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How to Beat Exam Stress

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Everyone feels stressed during exams. During exam period there is no doubt that students will encounter stress and anxiety. Whether you’re revising for your 11 plus, mocks, GCSEs, CSEs or A levels, finding the time to study and revise can be a struggle and make you feel stressed.

Here are some strategies from the field of elite sport that can be used to reduce stress and anxiety:

Goal setting

There is no doubt that research has associated the use of specific and smart goals to help improve performance. Indeed, there is evidence of goal setting being effective in the field of business, education and sport. The purpose of goal-setting is to develop focus and direction. Focus involves opportunities to get revision completed. Direction is to enable intrinsic motivation to be enhanced. In short, some students find it difficult to start revision because they have too much to complete. The use of goal setting and appropriate time management will help to alleviate this issue as focus and direction is met.

Confidence building

Students are encouraged to develop confidence levels when revising. Using positive self-talk and having a self-belief that one can complete their revision will help to build confidence levels. A useful strategy would be to look at past exam papers. Completing past exam papers is useful as it enables one to focus on question types. Further, the more students’ complete exam questions the more effective they become at answering. Forming habits are a useful strategy during the exam period.

Olympic feel

There is no doubt that the exam period is like an Olympics. Students should set aside this opportunity and believe that it is their platform to perform. Like Olympian athletes the key for exam period is preparation and focus. This period of 6–8 weeks is similar to the Olympics. Students will be sitting exams but in order to be effective they will have to prepare accordingly and in line with Olympians.


The exam period is strenuous and stressful. Stress can lead to anxiety and one should be aware of symptoms. While a lower order of anxiety can be managed, it is possible that without awareness higher levels can impact performance. Therefore, it is advised that students do not over complicate their revision and take regular breaks with relaxation. Exam revision is similar to a workout. Following a workout the body requires rest and repair. The mind is no different. One will not be able to cope with more information if the mind is already tired and exhausted.

Deep breathing

Students are encouraged to use deep breathing as a coping mechanism. Deep breathing enables the body to relax and feel calm and reduce stress and anxiety. To be effective, deep breathing involves a breath through the nose (hold for 3 seconds) and then release out the mouth (5 seconds). It is sometimes easier to place a hand on your stomach to get the feel of your hand rising on inhale (nose) and exhale (mouth).


A range of literature outlines the use of mindfulness to help awareness and reduce stress and anxiety. It is encouraged that students become aware of their situation with the use of mindfulness. Using a quiet space, one should take a feel of their muscles, smell, touch and focus on their body. In other words, mindfulness enables one to move away from thoughts and emotions and concentrate on the present moment. For example, if you are focusing on your touch then ideally you are focused on the touch and feel of the skin.

Hydration, food and sleep

A car can only operate if it has fuel. The mind and body is no different. When one feels stress and anxiety they absorb sugary drinks and sweets. However, water is essential as it helps absorption and clears the kidneys of waste. Consuming regular and healthy meals is also essential, although the temptation to have easy takeaways is tempting. Indeed, maintaining this discipline is important as it aligns with exam preparation too. Finally, sleep is important and with proper rest one can focus. Sleep deprivation is one common cause of stress and anxiety and therefore with proper rest and relaxation one should achieve optimal sleep patterns.


The exam period is an intense situation that evolves over 6–8 week period. The process can be effective providing one can develop positive habits and maintain a sense of semblance related to preparation.


Image credit: Freepik

Gobinder Gill is a Lecturer in Sport Psychology, and Research Methods at Birmingham Metropolitan College. 


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