How to deal with exam stress 06/06/2023

Exams. The mere mention of the word can send a wave of stress through the hearts of students everywhere. As a student, you’re probably all too familiar with the pressure, anxiety, and sleepless nights that often accompany the exam season.

In this age of academic competition and high expectations, it’s no wonder that exams can evoke a range of emotions, from butterflies in the stomach to full-blown panic. However, it’s essential to remember that stress doesn’t have to dominate your exam experience.

But here’s the good news: you’re not alone. Every student has some sort of exam stress. But it’s important to learn how to recognise it, and the best ways to manage revising and your mental health during this time. In this blog, we’ll look at ways to recognise stress, how’s best to manage it, and resources you can use to help.

Exam stress in teenagers

Exam stress for 16-18 year-olds can lead to emotional and psychological problems, stemming from the pressure to pass GCSE and A-Level exams with high grades. These exams are often seen as a significant milestone that can influence future educational and career prospects, carrying a lot of weight for such young people.

During this stage of adolescence, 16-18 year-olds are faced with a unique set of challenges that contribute to exam-related stress, including:

  • High expectations – Students may face high expectations from themselves, their families, teachers, and even society. The desire to achieve top grades and secure a place in further education or specific career paths can create immense pressure.
  • Academic pressure – The volume of content to be covered for multiple subjects can be overwhelming. The need to excel in various subjects, meet grade requirements, and perform well across different exam formats (written papers, practical assessments, etc.) can add to the stress load.
  • Time constraints – The limited time available to revise and prepare for exams can lead to a sense of urgency and stress. Balancing exam preparation with other responsibilities like schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and social obligations can create a time management challenge.
  • Uncertainty about the future – The outcome of GCSE exams can significantly impact future educational pathways, career choices, and college or university admissions. The fear of failure or the pressure to make the “right” decisions can intensify stress levels.
  • Comparison and peer pressure – Social comparisons and the desire to measure up to peers can contribute to exam-related stress. Students may feel pressure to perform at a similar level or compete with their classmates, further fuelling anxiety and self-doubt.
  • Lack of control – Feeling a lack of control over exam outcomes and external factors, such as the difficulty of exam questions or unforeseen circumstances, can contribute to stress. The fear of the unknown and the inability to predict every aspect of the exam process can add to the sense of anxiety.

Recognising stress during exam season

It’s important to start to recognise when you are getting stressed. Once you acknowledge it, you can then find ways to combat it. Signs include:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood, and social interactions
  • Increased irritability or restlessness
  • Withdrawal from social activities or decreased interest in hobbies
  • Heightened anxiety and worries about exams
  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite or weight fluctuations
  • Self-criticism, self-doubt, or perfectionistic tendencies
  • Expressing feelings of being overwhelmed or feeling pressured
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or reduced motivation
  • Procrastination or avoidance of study-related tasks

On the day stress

Before the day of the exam, you can manage exam-day anxiety by getting enough sleep, eating a nourishing meal, and arriving early to avoid rushing. Use relaxation techniques before the exam, such as deep breathing or visualization exercises, to calm your nerves and boost confidence.

Remember that exams are important, but they don’t define your worth or future success. Embrace a balanced perspective, focusing on personal growth, learning, and improvement rather than solely on the outcome. Remind yourself of your strengths and past achievements.

How do I manage my stress?

By implementing management strategies, you can effectively manage exam stress and create a healthier approach to studying and test-taking. Remember, you may find different techniques more helpful than your friend, so experiment and find what works best for you.

Some ways to reduce your stress include:

  1. Establish a study schedule – Creating a well-structured study schedule helps manage time effectively, reduces last-minute cramming, and provides a sense of control. Break down study sessions into manageable chunks, and include regular breaks to rest and recharge, which can help with procrastination. Celebrate small accomplishments along the way to maintain a positive mindset.
  2. Practise effective study techniques – Experiment with various study techniques to find what works best for you. This may include active learning methods like summarising information, creating flashcards, teaching others, or participating in study groups.
  3. Take care of your physical health – Prioritise your physical well-being by getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, and staying hydrated. Regular exercise, even short walks or stretching breaks, can also boost your mood and reduce stress.
  4. Practise relaxation techniques – Incorporate relaxation techniques into your routine to reduce stress levels. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or yoga can calm your mind and body. Engaging in these practises regularly can help manage exam-related anxiety.
  5. Seek support – Reach out to friends, family, or teachers for support and guidance. Discussing your concerns can provide relief and offer different perspectives. If needed, consult with a school counsellor or seek professional help to address exam-related stress.
  6. Practise self-care – Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Make time for hobbies, exercise, reading, or spending time with loved ones. Taking breaks from studying and prioritising self-care activities can recharge your mind and reduce stress.

Exam stress is a common experience for teenagers, but it is essential to recognise its impact and take proactive steps to manage it effectively. By implementing strategies such as establishing a study schedule, practising effective study techniques, prioritising physical health, seeking support, and practising self-care, you can navigate the exam season with greater resilience and well-being. Remember, exams are a part of the educational journey, but they do not define your worth or future success. By maintaining a balanced perspective and taking care of yourself, you can overcome exam stress and approach exams with confidence and clarity.

For any parents who are concerned about exam season, by creating an open and supportive environment, helping them with time management, promoting self-care, providing perspective, and being a source of encouragement, you can guide them through the challenges of exam stress. Remember, exams are important, but your teenager’s mental health and overall growth are equally vital.

Revision resources

Here are some revision resources that can help with studying:

Khan Academy

BBC Bitesize



CPG Books

Resources for managing stress

Here are some resources for ways to manage stress:


Young Minds

NHS Every Mind Matters

Exam Stress tips from UCAS

Or email to speak to the safeguarding team.

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