Exam Stress

Exam Stress and Fear

Everyone gets anxious during exams, some more than others. On this page you will find tips on how to beat the stress of exams and overcome the fear of exams

First, believe in yourself. You wouldn’t have been given a place in the school / course if you didn’t have the ability to do it. Therefore, if you prepare for the exams properly you should do fine, meaning that there is no need to worry excessively.

Don’t try to be perfect. It’s great to succeed and reach for the stars. But keep things in balance. If you think that “anything less than winning means I’ve failed” then you are creating mountains of unnecessary stress for yourself. Aim to do your best but recognize that none of us can be perfect all of the time.

Take steps to overcome problems. If you find you don’t understand some of your course material, getting stressed out won’t help. Instead, take action to address the problem directly by meeting your teacher or getting help from your classmates.

Don’t keep things bottled up. Confiding in someone you trust and who will be supportive is a great way of alleviating stress and worry. Remember, your parents are your best friends. They are the ones who will be with you and support you through thick or thin. But, if for some reason you cannot confide in your parents, find someone in whom you can, preferably an elder like a brother or sister, a cousin, an aunt or uncle, grandparents, or failing even this, a friend.

Keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now, but in the grander scheme of your whole life they are only a small part.

Don’t drink too much coffee, tea and fizzy drinks; the caffeine will ‘hype’ you and make your thinking less clear. Eat healthily and regularly; your brain will benefit from the nutrients.

Regular moderate exercise will boost your energy, clear your mind and reduce any feelings of stress.

Try out some yoga, tai chi or relaxation techniques. They will help to keep you feeling calm and balanced, improve your concentration levels and help you to sleep better.

It is especially important to take care of yourself during periods of high stress. Here are some tips for keeping yourself healthy:

  • eat balanced, regular meals;

  • try to get at least six hours of sleep a night, and

  • try to make time for exercise.

Eating balanced meals gives your body the stored energy it needs to draw upon in a stressful situation.

Some foods are simply more calming than others. Milk, for example, contains naturally occurring morphine-like substances, which help to calm you down. Mashed potato is a well-known “comfort food”, and so are bread and beans. Lettuces, and other raw vegetables, are also helpful when you’re trying to use your diet to help to keep your calm.

Some foods, on the other hand, just help to wind you up.

Exercise is a good way to work out your frustrations and gain a new perspective.

There are lots of ways that you can make your stress much worse than it needs to be, and at exam time, you need to make sure that you avoid them as much as possible.

Now let us look at foods that can make your stress worse mentally. Foods high in sugar and caffeine may provide a temporary lift, but will bring you down lower in the end. Sugar is the main culprit here. It may give an instant “energy hit”, but that’s at the cost of making you even more tense than you were before. In fact, just about any very sweet foods are going to increase your overall stress level if you eat them a lot. Try to stay away from using foods high in sugar and caffeine as study aids for prolonged periods of time. Chocolate, interestingly enough seems to be an exception. There is lots of speculation why, and one possibility is that the calming effect of the theobromine in the chocolate cancels out the effect of the sugar. Whatever the reason, if you absolutely must eat sweet things during your exam time, then try to keep to chocolate rather than directly sugary ones. Honey doesn’t seem to be too bad, either, as far as we know.

Caffeine is a very powerful drug, which acts directly on the central nervous system and heightens emotional arousal. But you’ve got enough emotional arousal just from worrying about the exams in any case, so it’s an extremely bad idea to fill your system up with a drug, which will exaggerate that! Try to drink less coffee in the period before and during exams – drink milk instead, if you can (see above), or tea at the very least.

Not eating, or fasting, stimulates a particularly active state in the body. It’s an old evolutionary survival mechanism, which has the purpose of encouraging you to go out and seek food, actively. In the process, though, you become more agitated, and less able to concentrate on other things. So it’s absolutely vital to eat regularly during exam times.


When you’re under stress, it’s hard to concentrate. You’re likely to get distracted by worrying thoughts which pop into your head and distract you – thoughts like “I’ll never learn all this”, and “Won’t it be awful if I fail?” All of which can be terribly distracting. One of the best ways of dealing with these thoughts is by keeping yourself so busy that they don’t have time to arrive. And that means revising in a sensible and intelligent way.

If you have ever tried yoga or meditation, you’ll know that it’s possible to confine your awareness to a much more narrow focus then you normally use. Use the same exercises to screen out awareness of everything but the problem that you are working on. Although it can sometimes be tiring, really deep concentration, with all of the distractions screened out, can also be tremendously refreshing.

The absolutely worst way of revising is the “staring -at- your- notes- and- trying -to-burn-them-into-your-brain” method – for lots of reasons, but in this context because it leaves your mind far too free for those distracting thoughts to pop up. It’s much better to revise actively – summarising your notes, converting the information into flow-charts and diagrams, engaging in revision quizzes with your friends, and so on. By doing that, your mind will be too busy for these thoughts to come up. There are good mental reasons for doing this too – it helps you to learn better – but they’re for the Revision Page.

It’s hard to concentrate fully on something that you find boring. But nothing really needs to be boring – not if you explore all of its implications. Try discussing the topic with other people – friends, parents, teachers – to find out why it matters. If you listen to what they say with an open mind, you’ll probably get some unusual insights, which will help you to focus on your revision with more interest. Of course, it does need an open mind – if you’ve already decided that the topic is simply dull, then nobody will be able to change your mind for you.

The most effective tools in waging your battle against short-term or exam stress are knowing and accepting your limits, and trying to keep everything in the proper perspective – your life will not be worthless if you don’t get every question right on the exam.

When you are studying or writing a paper, don�t be afraid to take a break. Go see a movie at Images or the local cinema, listen to your favorite music, go for a walk, call up an old friend, make a trip to the snack bar, write a letter venting all your frustrations and then rip it up, let out a primal scream, or talk to a trained professional. Take a break and give your brain a rest. Even if the break is only five minutes of daydreaming, do it. Studying with no breaks for long periods of time is not as productive as studying with small breaks every hour or two.

Leave plenty of time to revise so that you don’t get into a situation of having to do last minute cramming. This approach will help to boost your confidence and reduce any pre-exam stress as you know you have prepared well.

Develop a timetable so that you can track and monitor your progress. Make sure you allow time for fun and relaxation so that you avoid burning out.

As soon as you notice your mind is losing concentration, take a short break. You will then come back to your revision refreshed.

Experiment with several alternative revision techniques so that revision is more fun and your motivation to study is high.

There hasn’t been anything like enough research done on the question, but there has been some suggestion that highly synthetic chemicals – can contribute to stress and depression. It’s probably better to avoid those too when you’re under particularly high pressure – stick to “natural” foods as much as you can.