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Dealing with exam stress

So, exams… Yes they’re stressful. Yes you HAVE to do them. Yes they’re important. It doesn’t matter if they are your GCSEs, A levels, mocks or any other kind of exam, you’re going to be stressed. It could be a little bit or a lot, it all depends on the person. Personally I wasn’t very stressed during my GCSEs and I’m not stressed out about my A level exams, but I don’t stress about things that much. That’s just who I am. In my opinion, there is no point in getting stressed because it’s probably not going to help you in any way (unless you’re one of those people who does well under stress).


If you are stressed it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you, it just means that you’re being stressed out by something that everybody acts is life or death. The fact is, if you fail your exams or don’t do as well in them as you hoped then you’re not going to suddenly keel over as you read the results. That said, exams are important. If you don’t do as well as you want to in your exams you may not be able to do all of the things that you want to do. This isn’t always the case but it might happen. But they are an unavoidable part of life so you may as well continue reading and find out how to deal with this stress so that you can achieve the best possible grades.

This post will deal with the stress before exams. If you’ve already sorted this out or if you’re looking for how to deal with it during the exam (or exams) then have a look at next week’s post.

Step 1: Self Care

Taking care of yourself is one of the easiest and - most important - ways of dealing with stress. You need to take care of yourself to be able to do well. We’ll get to the revision stuff later. There are a range of activities that you can take part in that all take different amounts of time depending on what your schedule is:

If you have five minutes…

You could try some grounding activities. These are small activities that you can do in five minutes that help to take your mind of the exams. These should be things that aren’t related to the work you’re trying to do. You could count the number of red things in the room (other colours work as well), go and fetch a snack or go to the toilet, take a piece of paper and doodle a bit, anything really as long as it takes around 5 minutes and will take your mind of the work you’re doing.

If you have fifteen minutes…

Try to find something that makes you smile. This could be your favourite song, a YouTube video or something else that you enjoy. If you’re creative then you could try something like drawing, painting or colouring (no luck there for me), or you could try and learn a skill like dancing or singing.

You could use these fifteen minutes to take a longer break, just make sure that you enjoy the break. There’s no use in you spending 15 minutes away from your work if you just think about how much it’s stressing you out, which makes you stress out, which makes you dread doing the work, which then stresses you out, which makes you think that you’re going to fail, which stresses you out, which makes you think… You get the point. At that point you’ve wasted 15 minutes which could have been used relaxing or working.

If you have an hour…

You could have a shower or bath (although I think an hour is a bit excessive so maybe spend 20 minutes in the shower/bath and the other 40 minutes doing your hair or something else that relaxes you).

You could go outdoors and go for a walk or sit in the garden (if the weather is good. Don’t go and sit in the rain for an hour. The last thing that you need is a cold. Trust me - been there, done that one and I have the t-shirt to prove it).

Connect with others. This could be spending an hour with your family or it could be a trip out with your friends. You can support each other. You don’t want to feel isolated as well as stressed out.

Step 2: Planning

The first step in your planning should be to draw up a revision timetable, this can be with times for every subject over the course of a week or it could be with general revision times in which you revise what you feel is the most important. Whichever way you think will be the best one for you (you could even try both and see which you prefer). Just don’t forget to allocate time to rest and relax.

Once that is sorted you can try to find out which way of revising is the most effective for you. There is no point in you revising if it’s not sinking in. The best way of finding this out is experimenting, this probably wastes a little bit of time but it’s better than wasting all of your time with something that isn’t working. Different ways of revising include revision cards, mind maps, bullet points and practice questions (although there are other ways). Personally I found past papers the best way of revising as not only are you revising the content, you’re also learning the way that the examiners ask the questions. They ask them in a way that tries to trip you up - that’s the point, they’re supposed to be challenging. After the exam finishes, you will probably think back on the questions and kick yourself as you finally work out what it was they were actually asking. Don’t worry about it. It’s not like you can change your answer now. Just remember it for next time.

Once you know how you’re going to revise you should go through your work and identify the key revision subjects. But make sure that you aren’t sitting there reading for long periods of time. That becomes boring and then you start to become easily distracted. Take breaks!

If you’re using past papers to revise you could go through them and see if there are any similar questions, you could then plan some answers for questions on that topic. For example, when I was revising for my Chemistry exam one of the questions that was ALWAYS asked was a 6 mark question on the Haber Process. If you have an answer ready for that then it’s an easy 6 marks.

The most important thing is to ASK QUESTIONS. If you don’t understand something or feel like you would benefit from your teacher explaining something to you, then ASK them. It won’t hurt you and it’s only going to help you. You do not want to be revising the wrong thing for six weeks just because you didn’t ask enough questions.

Step 3: Energy

Energy is one of the most important things while revising. You need to be alert so that you learn things and you need to sleep enough to be able to remember them. Researchers have found that your brain goes through the same cycles while sleeping as it does in the day while you are awake. This suggests that while you sleep your brain is going over the day and committing it to memory. If you aren’t sleeping or are sleeping poorly due to stress then it means that you aren’t going to remember what you’re revising. If you’re sleeping poorly then try doing some research to see how you can improve the quality of your sleep. I find that reading for two hours before sleep helps me.

You should revise when you feel alert. If you’re half asleep then you aren’t going to remember anything. DO NOT drink energy drinks, they may wake you up but they make your sugar levels spike and then drop rapidly which makes it harder to concentrate.

Think about how, when and where you revise the best. We’ve already identified how and when so now it’s time for where. Do you need a quiet room or is it too much like the exam hall for you? Make sure that the location isn’t too hot or cold and as much as you may dislike what I’m about to say, it’s true. Don’t listen to music while revising! You may think that it helps but it does not, if the music has lyrics then it provides a distraction for you. The best music for revising is music without lyrics but even then it can still be distracting.

Talk to your family about how they can make revising easier for you. They may be willing to bring you snacks, or be extra quiet around the house. It depends how nicely you ask them. They can make studying easier for you though.

Ensure that you wind down after revision. You don’t want to be lying in bed thinking about it while trying to sleep, you could read a book, play a game or do something else that you enjoy and relaxes you. Also ensure that you take breaks, studying for 24 hours each day will exhaust you (the same is true for 12 hours each day) and you don’t want to be exhausted before the exam.

Don’t forget to eat regularly. Your brain needs energy. Try to keep a balance of good quality food and stay hydrated to make sure that you can maintain your concentration (just make sure that the things that you’re drinking are healthy).

Step 4: The most important step of all

DO NOT compare yourself to other people. You are not them. You will never be them. You should focus on yourself and how well you can do. Focus on being yourself and revising how you see fit. This applies outside of the exam period as well. Everybody has different study patterns and energy levels. You are you and nobody else. Don’t try and be somebody or something that you are not.

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