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Study Tips

Exam stress: 8 tips to cope with exam anxiety

Exam time is not easy, so you won't be alone in feeling a bit overwhelmed by revision from time to time. But remember, you've got this – and these stress-busting tips can hugely help.

strong woman and books

Credit: Dean Drobot (left), Rebecca Fondren Photo (right) - Shutterstock

Ah, that old familiar knot in your stomach that tells you exams are looming. While some people like to believe a bit of anxiety and pressure can be beneficial around exam time, science suggests otherwise.

When we're stressed, our brains release high levels of cortisol which can cloud the way we think and get in the way of rational thoughts. Because of this, it's important to stay as cool, calm and collected as you can during the exam period.

Yes, easier said than done.

Follow the practical steps below to relieve exam stress and the awful symptoms. The tips will also improve your productivity and increase your chances of absolutely smashing it in your exams.

Be sure to take care of yourself ahead of your exams and make time for self-care.

How to reduce exam stress

Here are the best ways to manage your stress levels and stay calm before and during your exams:

  1. Prioritise your time when revising

    Prioritising your time, subjects and workload can make a big difference and help to reduce your anxiety levels. You'll be able to ensure that the really important stuff is covered – and at the right time.

    Make a table with the dates of each exam and how many topics need to be covered for each. This will give you a clear idea of how much time you need to dedicate to each exam topic and when you need to start revising.

    As you progress through your revision, tick off the topics that you've completed. This will give you a small sense of achievement, knowing that you're making progress.

  2. Make a revision timetable

    This is pretty closely related to the tip above. But we can't emphasise enough how taking a bit of time to get yourself in order will help you reduce exam stress.

    To become more organised, it will help to make a revision schedule and write to-do lists each day. They'll make it easier to get everything done – and on time.

    Working out a daily routine and sticking to it is also good for the soul. It will help you feel a lot more in control of how your day pans out.

    Remember to factor in regular breaks. These will do you wonders. You could maybe try having a break for at least 10 minutes every hour and a half or so, if not more.

    For more ideas, check out our guide to the top productivity tips.

  3. Exercise and eat healthily

    fruit and vegetables

    Credit: Lilly Trott – Shutterstock

    Sometimes the idea of exercising during times of high stress feels like the last thing you want to do. However, you'll feel better afterwards.

    Exercise gets your blood flowing and your heart pumping. It's a proven stress-buster as it helps to produce endorphins. So, once you stop working out, you can feel a lot more alert than you had been earlier.

    Give yourself that push to go for a run or visit the gym. You could even just head out for a brisk walk if you fancy a lighter form of exercise.

    Eating the right foods during stressful times is also absolutely crucial for mental health and well-being. We have an entire list of the best foods to eat during exam time. Not only can these snacks reduce stress, but they can also increase brain power. Win-win.

  4. Take breaks from social media before exams

    Stepping away from social media while revising will do wonders for your stress levels.

    Try to avoid checking apps like Instagram and TikTok while revising. We all know how quickly time disappears when you're swiping through your social feeds.

    If you need a bit of help unchaining yourself from your phone, give the Hold app a go. Hold gives you rewards (such as Amazon vouchers, cinema tickets and free coffee) for simply avoiding the use of your phone.

    You get points every 20 minutes. This means you can break up your revision periods with some well-earned rests. They'll be well-needed, too. It's thought that revision is less effective if you study for any longer than about 90 minutes straight.

  5. Put your worries into perspective

    When it comes to dealing with exam stress, it's important to not give yourself such a hard time. We know this is easier said than done, but you're doing your best and that's the best you can do!

    Keep your eye on the bigger picture, and remember that one "meh" result isn't the end of the world.

    Putting yourself under a lot of pressure can have a negative effect. And as much of a cliché as this is, worrying really doesn't solve anything.

    Being kind to yourself during periods of high anxiety is likely to give you a bit more motivation to work harder. Take some time out from revision to pamper yourself and catch up with your nearest and dearest.

    If you fancy treating yourself (you deserve it!) have a look at our student deals page to see if there are any good discounts going so you can keep costs down.

    Looking for more tips and a bit of light relief? Listen to the Surviving Revision Hell episode of our podcast No More Beans.
  6. Cut out caffeine, alcohol and nicotine

    no smoking sign

    We know, cutting out coffee during exam time seems like an impossible task. How are you going to stay awake long enough to memorise that 300-page textbook without your good friend caffeine to get you through? Or cigarettes to help you relax afterwards?

    Well, caffeine is a stimulant and can increase your stress levels, and the same applies to nicotine. Avoid drinking more than one cup of coffee a day and think about stopping smoking. And remember, fewer cigarettes means more savings!

    If you can't cut them out completely, try to at least monitor your consumption. You could always try swapping coffee for herbal tea or water. This will keep your body hydrated and allow you to cope better with stress.

    This might sound obvious, but try to avoid alcohol during exam periods too.

    Alcohol can act as a depressant when consumed in large quantities and as a stimulant when consumed in smaller quantities – neither of which is helpful. Ultimately, alcohol can make stress harder to deal with (find out more on Drinkaware's website).

    So, instead of alcohol, you could try some cheap but tasty non-alcoholic drinks instead.

    Cutting out all of these substances will also improve your sleep which, now more than ever, will help you massively.

  7. Do mock exams at home

    One of the best ways to overcome exam stress is practice – and plenty of it. That's because one of the most common reasons for feeling stressed ahead of exams is not being sure what to expect on the day.

    Mock exams can help you prepare for what questions you're likely to be asked, and how best to approach answering them. Try to find examples of past exam questions to get an idea of what topics have previously come up.

    Or, if there aren't any past exam questions available, consider what essay/assignment titles have been set by lecturers throughout the year. Have a think about other questions that are similar to these.

    It's especially helpful to try tackling mock exam questions on topics you're less confident about. This way, you can prepare plans and practice answering them, in case they do come up in the exam.

    By practising how to approach answers on a range of topics, including your most and least favourite ones, you'll put yourself in a great position. It will help you show exam markers how much you know and ace even the hardest exam questions.

  8. Improve your exam time management

    It's common for students to worry about time management in exams. If you're concerned about running out of time and leaving questions unfinished, or rushing through questions and finishing the exam too early, practice, again, will help.

    When practising mock exam questions, be strict with yourself over timings. Make sure you don't run over the amount of time you're allowed in the exam.

    These practice exams will help you get more organised. While doing them, work out how long you should leave to plan answers, and how long you should spend on each section of your answer.

    If, at first, you struggle to finish your answers on time or you have too much time left over at the end, keep practising until you perfect the timings.

    It's worth asking your lecturer to take a look through your practice answers. This would really help to identify any areas you could improve on. Some teachers will be more willing to do this than others, but if you never ask, you'll never know.

    With all this practice, by the time you reach your exam, you'll be a pro with timings and have a great idea of what kinds of questions to expect on the day.

Now you know how to deal with exam stress, it's time to get back into study mode. And just in case you didn't believe us before, we hope you do now that you really have got this!

Left your revision to the last minute? We've got you covered with our guide to revising in a day.

Katie Paterson

WRITTEN BY Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson is an accomplished writer from Glasgow. She studied English Literature at the University of Strathclyde, then went on to do a Research Masters in Literature at the University of Amsterdam. As Lead Editor for Save the Student, Katie has covered topics from career tips to ways to make money go further as a student.
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