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Prepping for exams – managing stress

Person writing in a book in front of a laptop.

Published: April 15, 2024

Written by Miriam Swanson, Real Child and Youth Director

Let’s face it, exams are not everyone’s cup of tea. Juggling so many demands on time, energy and brain space can be tough. As a psychologist, I know the impacts of stress can be a big factor on our performance.

Remember that the point of education is learning (isn’t it?). Exams are just one way that’s used to see what people have learnt. Below are some tips to help manage exam stress and get the best out of your study, so you can show off what you know.

Reframe the task

It’s easy to get focused on the exam itself, and ‘passing or failing’ (often with our own self-imposed definition of what those terms mean!). Reframing exams to focus on the process instead of the outcome can reduce anxiety and help us perform better. Try seeing exams as an opportunity to refresh and review what you have learnt over the year, deepening your understanding and showing off your knowledge.

Use effective study strategies

Not everyone learns the same way, but sometimes not knowing what to do, or where to start, means we can feel powerless and panic sets in. Efficient study strategies can significantly reduce stress; active study techniques like summarising or teaching someone else can really help.

Ask a teacher about what ‘how to study’ information and support your school has.

Take care of your health

Your physical wellbeing plays a crucial role in managing stress. Regular exercise releases endorphins that support your mood, while eating well and getting enough sleep enhances cognitive function and memory.

Manage your time – breaks and rewards

Putting off study doesn’t make the exam go away – it just makes the task feel even bigger, increasing stress. Make yourself a realistic study schedule with manageable chunks of work, taking regular breaks and giving yourself rewards to help maintain your concentration.

After 25 minutes of focused study, take a five-minute break and have the biscuit you’ve saved for when you get through that chunk of work, or turn up a song to top volume.

Take short breaks after study sessions to recharge and do activities you enjoy.

Seek support

You don’t have to manage alone. Reach out to friends, family, or teachers if you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, just talking about your stress can provide immense relief. If you find things becoming unmanageable, let people know so they can increase their support or help you find someone else that can help.

Not all stress is bad

In small doses, stress can actually help us achieve – it works as a ‘call to action’ to focus our attention on the task in front of us. Remember, worry or stress about exams can be your brain’s way of saying that you care about the result and focus is required.

Remember, your wellbeing is more important than any grade. While exams can seem overwhelming, they are the current thing, not the only thing. As the good Dr Seuss says:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

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