Tips to cope with exam stress

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It's exam season! And with that comes, for many, a period of stress.

Anxiety surrounding exams is very common - students feel pressure to perform well for a variety of reasons which usually stem from the three major themes of not disappointing their teachers, parents or foster carers, keeping up with their peers and ensuring entry to the college, university or job of their choice.

Becoming overwhelmed by stress can have extremely serious side effects - for example, it can disrupt sleep and trigger anxiety attacks, depression and eating disorders.

To combat this we have compiled a list of top tips from stress experts, foster carers and young people to help you cope with exam stress.

Tips for foster carers

  1. Speak to your young person
    Discuss the pros and cons of exam pressures. Suggest that a bit of pressure is not a bad thing, that it can help to engage them, and that this is a strength, and that it may not necessarily be a good thing if they didn't feel any pressure at all.
  2. Ensure your young person is sleeping well during revision and before exams
    Being well rested can increase your ability to deal with difficult situations.
  3. Boost their confidence
    Young people are likely to feel anxiety about doing their best. Remind them of previous achievements, projects and learning they have shared with you, and be emotionally consistent and reassuring.
  4. Be available
    Help if asked, laugh with them and put the kettle on. If intelligence is the ability to adapt to your environment and the ability to adapt your environment to yourself, then this is the skill children in care are learning with our help. This is not tested by written exams but by life.
  5. Make time for group mealtimes
    Mealtimes provide a time where anxieties can be expressed and be listened to. The ritual of a shared meal reinforces individual identity. Importantly, mealtimes make people feel connected to others.
  6. Show understanding
    Be relaxed about chores or untidiness and understand the young person might be moody.
  7. Help out
    It might be testing them on French vocabulary lists, watching them rehearse a dance routine or watching the film of Macbeth.
  8. Encourage practice with past papers
    I remind my young people that one of the best ways to deal with pressure is to over prepare for the exams. I advise them to go over and over past exam papers because they are often a very good indicator for what they will be faced with.
  9. Breathing
    If you notice your young person is becoming stressed ask them to try to relax their muscles and perform slow and deep breathing. Advise them to hold their breath for three seconds and then slowly breathe out.
  10. Keep calm
    If you stay calm you will help your young person stay calm. Exam time can be an exciting rather than stressful time when the student can show how well they can do in school.

Tips for students

  1. Talk to people
    Explain ideas and processes to friends, parents or teachers and ask them for help if you get stuck: my foster daughter once asked me for help understanding a poem, I read it aloud with a different rhythm and it suddenly became clearer to her.
  2. Get organised
    I have a calendar on my wall with achievable deadlines on. I stick to it and cross things off once they’re done which shows I’m on top of things and reduces my stress.
    I have seen friends spend days producing excel spreadsheets and differently coloured memory cards, losing crucial time for revision.
  3. Take away any distractions
    I find revision hard because my phone or iPad will flash or vibrate so I‘m always tempted to reply to just one more text. I try to do one hour with no distractions then have a five minutes social media break.
  4. Use different learning techniques
    Use mind maps, quizzes and flash cards to help vary your revision and make it more enjoyable. People have different ways of learning i.e. reading, listening and doing – teaching another person often helps you to remember a topic.
  5. Exercise outside
    Exercising can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. Walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective.
    Also, vocabulary and key facts are learned best whilst doing another activity. Try it!
  6. Think positively
    Celebrate your success in revision tasks and know when you do well.
  7. Take a night off, don't overdo it
    It's really important to take a night off. You won’t be on your A-game if all you’re thinking about is what happened at your friend’s party and how annoyed she is that you weren't there.
  8. Get some sleep
    It’s essential to get into a good sleeping pattern: it will help your body have the energy to focus. If I stress about uni deadlines and stay up all night I feel exhausted the next day.
  9. Eat healthily
    A balanced diet is vital during exams. Fruit, vegetables and protein will help you concentrate. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and caffeine such as Coke, chocolate, sweets and fast food.
  10. Focus on yourself
    If anyone tells you they are either never stressed or they tell you to calm down. Give them a smile and IGNORE them! Feeling nervous is a very healthy body reaction and essential for survival.