Dealing with exam stress

Exam times can be very stressful for everyone and sometimes stress can be overwhelming. Stress is known to confuse and exhaust you, two things you don’t need before an exam.  If you feel that this stress is getting on top of you, there are things you can do to keep calm. The below advice came from the HSE. 

Leave the stress in the exam hall

There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Exams have a beginning and an end, and the stress that goes along with them should end with the exam. Once the paper’s in, there’s nothing more you can do about it. You should just try to relax afterwards.

During exams keep a routine and take breaks

It’s important to have regular study breaks and make time for relaxation and exercise. Going for a walk, run, or to the gym is a great way to clear your head and can help you focus. Watching your favourite TV show or going to the movies are also good ways to take a break from studying.

Limit caffeine to reduce exam stress

Caffeine and energy drinks can give you a short lift. But they’re not good for you in the long term. They can make you feel sick and can interfere with your sleep and your ability to concentrate. You study better with regular breaks. Getting lots of sleep and exercise are also important.

Manage expectations

External pressures around exams can be huge. These can be hard to deal with.  You need to remember that it’s your life and your exam, with you in control.

Tips to help you manage expectations

  • Base expectations on your past performance and doing the best you can do.
  • Put the exam in context. In the overall scheme of things, how important is it?
  • Tell people about what you think is realistic. Talk to them, find out what they hope for you and tell them what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Use the expectations of yourself and others to assist your studying.
  • Talk to people about how you are feeling, see if they have any advice or help they can offer.
  • Ask for and accept support from those around you, especially family members.

If you don’t do as well as you’d hoped there are always alternatives. It’s not going to dictate whether you are a good or a bad person, or whether you are a success or failure. Exams can’t measure these sorts of things. All they measure is how well you can present the material asked for by the examiner. They are nothing more, nothing less.

Look after yourself to avoid exam stress

It’s easy to let exams get on top of you and to forget to look after yourself. If possible, try to get a good night’s sleep every night. It’s a good time to make an effort to eat healthily, making sure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Ask for and accept support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might find it helpful to talk to a teacher or counsellor. It’s also important to ask for, and accept, support from your family if you can. This support might be practical, like picking you up from the library. It could also be emotional support, including advice or help.

If you need to talk to someone outside the situation, you can call:

Options for the future

If you are doing the leaving cert, getting the marks for your first preference is great. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. There are other options to get into your course. It may mean deferring and getting some practical experience or doing further study. You might consider retaking some subjects in some cases, or transferring in after a year or two. If you do accept another offer, you may find that you like it or it suits you better.


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