A student wearing uniform sits on a desk lost in a thought with their hand over their mouth, they sit next to another student who is focused on the lesson.

A guide for young people Exam stress

Pressure to do well in exams can be overwhelming and affect your mental health. Here's our advice if it's all getting a bit too much.

Dealing with exam stress

It is normal to feel a bit worried about exams, especially if you're under pressure from school or family. Exam stress can cause you to feel anxious or depressed, and this might affect your sleeping or eating habits.  

If you recognise any of these feelings, or are worried that exam pressure is taking over your life, you are not alone, and there are things you can do:

  • Let your trusted friends and family know if you are struggling

    so they can be there to support you, encourage you and offer a listening ear. You don't have to go through this alone. Keeping it all in will only make things worse in the long run, so don't be afraid to open up.

  • Ask for help. Think about all the practical support you need

    and be honest with yourself about it. You are allowed to ask for help. Talk through your concerns with your teacher/tutor who can let you know what support your school, college or uni can offer you. They will have spoken to lots of students before who are going through similar things.

  • Try finding a study group, or start your own

    Working through problems with other students can be a nice way to keep your social life going and boost your morale.


Be kind to yourself

Think about all the things you have achieved so far. It can be helpful to write a list of all the things you like about yourself, and the things other people value about you too.

If people around you - like your parents or family - are putting pressure on you, it can help to tell them what you feel able to achieve, and let them know that your expectations are different to theirs. You could also talk to a teacher you trust about the pressure you are under at home.

The importance of self-care

‘Self-care’ is a phrase you’ve probably come across, but what does it really mean? Simply put, self-care is the little things we do to look after our own mental health.

if you’re worried about exams, you may feel like you don't have time for self-care, or that you need to spend all of your time revising. While it is of course important to revise, if you don’t take the time to look after yourself by doing things like eating and sleeping well, and you don’t give yourself time to unwind by doing something you enjoy like gaming or seeing your friends, you will find it harder to revise. We are not machines – we all need a break sometimes!

So make sure that when you're thinking about how to use your time before exams, you factor in time to look after yourself. You deserve it!

More on self-care

Keep it in perspective

Exams can help you take the next step in your academic or professional career - but results are not the only measure of success.

  • What success really looks like is a lot of ups and downs, as opposed to the straight line we all imagine. Without failure we cannot grow, and without failure there is no success.
    Ulfa, activist
  • I'm not an 'exams' person, I'm a practical person, and there are lots of people like me who can't stand exams but will go far with their practical skill.
    Joel, activist
  • Exams aren't the be all and end all. There are so many wonderful things about you not determined by exams. There is a future without exams and you will get through.
  • Take lots of breaks, look after yourself. Your mental health is so much more important than how you do in exams, there are always other options if you don't do as well as you want to.
  • You've already achieved so much and will achieve more. If need be, these exams can be redone. Creating an immense amount of stress for yourself may lead to things which can't be undone. Look after yourself first.
  • Look after yourself and try your best.

Here are things you can do to remind yourself that there is more to life than grades:

  • Keep in mind that exam results do not define who you are

    You might be the comedian in the family, the person your friends come to for life advice, or something else.

  • Make a list of all the things you want from life which don't involve exams

    This can help you realise that exams are only a small part of the picture.

  • Have fun!

    Remember your life outside of exams is important too. Make a list of all the things you enjoy, and find time to do them. This can reduce your stress levels, improve your mood, and help you feel refreshed and relaxed. There is no need to feel guilty for taking some you-time to unwind. You’re allowed to have a social life and interests outside of studying.

When I was revising for my GCSEs, I made the mistake of blending the places where I revised and where I rested. I started to do a lot of revision in my bedroom, but I found it hard to get away from revision when I wanted to rest or sleep – everywhere I looked there were papers and flashcards looming over me.
  • Remember your strengths, You have so many skills and qualities.
  • Never forget that your health and happiness is worth looking after
  • What you think you might have wanted to do with certain grades might not turn out to be for you after all - getting different grades might actually put you on to a much more enjoyable and fulfilling path, even if it wasn't the one you originally set out to be on.

Revision tips

  • Try breaking it up into chunks and creating a daily timetable

    so you know what you want to study when. This can make revision feel less overwhelming and much more manageable.

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day

    An unrealistic revision plan won't help you and will put you under unnecessary stress.

  • Make sure you take regular breaks from studying

    Your brain cannot concentrate for hours at a time.

  • Not everyone studies the same way

    Some people prefer to read, others find it helpful to make notes or draw diagrams, while others prefer to talk things through. Do what works for you.

  • Focus on you and don't compare yourself to others

    It can be really stressful when you think everyone is doing better than you, spending more time on revision than you, or just not stressing out as much as you. But we're all different and that's ok. Remember, your friends don’t have their results guaranteed – life is unpredictable – and they might well be feeling just as worried as you are.

More tips and advice from young people

Our Activists and people like you share their tips for revision and coping with exams:

  • Constantly revising without a break can make you feel emotionally and physically drained, so it’s crucial that you take time to step back and do something that you enjoy.
  • Keep gaps between revision and drink lots of water. Try to not to stress and revise the day before exams. Rather than copying notes, draw mind maps or images to help you remember information.
  • Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, take a deep breath. Get an early night and do some meditation before bed.
  • Take time out of your day to breathe, try not to compare yourself to others (easier said than done but it’s important). Schedule in time for yourself and reach out if it's affecting your mental health.

Dealing with disappointing exam results

If you don’t get the grades you want, it can feel devastating. But it really isn’t the end of the world and it happens to lots of people, for all sorts of reasons.

Life doesn’t always go to plan, but stay calm, you are going to be ok. There are still loads of options available to you.

  • Breathe

    Don't panic, take a moment to breathe.

  • Speak to someone

    Speak to people who will help you stay calm and who you can talk to about how you're feeling.

  • Explore your options

    Explore your options properly. Your education provider will be able to help you with this.

  • Take your time

    Remember you don't need to make any snap decisions in the heat of the moment.

Get help now

If exam stress is taking over and you're struggling to cope, you are not alone. Here are some organisations who can support you. 

You might also find helpful...

More tips, advice and real stories on what to do if you're struggling with exam stress.