How to Tackle Exam Stress

By Lucy Winrow,
updated on Jul 21, 2021

How to Tackle Exam Stress

Don’t let your finals get you down! Here’s some smart advice to help students handle that extra end-of-term pressure

Exam stress affects most students at some point. Before a test, you might have difficulty sleeping, feel irritable or forgetful, or find it impossible to concentrate. It’s important to remember that stress is a natural response to something that worries you, and low levels can even make you more alert and motivated. But if stress levels get too high, this can affect your ability to prepare for exams, or perform as you would like to on the big day.

chairs in exam

Many students already feel under pressure due to increased living costs and high tuition fees. Psychologists have also identified a rising trend in perfectionism among young people, who feel increasingly evaluated by social media, or are worried by the competitive graduate job market. When exam season rolls around, it’s understandable that some students notice a spike in stress levels. However, the following tips can help you to stay positive and calm.

Get organised early

Minimising stress is about playing the long game, and the earlier that you can get organised, the better. Buy a calendar or whiteboard where you can plan your study schedule – visual aids can boost productivity, and having everything set out clearly will help you to feel in control. Assign topics and tasks to each day, and aim to study in one-hour chunks, for optimal concentration.

Getting through a difficult time is always easier with a bit of moral support, so why not join a study group to share ideas, questions, and knowledge in a more relaxed setting? If a group doesn’t exist, then start one! Ask around after a seminar, or post on social media to see who might be interested.

Look after yourself

Your lifestyle directly affects your health and wellbeing, and during stressful times it’s important to look after yourself. Eating regular, nutritious meals will help to give you the energy to power through revision, and there are plenty of websites offering delicious and cheap meal ideas. And don’t forget to stay hydrated – research suggests that drinking water can help alleviate anxiety, and even improve grades.

Exercise also reduces stress, causing your body to produce “feel good” endorphins. Just going for a walk is a great way to clear your mind and recharge.

Getting into a regular sleeping pattern will help you to feel your best. Schedule time for winding down before bed, and reduce your alcohol intake, as this can keep you awake. Of course, it’s still important to relax and see friends – why not check out the Student Minds #BestNightIn campaign for ideas of fun things to do.

books in library

Use university services

Many universities recognise the impact of exam stress and offer a range of dedicated activities and services. The University of Leeds has the Space to Relax initiative; a space where students can revise with mood lighting, free refreshments, and a member of staff on hand. The University of Bolton brings therapy dogs to campus to help students relax, and Aberystwyth University provides a range of free physical activities to help students de-stress. Ask your university what it has to offer, and check its social media pages for updates.

Speak to someone

If you begin to struggle, don’t keep these feelings to yourself. The sooner you speak to someone the less chance there is of the problem escalating. Talk to a friend, flatmate or family member, or join an online forum and speak to other students.

Depending on how you feel, you may wish to speak to your university’s mental health and wellbeing service. If you need help accessing this, ask your tutor, a lecturer, or head to the university website.

You can also phone Nightline – a confidential overnight student-run listening service; join Mind’s online community Elefriends; or visit the Student Minds website for advice and a list of cheap or free counselling services.

person taking exam

Have a post-exam plan

Unfortunately, exam stress doesn’t always end when the exams are over. Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, wait until you get your results before expending too much energy on worrying about the outcome. And if things don’t go to plan, use it as an opportunity to reflect on what you can do differently. In the meantime, as a distraction, why not throw yourself into a volunteering scheme or part-time job?

It’s also good to plan a post-exams treat. Not only will this give you something nice to focus on as you battle the books, it will also be a just reward for all your hard work.

Lucy Winrow works on the ProtectED project – the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing at UK universities. Twitter: @ProtectED_HEI

Looking for support with exam nerves? Connect with a hypnotherapist using hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk

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