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Survive and Thrive in the Summer Term

Exam Stress
Exam Stress?
Originally published 7 May 2003

Revision for exams can be a stressful and difficult activity. There never seems enough time and there’s always one more book to read. Your notes from 12 months ago now make no sense and there is always the lure of the sun in the park and a cool beer. It can be all too easy to get distracted and end up cramming at the last minute.

With the right approach, however, revising for exams need not result in a crisis. It's never too late to get organised.

Manage your time

Good time management and planning means getting the right balance between work rest and play.

In planning your work calculate the time available in days. Look at the number of exams, the number of topics you need to revise and keep in mind the number of days per topic. Once you have done this focus on one day at a time. This tells you there is the opportunity to do the work but also that you cannot afford to waste time. Decide whether you like the satisfaction of completing a topic before moving onto the next or whether you get bored easily and like variety. Plan accordingly.

We remember things better the more often we learn them, so if you can plan for this revisiting a topic can be effective. It is also a good idea to plan at least one day off per week if possible. You need to pace yourself so that you are at peak performance when the actual exams arrive, too tired and you will not do yourself justice.

Know your work patterns

Check out where and when you work best. Tackle difficult or less interesting topics when you feel you are at your best. Easier or more mundane tasks can be done when your concentration begins to wane.

Be informed

Make informed choices about what you are going to revise. It is not always necessary to know everything. Use past papers and course outlines to help you with this. Break your revision down into small manageable chunks.

Get active

Monitor you revision technique. Remember what has worked in the past and relate it to your present situation. Can it be improved? Start by ensuring that you understand the material. Think about using mind maps, coloured pens, mnemonics, cue cards, and discussion groups. Revision should be active. Reading is passive and does not necessarily mean learning and remembering.


Remind yourself of your motivation: desire for success; fear of failure; real interest in the subject; a desire to learn. See each day as building on acquired knowledge.

Test yourself

Near the exams you might want to test your knowledge and exam technique by doing practice questions. These can be timed and replicate exam conditions or may take the form of detailed plans that may identify any gaps in your knowledge.

More information about the University's Counselling Service is available on their website.

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