Wellbeing: Exploring and Eliminating Exam Stress
Wellbeing: Exploring and Eliminating Exam Stress

Continuing our series of subject specific wellbeing articles, our latest piece discusses the effect stress can have on revision and exams. We spoke to Rachel Dodge, our subject specialist for Psychology, who told us what's happening to our bodies and minds when we're feeling stressed, as well as ways to combat these effects.

What is Stress? 

The NHS defines stress as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. When you feel unable to cope with pressure, it then turns into stress which can affect people in different ways.

How does exam stress affect people?

Although in this article we're discussing the ways in which we can combat the negative effects of stress, the feeling of overwhelming pressure that some people feel during exams is not necessarily the same for everyone. For some, stress can be a useful motivation tool, giving them the push they need to get moving with their revision. For others, stress can have little to no effect on their minds or bodies and they are neither positively or negatively impacted by it.

The signs of stress

Stress can manifest itself in many ways; we tend to focus heavily on the emotive effects of stress such as the feeling of panic or not feeling in control, however, the effects of stress can also be found in our cognitive and physical states. Some people may be all too familiar of the feeling of walking into an exam and feeling their legs weaken or their heart rate increase, as well as the feeling of struggling to concentrate in a tense situation. The good thing is though, there are ways to combat these feelings.

How to combat exam stress

  1. Practice breathing techniques. It may sound simple but being able to control your breathing when you start to feel stressed is a really useful way to calm yourself down. It will give yourself some time to relax and clear your mind in order for you to refocus on the task in hand.


  1. Try some mindfulness classes. Whether you download an app that teaches you the basics, access our Mindfulness Guide, or attend a physical class, mindfulness has been proven to help individuals better deal with the effects of stress. Practicing mindfulness will help you change the way you perceive  the effects and allow you to utilise any pressure in a way that is


  1. Create, recite, remember and most importantly, believe, positive personal mantras. Perhaps easier said than done, changing the way you think will make all the difference both in the lead up to and during the exam. When stressed, we tend to focus heavily on the negative thoughts and potential outcomes of situations, but if you can channel your energy into believing the positive mantras you have created, then this will go a long way towards helping you to keep your head above the water in those high-pressure


  1. Prepare and plan. By ensuring that you are suitably prepared prior to entering the exam hall, you will be giving yourself a great head start towards getting through the exam without having to deal with any unnecessary stress. We've created a comprehensive Revision Toolkit which will help you to effectively plan your revision sessions using flashcards, schedules and checklists.

One of the most important things to remember about exam stress is that if you are starting to feel overwhelmed, it's extremely likely that you are not alone in feeling this way. Talk to your friends about how you're feeling, and you may  find that you'll actually be able to help each other on the things that you're both finding difficult. If  you  still need further guidance, then make sure you speak to your teachers; they ultimately want you to do your best and are on hand to support you with anything you may be struggling with.