Practical ways to tackle exam stress

 Material researched and written by Emily Farley

The mere mention of revison and exams can worry even the most organised person. So if you are feeling stressed or anxious about fast approaching exams, rest assured that you are not alone.

The trick is to employ a few simple strategies and techniques to prepare yourself and avoid feeling overwhelmed, for the challenging period ahead.


Although it can be tempting to try to avoid facing those situations that make us feel uncomfortable, the inevitable will occur whether we are prepared or not.

Whether choosing to watch a television programme or to play on facebook, many people at one time or another procrastinate to avoid the task that is –most likely - their priority and the cause for some fear or worry.

But procrastination is not the product of laziness or failure. Indeed, Clinical hypnotherapist Georgia Foster asserts that “Procrastination is [...a sign] of the perfectionist part feeling that it doesn’t think it will be able to achieve what it wants to achieve.” (The Stress Less Mind.) As a result, we avoid the issue, which commonly leads to self-criticism and feelings of fear, shame and an overwhelming lack of control.

However, taking assertive steps to gain control over this behaviour will empower you, boost your confidence and help you to feel more organised and in charge of the variables that you do have influence over; perhaps you can’t reorganise the exam date or delete it entirely, but you can ensure that you are fully prepared.

Pressure points 

Ensuring that you study enough for the relevant topics in time for your exam is one thing, but obsessive revision will prove counter-productive and may have an adverse affect on your physical, emotional and mental health as well as your relationships with others.

Preparation is important, but it is about striking the right balance to allow you to study, have time with friends and family and some quiet time for rest and rejuvenation. Recent studies showed that young females are at a high risk of anxiety induced by the pressure they feel to achieve high marks in examinations. 

A survey by Scout Association revealed that 90% of teenagers in UK (aged between 13-18) felt under pressure to achieve high grades at school and in examinations. Whilst some felt pressure from their parents, others cited competitive peers, society, the education system and the vulnerability of the current climate as additional causes of anxiety.

Notably, research by Associated Press revealed that young women are more likely to suffer from anxiety than males. It is thought that this is due to social factors, friendships and relationship traumas as well as exam stress. Researchers have also discovered a gene variant - more common amongst females- which produces fewer amounts of the protein that controls levels of serotonin in the brain. Therefore, it may be suggested that genetically, girls could be more prone to anxiety and stress disorders than boys. 

Whilst these studies depict the evidence of widespread anxiety amongst young people, especially surrounding exam periods, they do little to support the needs of the students. New Scientist Magazine recently reported that negative health warnings can exacerbate mental well being, and whilst you are up to your struggling to revise, the last thing that you need to worry you is that your exam stress will lead to anxiety.

This is where planning your time effectively and implementing techniques –for instance, breathing exercises to aid relaxation and to counter-act any anxiety- becomes invaluable for your preparation. 

Stress Less

• Organise and revise

The first step for successful exam preparation and peace of mind is to gain control. Establish when your exams are and how much time you have to complete the revision for each subject prior to that exam. Use a dairy or a calendar to chronologically map out your exams on paper or on your computer.

Now you can get to work on structuring a detailed revision timetable. Plan each day, on a weekly chart, factoring in time for several ten minute breaks and a reasonable lunch-break to keep you energised and efficient.

Prioritise the most important topics for each of your subjects and ensure that you have sufficient time, before the exam, to complete and revisit your revision several times. Plan your revision carefully according to your personal exam timetable and allow extra time just in case you need to go over something again.

It is also useful to keep your daily schedule balanced, with adequate study time and breaks as well as additional time for relaxation and a social activity. For example, your schedule for a Monday may look something like this;






Get up, dressed and eat breakfast.



Start  maths revision;




Long division

Take 10 minute break




Additional topics?



Start Biology revision;

Human body




12:30pm – Lunch break



Go for 20 minute walk.

1:30pm – Biology cont.



Digestive process and organs.



The brain

Take 10 minute break



Skin cells



Meet Jenny in the park for a walk with the dogs.



6:30pm - Dinner with Dad



Watch TV show or a film...






Read my book...

9:30pm - Bed time.


You can download your own revision timetable from the link below or why not draw up your own timetable of the weeks ahead before your exams.

For your revision, create large wall posters with key information that you need to remember or post cards with brief notes. Colour helps to stimulate the memory, so use highlighters or felt tip pens to differentiate between subjects and topics. You can also use coloured tabs to mark important text book pages.

Writing out notes will help your brain to absorb the information. However, long pages of notes will confuse you when you re-revise it, instead write concise colour co-ordinated and underlined notes with bullet points and stars to help you to recognise the topic and recall key facts.

If it helps you to draw out diagrams, charts or tables then do so. Try to keep your revision notes as clear and as succinct as possible so that when you return to the subject you can understand what you have written.

Remember that people do work better at differing times of the day. Some may be at their best for studying first thing in the morning, whilst others might find it easier to concentrate in the evening. Do not feel that you have to follow the example above precisely. Experiment with your timing and plan your schedule accordingly.

Perhaps you work well with others around you, and if so, you might wish to organise a homework or revision club with your friends and share a revision schedule. However, do be certain that all members are focused and committed to studying during the sessions. Consider how you would like to structure your revision schedule so it works best for you.

Click here for references for how to cope with exam stress

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