How to Reduce Exam Stress

In today's world exams are an unfortunate necessity. There is a lot of pressure on young people to succeed and exam stress is therefore a big part of many people's lives. Whilst this article can't make the exams go away it will hopefully help you to deal with some of the stresses that you might be feeling and that in turn will allow you to focus on your exams.


Stress is natural part of life. It's your body's way of responding to changes in the world around you. It changes how your body works and puts your mind into different moods. When you're getting stressed about an exam - it just shows that you really care about the result you will get. That can be helpful if it pushes you into working extra hard as you try to get a good mark. But, it can be unhelpful if you get too worried and the effects of the stress stop you performing as well as you could. When exams get too much, the stress can show in your body.

Common signs of stress:

  • feeling tired
  • aching body
  • crying and feeling sad
  • panic attacks
  • difficulties sleeping
  • stomach upsets
  • have itchy skin rashes
  • more likely to get colds and 'flu

Thinking Positively

We all think negatively sometimes, but developing a positive attitude will help you do your best in your exams. Here are some tips to thinking more positively:

  • Picture yourself getting good results – visualise how happy you are over and over in vivid detail. If you maintain a positive 'I can do it' attitude building up to your exams, your stress will be transformed into positive energy that can be harnessed to enhance your performance.
  • View the exam as a time-limited project that will come to an end. Look forward to the fun and challenge in store on completion.
  • Remember it's only an exam! It might feel like it but it's not the most important thing in your life. And there's always the resit!
  • An exam is simply an opportunity to show what you know.
  • Exams are designed to HELP you, and provide your tutors/teachers with feedback so they can help you further.
  • You will be just the same person before and after the exam. Exams don't measure anything really important about you.
  • You have had a number of successes already and have actually passed many exams - hold on to that. Focus on the positive aspects of the past rather than the negative ones, as this will spur you on to yet more successes.

Stopping negative thoughts


Thought-stopping technique

When we become anxious we begin to have negative thoughts ('I can't answer anything', 'I'm going to fail' etc). If this is happening, halt the spiralling thoughts by mentally shouting 'STOP'! Or, picture a road STOP sign or traffic lights on red. Once you have literally stopped the thoughts, you can continue planning, or practice a relaxation technique.

Use a mantra

Derived from meditation, a mantra is a word or phrase which you repeat to yourself. Saying something like 'relax' under your breath or in your mind, over and over again can help defuse anxiety.


Looking out of the window, noticing the number of people with blonde hair, counting the number of desks in each row... all help to distract your attention from anxious thoughts and keep your mind busy. Mental games such as making words out of another word or title, using alphabetical lists etc. are all good forms of distraction.

Bridging objects

It can help to carry or wear something with positive associations with another person or place. Touching this bridging object can be comforting in its own right, then allow yourself a few minutes to think about the person or situation which makes you feel good. This can have a really calming effect.


During an exam anxiety or panic we often give ourselves negative messages, 'I can't do this', 'I'm going to fail' and I'm useless'. Try to consciously replace these with positive, encouraging thoughts: 'This is just anxiety, 'it can't harm me', 'Relax, concentrate, it's going to be OK', 'I'm getting there, nearly over'.

And finally...

A good way to minimise the amount of stress that you are feeling is to create a revision timetable. This way you can make sure that you have plenty of time to revise all the subjects that you need to do. Having a revision timetable will also give you the chance to build in rest breaks and time to spend relaxing. This will help you to stay calmer. If you find yourself sitting and getting more and more stressed you need to take a break. Go for a walk or take an hour to watch some television do something to take your mind off your stress.

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