How to deal with exam stress

Psychologist and author of The Anxiety Journal, Corinne Sweet, shares her top tips to help you deal with exam stress.

Looking for ways to help you or someone you know deal with exam stress? Author of The Anxiety Journal Corinne Sweet shares her top tips for exam stress.

‘Oh no, the candles are out!’ My best friend and I used to panic the minute the horse chestnut ‘candles’ were out on the big leafy trees: we knew it meant exam season was here!  Aaaagh! May and June is the time of year when everything except revision suddenly seems so enticing.  There’s that boxset to binge, photos to file, even, dare I say, books to read, which are simply not on the syllabus. Then the exams are looming horribly near and you suddenly feel sick, even panic-stricken.  So what can you do to lessen the stress and get on top of your exam fever?


1. Get organised 

The more organised you are, ahead of time, the more in control you will feel.  Make a chart of the days and weeks running up and through your exams, and block out revision time.  Do it, even if you are panicking it’s too late, it’s not.  Use colours to make it easier to see. 


2. Get help

If there are subjects you are struggling with, don’t just put the files away or surf YouTube.  Ask a teacher, a friend, your parents, someone, to go over things with you…work out what you know, and what you don’t know.


3. Bite-size chunks

Organise your revision into bite-size chunks, using file cards, or other means, and go through your revision bit by bit.  It will gradually sink in – incremental learning works best;


4. Prioritise

If you’ve left everything to the last minute, prioritise what you really need to know and do this first, then add on bit by bit after that.


5. Eat regularly

We tend to overeat or undereat or constantly munch on sweets when we are revising – try and eat healthy snacks if you need to nibble, and drink water rather than fizzy sugary drinks. Watch coffee overload, as you’ll get the shakes.  Leave coffee for late-night revision, if you’re desperate.


6. Exercise

Run around the block, swim, skip, jump up and down, use your little sibling’s trampoline, dance wildly, do anything to burn off some stress (and fear) for ten minutes to get the blood racing.  Also, have a go at yoga or basic meditation to focus.


7. Reward Yourself

Giving yourself regular rewards for getting through a chunk of revision is important.  It might be playing your guitar or piano or walking the dog, or talking to a friend.  A short reward for some work done will keep you motivated.  Chocaholics could reward themselves with a chunk of your favourite yummy stuff.


8. Sleep

You might feel like sleeping late and staying up with the owls, but try to stick to school-time while revising at home.  Having a short nap for 15 to 20 minutes can work wonders when you feel tired.  Try not to work too late and make sure you take some time to relax to help you get to sleep. 


9. Talk to someone

If you are feeling you’ve left it too late, or need to talk to someone, then do just that.  Talk to your parent, a friend or a relative. 


10. Limit screens

Easy to say, hard to do, but try not to use screens for at least an hour before sleeping as this will keep you awake.  Try not to check your phone all the time through the night, either – turn it off.


11. Keep things in perspective

Exams are important, but they are not the end of the world.  You can always do them again or plan a different route.  Not everyone finds them easy.  


12. Breathe: and keep breathing.

If panic sets in, or you feel completely overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and bring your mind completely to the present.  Focus. On exam day, just stay with yourself.  Don’t watch everyone else scribbling away, or think ‘it’s alright for them’ or compare yourself.  


And remember, exams come to an end, just as the candles fall from the trees, as another exam cycle ends.

The Anxiety Journal

by Corinne Sweet

Many of us are probably feeling a little more anxious than usual right now. The Anxiety Journal encourages you to use CBT techniques and mindfulness exercises to better understand your anxiety and achieve peace and calm. Practical, supportive and uplifting, this is a self-help journal for anyone who struggles with anxiety, whether in the form of phobias, social anxiety, generalized anxiety (GAD) or day-to-day worrying.