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Dealing with Exam and Revision Stress

Originally published 9 May 2003

Feeling stressed may seem like a natural part of preparing for and sitting exams but it can be all to easy to let stress get out of hand. Managing stress is a crucial part of getting ready for exams, even if it may seem like an impossible task. There are ways to manage your stress levels, allowing you to concentrate on the important task of passing those exams.

A small amount of stress can motivate but too much stress can debilitate. You can monitor your stress levels by checking your sleeping and eating patterns and your ability to focus and concentrate.

Peak mental performance is greatly enhanced by peak physical condition so it is really important to look after yourself at this time. Good diet, exercise and regular sleep patterns will keep energy levels high.

Stress can occur when we begin to feel things are getting out of control. Good time management plans will help you to feel in control. Focussing on the things you can do something about e.g. how you are going to spend that morning, rather than thinking about what you need to be doing next week (something you cannot do anything about right now) will promote a sense of being in control.

Get the balance right between work and relaxation, and don’t try to mix the two. Work hard and you feel good, relax well and you feel good. If you spend your time drinking coffee with friends but feeling guilty whilst you do it you are neither relaxing nor working and it doesn’t feel good.

Ask yourself how you can relax during this time:

  • Alternatively tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body, a warm bath, yoga or physical exercise can help physical stress and tension.
  • If the brain won’t stop working try meditation, visualisation techniques or a bit of escapism by watching television or reading a novel.
  • It is often helpful to ensure a period of relaxation before going to bed to help you sleep.
    Try to develop an optimistic view on your situation. Think about what you have: time; your brain; you have passed exams before otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Try not to be a perfectionist, 'doing your best given the circumstances' can help you realise it is not the end of the world if you do not do as well as you hoped. Learn from the experience for next time.

Ask yourself if there are any opportunities to have some fun. You could arrange something to look forward to or give yourself a treat. If necessary make use of any support systems available to you, such as tutors, family and friends, or the University counselling service. This can be a tough time and people do understand what feeling stressed is like.