Coping with exam stress

It is May, and that means it is the time of the year when many students, of all ages, are facing exam stress. But remember that a little bit of stress can actually help you perform better. So in this blog we talk about some tips to help you manage your anxiety and make sure that your exam stress is healthy…

Handling exam stress

Anxiety over exams is quite normal – ensure your exam stress is healthy though…


Feeling stressed is normal – often exams do not happen in isolation to the rest of life. We think we have a lot to lose if we don’t achieve good results, whether it’s family approval, the next step in a career, or moving on through education. Often exams trigger beliefs of low self as you think “I am not good enough” or “I am stupid”. You may well know you have not done enough work to pass.

Stress when controlled at the right level can lead to peak performance, so allow yourself to experience that beneficial elevated arousal response rather than a negative one. Feeling relaxed and chilled out is more likely to be an avoidant strategy or self denial.  Exams are about having the appropriate level of arousal to perform well.

Top Exam Stress Tips

  • Start revising in good time.
  • Remind yourself you can only to do your best.
  • Get Organised – pull the right information together; know your syllabus and what is expected of you. Bring all your notes up to date.
  • Make a timetable which is compatible with your exam timetable, no point revising Math when it’s Geography the next day.  In your timetable, divide each subject into separate topics; include R&R time, any other tasks that are required to be done.
  • Take and continue your sport and exercise, and if you don’t normally exercise it’s a good time to start simple walking – it’s a great way to regain the optimum level of stress for that peak performance. If you meditate or practise yoga, continue these activities – they are known to help controlling negative stress.
  • Find a good place for study if you can.
  • If you are struggling with a topic try teaching it to someone to see where your gaps in knowledge are. Endless notes are not that helpful if you do not understand it.
  • If concentration is your issue – try scheduling short periods of time with small breaks in between. Each short period is ideally focused with a clearly identified topic. Blocks of three hours at a time is usually less effective than period of an hour with short breaks.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks if you can. It is better to drink water or fruit juice and eat healthily, keeping sugars and fast carbs to a minimum.
  • Learning to breathe deeply and slowly is a simple and effective way to gain control of your physiology and this prevent the stress response getting hold. When we get stressed our breathing elevates as does our heart rate. This can lead to profuse sweating, clammy hands, and dizziness.
  • Studying with friends can be helpful if you are lacking motivation or struggling with some concepts and encouragement between students can be very helpful, so a balance of individual revision and some group revision may be helpful to you.
  • Ideally keeping good sleep habits is helpful however if you do not get your normal amount of sleep its useful to remember we can function reasonably well for short periods of time with less sleep and short naps.

Exam Techniques

  • Know what exam it is and when – nothing worse than turning up for French to find its History
  • Organise your necessary supplies for the exam ahead of time with any spares.
  • Last minute revision can work for some people some of the time, however it’s probably not a useful strategy for an extended exam period.
  • Ideally eat before the exam to keep your energy supplies available and combat anxiety feelings.
  • Remember to breathe slow deep breathes as you go into and sit through the exam; it will help to keep your mind clear and remain calm and focused.
  • Read the question and allow time to understand what is being asked of you before answering.
  • Ideally time your exam so you can read through and make any amendments to the questions answered.
  • When you have finished one exam focus on the next one, wasting valuable time trying to evaluate what you have just done is a job for the examiner, not you.


Are you struggling and find anxiety is beginning to get the upperhand?

If you or your child/partner is becoming increasingly anxious about their exams, you should be aware of the negative thoughts and behaviours that maintain anxiety as opposed to healthy exam stress.

  • With young people, exam stress may well be covering up underlying anxiety in relation to their peer group and the desire to “fit in” with their group of friends and their anxiety may be based on the fear of rejection or appearing “stupid”.
  • For many, the over exaggeration of the consequences of failure are the anxiety where a belief that “I must not fail, it would be the end of the world which would be unbearable and mean that I am stupid”
  • These kind of demanding beliefs lead us into anxiety and disturbance as our self talk becomes more and more critical.  It is important to challenge these negative beliefs and thoughts with more constructive ones based in reality.
  • Facing your fear by identifying them and if you think it is possible you won’t get the grade you want, explore ways to accept that possibility.
  • Check your thoughts of exaggeration, “Oh No, I’ll never get it all done” or “It’s impossible to do well now, everything is ruined”. Challenge these thoughts and bring them into reality.
  • Your personal worth is not based or conditional on your exam results. If we assumed it did though, then consider the worst case scenario and imagine how you could deal with that situation and you will begin to reduce your fear.
  • Avoid becoming overwhelmed by the task ahead by planning and splitting the topics into manageable chunks.

Finally keep things in perspective; nothing is the end of the world except the end of the world itself.

Good Luck and enjoy the challenge!

CCBT Newsletter

For news, insight and special offers from CCBT, please enter your email address


Download Prospectus and Application Form

Enter your details to download our prospectus and application form

  1. (required)
  2. (valid email required)
  3. Where Did You Find Us?

Click here to request prospectus and application form by post

Leave a Reply