Top 5 ways to handle exam stress

3 May 2021

By Sunny H

It’s that time of year. You’ve learned what you need to have learned, the days are getting longer, the weather is getting better and here we are: consumed by exam stress.

It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed at the thought of doing a test right now, especially after a year of online learning. Getting back into reality can feel strange. If your exams are online like mine, it can be hard to get away from them. I have about a hundred different tabs open right now reminding me that I have deadlines coming up.

So, I would like to share with you what I am doing to minimise stress this exam season and I hope that you are able to take something from my advice.

1. Spend some time in nature


Cliché, I know. But bear with me!

There are proven psychological benefits that come as a result of taking an hour out of your schedule to embrace nature. Not only that, but a study from the University of Michigan found that participants who took a walk in nature as opposed to those who didn’t performed 20% better on a memory test.

Being in mother nature, even if just in your own neighbourhood, can reduce stress in the body. Studies also show spending time outdoors can lower your heart rate—a symptom of stress.

2. The night before the big day


The first thought on the evening before a big exam is to cram as much revision in as possible – some people even pull an all-nighter. I want to be the first to tell you that skipping those crucial eight hours isn’t what you want to be doing. Wouldn’t you agree that sitting an exam fully rested is better than falling asleep at your desk and missing half of it?

3. Show your pets some love

I have frequently wrote about my zoo household. I have six cats and a Staffy-Bull mastiff called Buster. When I’m at my most stressed, I find that spending some time with my four-legged friends can take the pressure off a lot.

If you don’t have pets, I highly recommend visiting your nearest cow field (from a safe distance) and watching them. It’s hard to feel stressed in the presence of cute animals. If this fails you, there is an abundance of funny animal videos on YouTube – sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

4. Get your preparation done in advance


If you’re cramming in the revision twelve hours before your exam, I hate to say it, but you brought the stress on yourself. This can be avoided by making sure to revise ahead of time. Remember to work smarter, not harder here!

There are many revision videos on YouTube that are just a click away. Feeling confident is key, and confidence comes as a result of preparation.

5. Breathe!


Mental stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, signalling your body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode. During this reaction, stress hormones are released and you experience physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, quicker breathing and constricted blood vessels.

Deep breathing exercises can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response. As someone who suffered from panic attacks when I was younger, I found that the solution was in the physicality of stress that expatiated it. Unclench your jaw, roll your shoulders a bit, get up and move if it helps take away the physical side of it.

My final thoughts

This is what I’ve been doing to minimise stress this exam season and whilst it may be cliché, it actually has helped a lot. These are things that I didn’t do in past years, as I was too consumed by the task ahead. Do things differently this year. You’ve got this!

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