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Coping with exam stress  

As a recent graduate from Oxford Brookes University, I have fond memories (not all of them amazing) of my time in education, from the first time I sat for my SATs paper to now recently completing my dissertation.  

Throughout these unique and challenging times, I would often find myself overwhelmed and anxious, as a prominent overthinker, regarding the outcome of these daunting exams. To help manage this, over the years I have been able to implement some simple yet effective practices that have personally been a huge help!  

This blog aims to share some of these approaches in hopes that it will similarly inspire some of our young talent and help them to discover ways that allows them to manage their stress levels to give them the best shot at their education!  

Spotting the signs: 

Sometimes, we may not be feeling our best which is why it is important to try and identify the causes. Exam stress is the emotional, physiological, and behavioural responses caused by an imminent test or exam.  

“There were times where I would feel trapped, like I was being followed by a dark cloud. I struggled to appreciate the good things in life as my worries overshadowed them.”    

As a young student, you may be experiencing any or multiple of the below symptoms: 

  • difficulties concentrating 
  • overthinking 
  • lack of motivation 
  • feeling anxious  
  • sleep disturbances 
  • headaches or stomach aches   

It is important to remember that you are not alone in dealing with these experiences, with *over 30% of young students bravely opting to speak to ChildLine about their mental and emotional health.  

Managing exam stress 

To help our bright minds, I have proposed a list of tips which will hopefully help you to manage the difficulties of exam periods: 

  • Taking healthy breaks – As a young student, I can speak from experience that it is very easy to fill our breaks with unhealthy activities, e.g., eating junk food, and scrolling on our phones. If you can, try to spend this time getting fresh air, socialising, and exercising, as it will help you to boost your energy levels and clear your mind.     
  • Mindfulness – During my intense study sessions, prayer played a crucial role in managing my exam anxiety. It helped me to stay positive and kept my mind from overthinking. Depending on the individual, meditation, deep breathing, journaling and praying could be great personal tools to help you maintain a positive mindset.  
  • Staying organised – Lack of preparation is one of the critical sources of exam stress. Try your best to stay organised regarding your exam requirements, whether through an assessment calendar or revision timetable. This will significantly help you manage your time and workload and reduce anxieties surrounding the unknown.   

Onwards and upwards 

In the end, we can only do our best and trust in our own ability. I personally struggle with not getting caught up in the “what ifs” and being satisfied with the work I’ve produced. However, embracing progress over perfection is important to do so during long exam periods to help you stay focused and remain motivated.    

Testimonial – “Even if you don’t do well on tests, that doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy than anyone else. It may just mean you’re less strong in how the school tests for knowledge.” 

Ultimately, you will look back at this time as just a stepping stone along your journey, no matter how daunting and gloomy it may feel. If you feel like you are really struggling, please reach out to us or any of the below resources as a problem shared is a problem halved.  

  • Mind Infoline – 0300 123 3393 
  • Samaritans – 116 123 
  • ChildLine – 0800 1111 

Useful contacts – for 11-18 year olds 

Best of luck, you’ve got this!                                                                

[1] 25+ Alarming UK Exam Stress Statistics for 2024 (markinstyle.co.uk)