How to cope with exam stress and anxiety

How to cope with exam stress

Exam season is looming and some of us may be feeling the pressures related to taking those exams and having to make decisions about our next steps.

You’re not alone.

It is normal to feel some stress in the lead up to important exams or tests and you may experience an increased heart rate, sweaty palms or butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes, this can all feel overwhelming. At Headsup, we’re here to help you cope with exam stress and anxiety.

Following these tips can help reduce the exam stress and prevent feelings of anxiety.

1. Study Time

It can’t be put off and starting early can help to reduce the panic that can come from last minute revision.

  • A purposeful study area – your bedroom may be your personal sanctuary, and your hang out space and sleeping quarters (obviously), so try to create an area in your home (or elsewhere) away from your bedroom that can be dedicated to studying.
  • Create a study schedule – and stick to it! – you should know when you are taking each exam, so plan when would be best to revise for each one and what you will needs to be studied in each session.
  • Split your revision into manageable chunks – it is best to study in small chunks of half an hour to hour with short breaks of 5-10 minutes in between. Try to take your break in another room. It also recommended that you study for a maximum of 3 hours a day, as our brains can only retain so much information! Use our Headsup printable timetable to help you organise your time. 👉TIMETABLE
  • Be realistic – when planning how much you’ll be studying in each session, don’t try to do too much. You’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment if you complete all you intended rather than half of an unmanageable amount.
  • Study when suits you, in a way that suits you – we all learn in different ways and we all study in different ways. So, if you prefer to write out facts from textbooks early in the morning, study like this. If you prefer to mind map in the afternoons, do it!

2. Be kind to yourself

  • Allow for downtime – just as it is important to study, it is also important for rest. You could listen to some music, read a book, have a bath.
  • Take physical breaks – physical exercise can have immediate effects on our brain and mental health. It can:
    • improve our cognitive performance (improving our memory and processing speed)
    • reduce feelings of anxiety
    • improve sleep

So, take opportunities to go for a run, play a sport or exercise class with a friend or on your own, walk in nature (which has its own stress relieving powers).

exercise can help you cope with exam stress
  • Don’t compare yourself to others – we’re all different with our own unique attributes. They’re what make you amazing.
  • Keep things in perspective – they may feel like the most important thing in the world right now, but they’re not. You are. If your exams do not go how you wanted, it is NOT the end of the world, and you will still have many options and opportunities.
  • Eat and sleep – eating the right things and sleeping for the right amount of time for you is vitally important to refresh and restore your brain’s functionality. Drink plenty of water throughout the day – this is so easily forgotten when you’re at home.
  • Plan things to do for when you finish your exams – planning a day out, holiday or relaxing time will help you keep things in perspective.
  • Talk to others – talking things through with loved ones and those close to you.
  • Teach yourself some breathing techniques to remain calm – if you can feel yourself panicking, teach yourself some mindful breathing techniques, such as breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 5 seconds. Strategies such as this can help you to refocus and can be used in the actual exam.
  • Write down your worries – in a similar vein to talking with others, some people prefer to write down their worries.

Headsup have many resources that you can download to manage feelings of anxiety and worry. Take a look at them 👉here.

3. Look out for your friends too!

It is easy, and understandable, to get caught up in your own emotions and worries at this time. But, if you can, check in on your friends too. Especially, the one who you haven’t heard from in a while or the one who is sounding particularly negative, they may be struggling more than they let on.

Talking with friends can help you cope with exam stress

Exam Anxiety

In some cases, you may feel that despite doing all of these things, the panic and anxiety becomes too much. If you are feeling a combination of the symptoms below, it is best to speak to a professional. Ideally, this will be your doctor, but in the first instance you can also talk to your parents/carers, teachers or support helplines.

Physical symptoms:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • excessive sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • light-headedness
  • feeling faint
  • panic attacks

Emotional symptoms:

  • feeling inadequate
  • helplessness
  • performance inhibiting difficulties (e.g. mind going blank or poor memory)
  • feeling of fear
  • anger

Cognitive/behavioural symptoms:

  • depreciating self-statements (e.g. I’m no good at anything))
  • avoidance (including avoiding revision or school)
  • procrastination
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty concentrating


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