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Dealing with exam stress

Dealing with exam stressReduce the panic and become better at exams with these easy to follow tips.

Worrying about exams is quite normal. However, if you tend to worry so much that it begins to affect your confidence, it can cause you to do less well than you deserve. In this section we aim to help you prepare for important examinations like GCSEs or A-levels.

Staying healthy

Looking after yourself can help to reduce stress, as well as making exams and revision easier.

  • Sleep well: revising late can do more harm than good. Give yourself time to unwind before bed, and get a good nights sleep.
  • Get some exercise: this will reduce your stress levels, help you to focus and make it easier to get the sleep you need.
  • Eat healthily: avoid sugary snacks and drinks, and eat plenty of fresh veg and fruit. Getting a supply of healthy snacks can help.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or too much caffeine.

Keeping a balance

If you're worried about an exam, it's easy to feel like you need to spend more time revising to feel more confident. But it's important to get a good balance between working and looking after your wellbeing. To get the balance right:

  • Schedule time for things other than revision to make sure you're getting enough time off.
  • Let yourself take a short break when you feel stressed - you'll be more productive when you get back.
  • Try to talk to your friends about things other than exams: comparing how confident you are or how much revision you've done can provoke more worry. If you want to talk about your worries, it's best to talk to someone who isn't worrying themselves.

Preparing for exam day

  • Prepare a routine for exam day, so that you know where your equipment will be, when you need to leave to arrive on time and so on. This way, you'll know you're prepared on the day.
  • Work out how you will approach the exam: for example, how long you should spend on each question, and how much time you should spend reading through the paper at the start. This will help you to feel in control once the exam starts.
  • Make a plan for what to do after the exam. This should be something fun that will take your mind off it – it shouldn't be standing outside the exam room discussing how you think you did.
  • Give yourself time to do some light exercise before the exam.
  • Plan your revision carefully so you know you're prepared - but if you think you've left it too late, remember that you can't change the past, and focus on making the most of the time you have.

Dealing with panic during an exam

You might start panicking during an exam you're worried about, especially if it starts. You might experience:

  • Feeling dizzy, shaky or faint
  • Feeling sick
  • Rapid breathing
  • A dry mouth
  • Sweating a lot
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling hot or cold
These feelings can be very unpleasant, but they will pass with time. To deal with panic:
  • Give yourself time to let the panic pass. It's much better to take a few minutes to calm down than to try to press on with the exam while you're still panicking.
  • Remind yourself that what is happening is just a response to stress, that it won't harm you, and that it will go away soon.
  • Focus on your breathing: try to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, and breathe out for as long as you breathe in. 
  • Give yourself something to concentrate on other than the exam and the worry itself. For example, you could doodle on your note paper, or count backwards from 100.
  • Tell the invigilator if there is a problem, such as distracting noises, that is causing you to worry.
  • Remember, you're not trying to get rid of your panic, because it will go away on its own: you're just trying to make yourself more comfortable in the meantime.

Getting extra help

You don't have to cope with stress on your own:

  • Talking to someone you trust about your worries can be very helpful. You might worry about what they will think: if so, it could be easier to write them a message or show them some information online to begin with.
  • You can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 at any time of day to talk to a counsellor. They won't share what you tell them unless you ask them to, and you don't have to give your name. You can also contact them by email or through online chat.
  • You can also contact Anxiety UK on 08444 775 774 for confidential help and advice, or email Lines are open from 9.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.
  • If you're at university, there will normally be a counselling service and a confidential phone line that can help you. Look on your university or student union website for more information.

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