How to deal with exam stress

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This a guest post written by Chloe, a hard-working and super talented A level student. She’s going to speak openly and honestly about the impact exam stress can have on your mental health, and her tips on how to manage it!


Exam stress and mental health: What should I do?

Exams are stressful. They are a time when you’re constantly under pressure and essentially, they’re the last stretch before you can finally take your foot off the gas. It feels a bit like you’re swimming against the tide and it’s just a matter of keeping your head above water. But there is a way to deal with the pressure to make the stressful period that little bit more manageable…

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Photo by @clobo.studies

Making revision managable

You’ve probably spent the first half term back at school being reminded that this year (whichever year you’re in) is the most important year of your life and that you must be revising as early as possible.

The truth is - you still have time.

It’s not a matter of urgency, it’s a matter of being prepared. The difference between those who start intensive revision now, and those who plan little and often, is becoming burnt out. If you effectively plan your revision and manage your expectations realistically you can avoid exam burnout and continue to look after yourself, as YOU are the most important part of this.

Planning With Adapt

One thing that I find helpful when exams are looming over me is planning my revision. Teachers at school will mention a revision timetable, you might even make one in class. But the fact of the matter is that we often find ourselves spending longer on the making than the doing, the planning than the working - that’s where Adapt comes into play.

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Photo by @adaptapp

Adapt is an app that’s made to help you! Planning revision is made that much easier when your topics and exams are already broken down and planned out for you, and when you can set all your revision around your commitments, homework, and topic tests to see how much time you realistically have left to revise. The targets are achievable, giving you a realistic target to work towards in the evening, and a stopping point.

Mental Health at School

School is a time for change, especially when exams are near. You may find that your friendships change and your schedule gets altered; sometimes this can cause an increase in emotions that we don’t otherwise experience very often - such as stress and anxiety.

Stress can be more intense when we have exams and so it’s important that you keep doing the things you love and enjoy. It’s vital that you take time for yourself within your busy week!

How can my school help?

Your school has seen it all before, there have been students before you who have struggled with similar issues to you - there will be no judgement involved if you speak to someone.

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Photo by @clobo.studies

Every school is different but they may be able to offer you a quiet space to work when you’re not in lessons (such as around exams) or someone you can talk to when it gets overwhelming. Although these facilities may not be used when exams arrive it’s a comfort to know that they are there and many schools are able to help you out. Your school wants the best for you, and they only want to help you out as much as they can.

Managing Mental Health and Friendships

Often we find that around exams we stop talking to our friends as much, and that’s okay! But, by planning your revision, with planners such as Adapt, you can aim to see your friends and get your work done by scheduling a time you know you can get it done. If you’re panicking about revision it may seem like a waste of precious time to see your friends, but try to make time. Your mental health is truly worth more than an exam result!

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Photo by @clobo.studies

Talking to your friends is key to success, even if it’s a phone call every week or so just to check in and see how everyone’s doing. There’s no one who will understand what you’re going through better than them - you’re in this together! But, remember that it’s okay if you need to step back and focus your energy elsewhere, your friends will understand. They’re probably feeling just as stressed as you are.

Prioritising yourself

I remember approaching exams in year 10. I had taken them a year early and hadn’t quite managed to figure out what making myself a priority meant.

However, I was able to approach a trusted adult and she taught me that it wasn’t all about face masks and going to the gym, it was also going to bed before midnight and making sure I stayed hydrated.

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Photo by @clobo.studies

Although doing a facemask or having a bath is relaxing, we have to be real with ourselves. We can’t let our idea of what we should look like and be doing control us and our actions. If you’re finding your friends turning to you for support and you’re struggling to keep up, step back and tell them - **they’ll appreciate you telling them instead of stressing yourself out. **

A quote I was told a few years ago was:

“you cannot pour from an empty glass, so look after yourself too”

and it’s always resonated with me since. It speaks the truth; we cannot try to help those around us if we can’t keep ourselves looked after. A part of exams is helping each other out. Self-care comes with time and patience; it’s a learning process and it develops over time. One key element is revision planning and preparation- without it you may find yourself overwhelmed and struggle to find time to look after yourself.

Who can I talk to?

Mental health can be tricky to talk about, and often we find people struggling to understand what we’re dealing with. That’s why communication is key.

Find a trusted adult you can talk to if you’re finding things aren’t getting better and you’re having trouble ‘switching off’. Your friends are a good outlet too; often a distraction is what we need. Other people you could talk to include your head of year, a trusted teacher, a relative or just an older friend - they all want to support you through this tough time.

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Photo by @childline_official

If you’re finding that talking to these people isn’t helping or you’d like to speak to someone anonymously, KOOTH and Childline both offer services for young people and are available to speak to you online and over the phone.

My advice

Exams are tough, but you’ll make it though. Everything seems overwhelming right now but remember that there’s a break afterwards! Just keep planning, looking after yourself, and talking. Without those three things exams are probably going to be harder but resources like Adapt, KOOTH, and Childline are all made to help those who need a bit more help with planning or their mental health - things that I think go together when exams are near.

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Photo by @childline_official

Mental health is important and something that will change as you grow older; you’ll have periods where you feel great and others where it’s hard to keep your head above water. But as you trial these techniques you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t, meaning that it will all get easier. You and your emotions are valid, and anyone who tells you otherwise is someone you should try and limit time with around exams. You are the priority, and you will get through exams!


Cover photo by: @youngmindsuk

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