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Coping with exam pressures at university

4 min read
04 June 2019

For many students, the pressures of exam season can be overwhelming and counterproductive. It differs for each individual – sometimes, it can mean difficulty concentrating, or it could make you feel panicked.

Recognising and acknowledge feelings of anxiety towards exams is a significant hurdle. It is easy to compare yourselves to peers and think about how you feel you “should” be coping with your upcoming exams. It’s important, however, to concentrate on yourself and how you will look after your own wellbeing through what can be a stressful time.  

It’s important to concentrate on yourself and how you will look after your own wellbeing through what can be a stressful time.

During revision

Starting revision is often the biggest hurdle to overcome. You have numerous deadlines, essays to write and exams to take. At the beginning, it’s difficult to envisage how - or even if - you will make it to the finish line. Organisation skills are paramount from the outset and the first step is to complete a detailed plan. By devising a plan of action, including exam dates, deadlines and a revision schedule, you will be able to stagger the tasks and ensure assignments are completed on time. A methodical approach will help you feel in control and less overwhelmed.

During the revision period, it’s really important to utilise different techniques to stay on top of your workload. This includes setting short-term and realistic targets, implementing a variety of revision techniques and self-assessment. These techniques will allow you to monitor your progress, identify areas for development and feel on top of things.

It’s equally important to ensure you schedule time in to relax and unwind. Things such as exercising, fresh air and a change of scenery will help you to maintain a positive frame of mind, and early nights and eating well will help you to remain energetic and focused.

It’s equally important to ensure you schedule time in to relax and unwind.

Taking your exams

When it comes to the day of the exams, try to stay calm. Mindfulness, meditation and breathing techniques help to slow down heart rate and reduce feelings of panic. In exams, this will help you to think more logically and answer the exam questions more confidently.

Other techniques include shoulder-rolling, which helps to release physical tension. Introducing these techniques ahead of exams will help you to feel more prepared under stressful circumstances. For example, you can practise mindfulness techniques using apps such as Headspace.

Adopting a positive ‘can do’ attitude and believing in yourself during the revision period will translate into exam performance. This includes replacing negative beliefs, with positive ones, such as, “I will succeed in my maths exam”. It's important to believe in yourself and your ability!

Maintaining focus right before entering the exam is also very important, which may mean avoiding classmates before the exam or developing a ‘pre-exam’ routine. The night before, make sure to get a good night's sleep and try to finish revision at a reasonable time in order to rest properly.

The night before, make sure to get a good night's sleep and try to finish revision at a reasonable time in order to rest properly.

Talk to someone

If you’re struggling with the pressure of exams, it’s really important to speak to someone. Whether it be a friend, family, member of staff, counsellor or helpline – there is always someone who will be able to help. Accepting help and using the support network around you is a critical way to cope during the exam period.

This was a turning point for me as a university student. In my final year, I found the pressures of achieving the all-important 2:1 too much to handle. My anxiety became unbearable and I didn’t feel like I was ever going to reach the end goal of completing my degree. For a long while, I found myself in denial – it felt like a sign of weakness to ask for help and my peers seemed to be managing just fine. Close friends and family soon realised that I wasn’t coping and provided invaluable guidance and support that I am eternally grateful for. Graduating with a 2:1 was the proudest day of my life. Believe in yourself – you can do it!

Believe in yourself – you can do it!

More information and advice

Where to get help

  • YoungMinds Textline

    Text YM to 85258

    Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

    All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

    Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

    Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health, and provides information and advice for parents.

    The website provides details about local services offered by universities, and young people can also access their peer and group support programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).

Thanks for sharing your story Lydia, 23

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