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Coping with exam stress

School pupils sitting at their desks

When you’re facing exams, it’s normal to feel stressed and worried. The pressure to do well can be overwhelming.

You may feel low or angry, and it may start to affect your sleeping or eating habits. It can be a struggle maintaining the relationships in your life or the interests that you have too. It’s okay to feel this way – lots of people do.

We’ve put together some ideas that you can try to help to cope with exam stress and take care of your wellbeing

Practical Tips for Before, During, and After Exams

Before Exams:

  • Make a Study Plan: Break your study time into smaller chunks so it’s not too overwhelming. Think about what works for you instead of trying to make something that’s “perfect”. Perfection is the enemy of good enough – a to-do list that’s too long or trying to cram too many subjects in a day when you just don’t have the time or energy is more likely to stop you from trying to do what you can.
  • Take Breaks: Don’t forget to give your brain a rest. Short breaks can help you focus better. Your timetable should allow for plenty of breaks. Sometimes, if you are tired, especially after a long school day, there is no shame and taking a nap.

During Exams:

  • Stay Calm: If you feel nervous, take slow breaths to calm down. Find a breathing exercise or a grounding technique that works for you. An example is the square breathing method and the 5-4-3-2-1 method. It can be important when you are in the exam hall too, when you feel the panic coming on, to remind yourself to take a minute and that you can take it a question at a time.
  • Manage Time: Divide your time wisely between questions so you have enough time for everything. Your teachers should probably have suggestions around how much time you should be spending on different sections or on each question. If you are struggling, a good strategy can be to skip ahead and work on the questions that you are able to answer.

After Exams:

  • Be Kind to Yourself: Coming out of an exam hall can be as nerve-wracking as going into one. Remember that no matter how you did, you have done all you can in the moment and don’t be hard on yourself. If you are worried about how you did it could affect your next paper, don’t discuss or compare your exam answers with your friends.
  • Relax: Do things you enjoy after exams to unwind and recharge. Whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or spending time with friends, give yourself a much-needed mental break.

Taking Care of Yourself

It’s important to make self-care a priority, especially when you’re struggling. Here are some things you can do:

  • Sleep Well: Just as you prioritise your studies, prioritise your sleep (it is just as, if not more important). Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep helps your brain work better. You can find more tips around better sleep here.
  • Eat Well: Having consistent mealtimes with nutritious food fuels your brain and body and can help with boosting concentration, easing stress, and keeping you energised. Don’t forget that hydration is key as well and make sure to drink plenty of water. Find out more about food and mood.
  • Stay Active: Moving your body can help to lift your mood and release some of the stress. Whether it’s a team sport, yoga, taking a walk alone or dancing, find a physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Do Things You Love: When stress gets in the way, the things that we love can get put to the side. Investing time for yourself in doing the things that bring us joy or relaxation can bring balance and help us centre ourselves in tough times. Drawing, writing, playing a musical instrument, or any other creative outlet can serve as a productive way to channel your emotions.
  • Practise Self-Compassion: It can be difficult to be kind to ourselves when we are struggling. We can do this by remembering that we are not alone and speaking to ourselves as we would our friends. It’s also important to be accepting of our limitations and forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. Read more about self-compassion.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Exams are a part of your journey, but they don’t decide everything. There are lots of messages from our families, schools or society that serve to remind us results can make a difference in the paths we take but the weight put on them can be crushing. The truth is they do not define your entire identity or future.


  • You’re More Than Grades: You have unique skills and talents beyond what’s on a test. There are many opportunities in life where your exam scores aren’t the deciding criteria, and your skills and talents, as well as personality and attitude will be what gets you where you want to go.
  • Think Long-Term: Consider what things you want in life that don’t involve exams. Whether that’s having strong relationships with the people you love, caring for others, building things, or making people laugh, there’s many ways to arrive at your long-term goals and aspirations.

When handling exam stress, the important things to remember are taking care of yourself, picking up practical tips that work for you, and remembering that you’re a person that is worthy and full of potential no matter what a test says. Remember that you are not alone in your experience, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends, family, or professionals. You’ve got this!

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