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Tips for managing exam stress

By Paula Moran

“I’m going to forget everything on the day of the exam!” “I’m going to fail” “All my friends have done more than me” “If I don’t get an A* it will be a disaster”

Any of these thoughts familiar?

Your thinking will directly impact on how well you revise. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to revise effectively if you are anxious and stressed because of the thoughts that are racing through your head. Take a step back and if you do not have evidence to back up your thinking then adjust your thinking to something more balanced. This will enable you to feel calmer and more rational e.g.

“In my mocks I remembered what I had revised” “I passed my mocks and did well in the ones I worked hard for” “I do not know how much my friends have revised and everyone has a different approach to revision” “I am going to do my best and will concentrate on revising now”

Other practical ways to manage stress are,

Exercise every day, this can be dancing to your favourite music, walking the dog or going for your training session, just something you enjoy and that is time away from studying. Exercise will give you more energy so do not view it as wasting time. Try to build in two 30 minute sessions a day.

Support from friends and family. It’s good to let others help in a practical way,this can be your brother/sister asking you questions or talking to someone if you are worried. If you find you are worrying constantly and this is maybe affecting your sleep, appetite or mood it is very important to talk to someone who will be able to provide you with support or advice.

Relax. Take some time out in the run up to exams, plan to watch your favourite programme but then go back to studying. This could be an evening off once a week in the weeks before the exams start.

Healthy diet. Eat and drink healthily – watch your sugar and caffeine intake as too much may have some of the same effects as being anxious.

Sleep. Get enough but not too much sleep!

Study space. Find somewhere that you find it easy to work in, this could be your room, the local library, the kitchen, somewhere you work well. Vary the location if this helps keep you motivated


Strictly limit your time on facebook, using it as a way to relax rather than letting it distract you.

Keep your mobile phone away from where you are studying and on ‘slient’. Some people work better with music but just make sure it is helping rather than hindering your revision.

Do not talk to friends about exams if this unsettles you but do if it helps to motivate you.

Allocate your time across all your subjects, do not avoid the subjects you find more difficult.

Do not put off studying by doing other tasks such as organising or rewriting notes; just get stuck into what you need to know and test yourself.

If you are studying but not taking the information in, take a break and then either try or again or move to a different subject.

If you find it hard to get started do something small e.g. a couple of short questions from a past paper, once you get started you will find it easier to keep going.

A general revision plan

Put your efforts into focusing on the task at hand. You will have your exam timetable which will help you create a realistic plan. Know the format of the different exams: will you be writing essay type questions or short answers? This will help you decide how best to test yourself as you are revising. If you do your best revision the night before this will not work if you have a week of maybe more than one exam a day, so use all your time well in these few weeks before the exams start. Remember this exam period is only going to last for about 8 weeks and then you will have your summer to do what you want. As you want to do the very best you can in your exams, every day counts.. If you finish school a few weeks before your exams, create a daily plan that has a similar time routine to what you are used to.

Typical day

8.00am breakfast/shower/get dressed

8.30am get your study space ready and all you need for the morning.

9-10.30 Learn a topic e.g. Topic one for Biology (create flash cards, spider diagrams or lists with key points)

10.30 -11 Test yourself on that topic

11.-11.30 Short walk, snack

11.30-1pm past paper for maths

1-2pm Break and lunch

2-3.30pm Biology topic two (as above)

3.30-4pm Test yourself or get someone to ask you questions

4.- 6pm break/tea/watch TV

6-7.30pm Go through notes for another subject covering a key topic

7.30-8pm Break

8-9pm Test yourself on what you have just covered

9-9.30 tick off what you have covered today and look over plan for next day

9.30 – 10 relax

10.30 Bed and sleep,

If you find your concentration is better in the morning tackle the subjects you find most difficult then and do tasks that are less strenuous when you are not as alert e.g. reading over notes. If you find you are getting tired take a proper break and do something you enjoy e.g. going to the cinema.

Keep track of how long it takes you to learn a topic and keep track of how many topics you have covered and what you still need to do. One way of doing this is to rate yourself out of 10 as to how ready you are to do the exam. If you are at 7 for one subject and 4 for another subject, spend time getting the subject you have given 4 to up to 7. Your aim is to have all subjects at 10 before you go into the exams.

On the day

Make sure you have everything you need for the exam. When you go in read over the instructions carefully and re-read. Allocate your time so that you cover all the questions do not be tempted to spend more on the answers you know more about as you will lose marks on questions you haven’t attempted. If you find it hard to get started or feel you are getting panicky just start to write something on your notes page to get your focus back on the exam paper. If you have lost marks for silly mistakes in the past give yourself time to check over your answers and read each question carefully, underlining key words to keep you focused. If a question is worded differently than you expected take your time to think of how you can apply what you know..

When you come out, tick off the exam you have finished and move on to the next subject do not waste time analysing what you could have done differently.

Paula Moran is a Learning Development Officer, Queen’s University Belfast

Belfast Telegraph

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