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8 Ways to Deal with Exam Stress

This post discusses the effects of exam stress on students, and offers 8 ways to deal with it. 

The rising temperature and clocks going forward signal the nearing of summer, with lighter evenings, freshly cut grass, and of course, exams. Whether students are sitting their GCSE or A Level examinations, the idea of sitting formal exams can be overwhelming. Students might be starting to feel the pressure of their studies and may be feeling some anxiety.

Whilst this is normal, it isn’t something you should ignore. Exams are stressful, and the results are important, but never forget that you are important too and should take care of yourself.


So, first and foremost, what is exam stress?

It's important to identify the symptoms of stress and anxiety so that we can be proactive in recognising and dealing with them. Some symptoms are listed by the NHS as:

  • Worrying a lot
  • Feeling tense
  • Having headaches and stomach pains
  • Not sleeping well
  • Being irritable
  • Losing interest in food or eating more than normal
  • Not enjoying activities previously enjoyed
  • Being negative and having a low mood
  • Feeling hopeless about the future


Why are exams so intimidating to students? 

Exams are a formal setting where students' ability is being tested. There can be a lot of pressure on students to perform well during these exams alongside uncertainty and general nervousness about the unfamiliarity exam conditions.

Our current Year 11 cohort have spent much of their GCSE study in the shadow of COVID-19, and as such have limited experience of 'normal' examination conditions. As a school, we have tried to combat this by hosting mock examinations as similar to real examinations as possible, including the setting of the exam and the inclusion of external invigilators. We have also run intervention classes over the Easter holidays to offer students opportunities to catch up. 


Coping Mechanisms

Feeling this way is understandable, but there are ways to manage your symptoms and put your best foot forward in preparation for exam season. We have listed 8 helpful ways to manage exam anxiety and have created some resources to help students cope.  


  1. A Healthy Sleep Schedule 

According to CDC, an average teenager needs 8-10 hours of sleep per 24 hours. When revising, it can be difficult to switch off and get that much-needed rest. Trust us when we say that sleep really is important and can have a great effect on exam performance and general mental health. The Sleep Foundation claims that sleep deprivation worsens cognitive performance, lowers mood and increases a students’ risk of depression.

To rectify this lack of sleep, there are several things you can do. Sticking to a consistent sleeping schedule can be helpful. A sleeping schedule means that you’ll need to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to set a healthy routine for your body and mind. This might be difficult at first, but will get easier as your body adjusts to the schedule. To decide on the ideal bedtime, visit AASM’s Bedtime Calculator.

A media curfew can also be helpful in combatting insomnia. Light exposure from technology can wake our brains up when we are trying to settle down. It’s a great idea to avoid using devices or exposure to bright screens and lights at least an hour before bed. Revising in a different location to where you sleep can also work wonders in helping your brain to wind down for the evening; if you revise in your bedroom, your brain is trained to be productive in that space.


  1. Taking care of yourself

As with sleep, it’s important to look after yourself, even when you’re not doing exams. Trying to do an exam when you haven’t eaten or drank enough water will only make things more difficult. When you’re not taking care of yourself, your mood can drop, making you even more anxious and stressed and unable to concentrate. Try having regular, balanced meals, taking some time to enjoy the outdoors and drink 2 litres of water a day.


  1. Revision Plans

Revision is the main preparation a student can do before exam season. It is always helpful to have a clear plan of what needs revising.

It might be helpful to review your workbooks and determine subjects and topics that you have found more difficult. Prioritising these topics in advance of your exams can help you to overcome any problem areas by discussing them with your subject tutor or spending more time revising them. Making a timetable or revision tracker for each subject and prioritising which exams you should be revising first can help you to stay on top of your revision. Once you feel confident in your revision, your anxiety will be much less.


  1. Asking Questions

Don’t be ashamed to ask questions! If there is something about your exam or your revision that you don’t understand or are unsure about, ask your teachers! Don’t struggle in silence. Asking those questions that are weighing on you can help to ease that anxiety you might be feeling and help you to refocus


  1. Incorporate 'you' time into study

If you unwind by playing video games, listening to music or watching reality tv, you shouldn’t give that up during exam season. It’s so important to build downtime into your revision and studies and let yourself unwind. Research has shown that downtime actually aids revision. Performance Learning claim “You’ll tire yourself out very quickly, become stressed and reduce your overall performance. When it comes to revision, you have to remember that you’re in it for the long game so, it’s not a sprint – it’s a marathon.”


  1. Talking to others

 If you’re starting to feel the stress of exams, talk to those around you. Talk to your friends, family or staff at school. Everybody wants to support you to succeed, and your peers are all in the same boat! Perhaps organising a group revision day would work better for you and your friends! Remember: Exams are stressful, but you’re not on your own.


  1. Set realistic goals

When planning your revision, it’s easy to procrastinate, under revise, or even, over revise. None of these will help you to do your best in the summer. It’s important to set realistic goals for yourself. According to The Student Room, most students spend around three-to-four hours per day revising. Don’t panic if this sounds overwhelming! It’s just a guide, and every individual is different. Just remember to leave yourself plenty of time to cover all topics and all subjects. How you revise is more important than how much revision you do!


  1. Believe in yourself!

It’s the biggest bit of advice that can be given to you. Positive thoughts as opposed to negative can really influence the way your brain works. You’ve been working so hard and now you need to believe in yourself.


Try your best, that’s all anyone can ask of you. It might not be easy, but you’ve got this. Keep up the hard work!