Everyone can be affected by exam stress. This can be exacerbated by comparing yourself to others on social media and feeling you are not doing enough. A recent survey of university students found that 64% reported their studies negatively impacted their wellbeing. Meanwhile, headteachers report that stress and anxiety levels among exam students are higher than exam seasons before the pandemic. If you are sitting exams this year, here are some things you can do to try and manage the stress.
1. Look after yourself
It can be easy for the basics of getting enough sleep and eating well to go out the window. However, with poor sleep affecting cognitive ability and reducing memory storage, trading sleeping hours for studying is actually counterproductive. If you find it hard to stop, it can help to set an alarm as a cut-off time for studying. There are some tips in my blog here if you are struggling to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Planning ahead with food, stocking up on snacks and easy meals can also help make sure you keep you are fuelling your body for the work you are putting it through.
2. Break things into chunks
It can be overwhelming to look at a whole syllabus and everything you need to revise for an exam. Breaking this down into chunks can feel a lot more manageable. You can then focus on what is reasonable for you in one day without having to hold everything else you need to do over the next few weeks or months in your head. It can also help with motivation to feel a sense of achievement as you tick off a chunk.
3. Plan in breaks
Studying non-stop is exhausting. For most people, as time goes on we are actually less productive and lose concentration. The way our brains work, when we take a break, our brain continues to work on consolidating that information. Everyone is different so you may find a 5 minute break every hour works for you, or you may prefer to do a 3 hour stint and then have an hour off. If you find it hard to remember to take breaks, it can help to set timers. It can also help to physically leave your study environment on a break, get outside and move around.
4. Ask for help
Whilst no-one can sit your exams for you, lots of people can help you prepare. You may find having a study buddy or group helps keep you motivated. If you are unsure about how to structure answers or revision techniques, there are lots of staff who can provide support. This includes teachers, tutors, library staff and student support advisors. UCAS also has a range of study skills guides available here. If you are entitled to any access arrangements, make sure you have found out in advance exactly what support will be available. As well as support academically, you can ask for help in ensuring you look after yourself – for example getting family to prepare meals or send a food package.
5. Remember there is more to life than exam results
It can feel like not getting the results you want is the end of the world. You may be thinking if you don’t get a certain result you won’t be able to do what you want to do in the future. However there are always options. Depending on what exams you are sitting this could be retaking or going through clearing, for example. There is nothing wrong with working hard and trying your best. However, it can help to recognise that even if you don’t get the results you are hoping for, you still have many skills and qualities. Exam results don’t define who you are as a person.
Many of us find exams stressful, but there are steps you can take to make this stress more manageable and there are lots of people who can support you. If you are struggling to manage your exam stress and would like to find out more about how counselling can help, please get in touch: