Just because it is exam season does not mean that you have to turn into a human potato (potatoes are great though). Even a short walk goes a long way.

Two cyclists

Exercising is one of the most effective ways of de-stressing. Not only does it keep you healthy but it also boosts your mood and makes you more productive while revising. 

Get Enough Sleep

Try to get about 8 hours of sleep every night. This helps to boost your body’s performance as well as improving your mood and how well you retain information.

A cat sleeping

Don't (always) Listen To Others

Although it can be helpful to discuss topics with your peers and revise together (although they are not that productive in my opinion), try not to compare how much work you have done to other people. Chances are you are doing just fine. Listening to other people talk about how much revision they have done will only stress you out and make you feel inadequate. 

A keep out sign

Avoid other stressed people. You know the ones I mean. The ones with flashcards and textbooks outside of the exam hall, frantically trying to remember all those key dates and equations (if you did A level Chemistry, you know the struggle).

Avoiding Bad Habits

Likewise, there are also some habits we would recommend that you try to avoid.

Don't Set Yourself Ridiculous Goals

You are not superhuman (as much as we’d all like to be one). Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting targets that you are never going to achieve.

Exam Burnout

Aiming to revise 20 topics a day will only lead to disappointment at the end of the day as it is unrealistic. This will also promote burnout and take the fun out of revision. 

Giving Up Things You Enjoy

It can be highly tempting to just chain yourself to your desk and “focus”, but this is counterproductive. It is unhealthy to not give your brain sufficient time to unwind and relax by not doing other activities. Schedule in some fun things to do in your timetable!

Time out thanks . Need a break away from exams.

Avoid Stimulants

A lot of people reach for extra coffee and energy drinks especially during times of high-intensity revision. But don’t do it (seriously, don’t). They might help you stay awake for an extra hour or so. However, they can impede your energy and concentration dramatically in the long term. 

Instead, try to stick to a balanced diet and consume the slow energy releasing foods mentioned previously.

Blaming Yourself

At one end of the spectrum we have people who completely ignore exam stress and pretend that exam season would never come. No revision, no late night study sessions. 

However, at the other end, we have those who respond to exam stress by constantly giving themselves a hard time. “I am not doing enough, I haven’t ticked off that one last thing on my to-do list, I will never be able to do well in my exams…”. Does that ring a bell? We are all guilty of having done this at some point. 

More positivity needed

A little bit of self-criticism can be helpful. But too much negativity can sap your energy levels. Calm down a bit!

Believe In Yourself

When you are constantly faced with new challenges, jumping through one hoop after another, we often forget to look back and reflect on just how you have come. You have already achieved so much. If you have done the work and put in the hours, there is no reason for you to worry (if you haven’t then get to work!). 

Positive vibes for exams

Therefore, every time you feel self-doubt or a negative thought overcomes your mind, try to replace it with a positive thought. Practice self-affirmation. Be positive and believe in yourself. You got this!

How Can Parents Reduce Exam Stress?

If you are a parent reading this, then here are a few tips on how you can help your child beat exam stress:

  • Make sure your child eats healthy
  • Help them get enough sleep
  • Help them study by reminding them of their goals in life
  • Ensure that they have somewhere comfortable to study

  • Talk to them about how they are feeling about exams and remind them that it is normal to feel anxious
  • Encourage them to exercise and stay active during exam season
  • Do not make them feel pressurised 
  • Encourage them to talk to you after every exam and focus on the parts that went well
  • Make time for treats e.g. watching TV or making their favourite meal

UK Student Helplines And Support Resources

If you are feeling stressed and unable to cope, have a look at the helplines on this website https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/uk-student-helplines-list/. 

ASK sign

It might be uncomfortable to talk to a stranger on the phone or send them an email. But remember that there is no harm in doing this. They will provide you with support and help you know your options. 

Share Your Exam Experiences With Us

Tell us about how you cope with exam stress here on ExamQA. Leave a comment down below or start a new thread on our forum! It will certainly be very helpful for your peers and they might even be able to relate to you! 

Two happy jigsaw pieces

More Content

Make sure to have a look at our other articles on a range of other interesting topics and much more here:   https://examqa.com/articles/

We have a YouTube channel as well (the fun never ends!). Check out our amazing videos on science, maths and a lot more here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuGRdmg8NcUgn0ymT7-jKNg

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