Coping With Exam Stress

Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do

Benjamin Spock

We all live with stress and students are no different than anyone else, as they too experience the stress and strains of living in today’s world. It is natural to feel anxious before an exam. In fact, a little anxiety can actually help performance. Anxiety and stress cause the body to release adrenaline which can be helpful when responding to challenging situations.


Equally, too much adrenalin can lead you to feel distressed and hinder performance. You need to be able to strike a balance between too little and too much anxiety.

What does exam stress feel like?

Symptoms of exam stress may include:

  • Losing touch with friends and the activities you enjoy.
  • Feeling moody, low or overwhelmed.
  • Having trouble making decisions.
  • Losing your appetite or overeating.
  • Lack of sleep or struggling to get out of bed.
  • Lack of motivation for studying.
  • Rigid muscles or headaches.
  • Sweaty hands or feeling butterflies in your stomach.
  • Racing heartbeat or feeling sick.
  • Restlessness, nail-biting or teeth grinding.
  • Feeling confused or blank during the tests.

These symptoms can interfere with how much you enjoy life, especially around exam times.

Why you experience exam stress?


Exam stress is normal and very common. You might experience it because:

  • you are worried about how well you will do in the exam.
  • you find it hard to understand what you’re studying.
  • you feel unprepared or haven’t had time to study.
  • you need to learn and recall a large amount of information for an exam.
  • you need a particular exam result to gain entry into another course or career path.
  • you feel pressure from your family to succeed.
  • you’re experiencing stress in another part of your life.

Now we know the reasons behind the anxiety but how to overcome it? The answer is- good study habits.


It’s never too late to set up good study habits.

Here are some ideas:

  • Find a quiet place to study without distractions. As I say “Find your Oasis
  • Set-up your study space. Make sure it’s not too cluttered and has everything you might need.
  • Find out as much as you can about the exam so you can prepare.
  • Find out exactly what the exam involves–are there past exam papers you can look at to help you understand what to expect?
  • Ask your teacher if you’re unsure of what to expect or what will be tested.
  • Create a ‘mind map’ or a ‘flowchart’, a diagram to help you visually organise information. Use it to collect ideas and summarise thoughts, and use bright colours to help remember important links.
  • Make a clear plan of what you want to cover in each study period. Break it down into small tasks and work on one task at a time, so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Take regular short breaks of about 5 minutes to have a drink or something to eat.
  • Ask a friend or your parents for help. Sometimes it may be useful to have someone hear you summarise points or to practise an oral presentation.

Now, this study plan is great but how to implement it practically? Lets’s see.

Practical ideas to help with the study

  • Go to bed at a reasonable time, eat regularly and make time to have fun and exercise.
  • Cut back on energy drinks or caffeine; drink water instead.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid junk food–you surely don’t want an upset stomach on exam day.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day – an unrealistic revision plan won’t help you and will put you under unnecessary stress.
  • Make sure you take regular breaks from studying. Your brain cannot concentrate for hours at a time.
  • Not everyone studies the same way: Some people prefer to read, others find it helpful to make notes or draw diagrams, while we prefer to talk things through. Do what works for you.
  • Focus on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. It can be really stressful when you think everyone is doing better than you. We’re all different and that’s ok.
  • Reward yourself when you achieve your study goals, such as watching an episode of your favourite TV show or going for a run.

So we have a plan for preparation and we’ve also implemented it practically. Now let’s discuss what should we do on D-day.


Here are some tips to help exam day go smoothly:

  • Work out what you need to take with you into your exam the night before and have everything ready–water, pens, pencils, comfortable clothing etc.
  • Eat a light and healthy breakfast–this will help with your energy and concentration.
  • Make sure you know where you are going and how you plan to get there.
  • Visit the restroom before your exam starts.
  • If you’re getting anxious just before your exam, focus on your breathing. Breathe-In and Breathe-Out. Repeat this steadily for a few minutes.
  • On exam day, stay away from people who may be feeling anxious or make unhelpful comments that may increase your anxiety.
  • Read through the exam paper carefully. Underline keywords and instructions to ensure you’re answering what is being asked.

We all feel over the moon when we get the desired results but sometimes we fail. Failure is also a major part of life and the most important thing is, how we handle that gracefully.

Dealing with disappointing exam results

  • If you don’t get the grades you want, it can be devastating. But it really isn’t the end of the world and it happens to lots of people, for all sorts of reasons.
  • Life doesn’t always go to plan but stays calm, you are going to be ok. There are still loads of options available to you. You just have to accept your weakness and work on it.
  • Don’t panic, take a moment to breathe.
  • Speak to people who will help you stay calm and who you can talk to about how you’re feeling.
  • Explore your options properly.
  • Remember you don’t need to make any snap decisions in the heat of the moment. Just “Go Easy” on yourself.


It is just one examination of a small chunk of the knowledge you have learned over some time, try to positively use that pressure. Generate some confidence, and let that pressure hone your senses. Let it make you stronger. In adversity, remember to keep an even mind. As they say:

Nothing worth having comes easy.



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