A group of young people at a school desk talking to each other with a world map on background.

Exam stress

It’s normal to feel stressed and on edge about exams. Stress is your body’s natural response to pressure. It can help you focus and get things done, but sometimes it can all get a bit much.

Exam stress can affect anyone and it can show up in loads of ways, like:

  • feeling anxious or down
  • getting irritable and angry
  • struggling to sleep
  • changes in your eating habits
  • having bad thoughts about yourself
  • worrying about the future
  • losing interest in stuff you usually like
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • feeling unwell – like headaches, feeling sick or tired

If any of these feelings are beginning to take over your life, there is help. And we’re here to help you find it.

Coping with exam pressure

The pressure to do well can really get on top of you and only add to the existing stress of exams. It could be from your school, your family, your friends, or yourself. Even if the people around you aren’t putting pressure on you, you might still want to make them proud. But remember, no matter what your results, your mental health is important too.

Whether you feel stressed right before your exams, or it builds up over time, here are some things you can do to ease the pressure:

  • Be kind to yourself

    Reflect on all the things you’ve already achieved, in or outside of studying. Write a list of what you rate about yourself, and what others like about you too. Doing things you’re good at and enjoy can really boost your self-esteem.

  • Talk about feeling under pressure

    If people around you – like your school or family – are putting pressure on you, be real with them about what you think you can handle. Make it clear if your expectations are different from theirs. And if you need to, have a word with a teacher you trust about the stress you're under at home.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others

    Try not to stress about how others are prepping for exams. Focus on what you can do. You might feel like other people are smashing it, revising more than you, or just not stressing out as much. But we're all different and that's okay. Remember, your friends are coping with exam stress too. They might be just as on edge as you.

A group of students wearing school uniform sit at their desks in a classroom and write in their textbooks.
It’s important for us to look after our mental health and put our own needs first, especially during a stressful academic period. I recommend reaching out to your friends during this time, because they are most likely going through the same thing as you.
Niamh, 21

How to deal with exam stress

A Black teenage boy wearing a hearing aid speaking to a white non-binary teenager. They are walking on the street outside a shop. Both people are smiling.

Exam stress can feel lonely and a heavy load to carry, but you don’t have to tackle it alone. Lots of young people find exams difficult and it’s okay to need support.

Don’t hold it all in – try talking to someone about what’s on your mind. If someone knows you feel stressed, they can have your back, encourage you and listen when you need them to. It could be a friend, family member, carer, community/faith leader, teacher, or anyone else you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Check out our tips below to help you get through exams.

In the lead-up to your exams

Think about what could make dealing with exam stress easier for you and have a chat with a teacher or tutor. They can help with things like:

  • a tricky subject
  • tips and tricks for revising
  • juggling different subjects
  • finding a calm place to revise
  • access arrangements

Asking a teacher can be nerve-wracking, but they’ve had loads of students feel the same way. Remember they want you to pass your exams too, so they’re on hand to help if you need it.

We all have different needs. Access arrangements help students with special education needs or disabilities. This could be:

  • extra time to complete the exam
  • assistive technology (like a computer, text-to-speech software etc.)
  • breaks during an exam

If you think you need them, speak to your school, college or university to find out how to apply for access arrangements. Some can be sorted out by the school, but others need permission from the examining body, so it’s best to talk to your school as early as possible.

A young Black woman in a wheelchair and a young Black man on a bench. They are talking and laughing together.
Exam formats aren’t always suited to the realities of neurodivergence and disability which can create extra stress. Asking for adjustments is not being demanding – it’s about fairness.

If your friends are studying too, chances are they get what you’re dealing with. Knowing that someone else feels the same way can make all the difference. Link up with them to chat about exams or to take a break from studying.

Tackling problems together and helping each other out with different subjects can make revising easier. It keeps your social life going and can boost your mood while you’re studying. Plus, it can help you see you’re not the only one feeling the pressure.

When exams start

Get everything ready for the exam the night before. You could talk to someone you trust to double-check you’ve got everything sorted. If you’re going somewhere for your exam, check when and where it’s happening. Plan your route and make sure you’ve got plenty of time to get there.

Avoid cramming in last-minute revision. This can be overwhelming and make you feel unprepared. You’ve put in the work, so focus on staying calm. Breathing exercises and grounding techniques can help dial down the stress before your exam.

Resist the urge to talk about the exam with your friends afterwards. This can make you feel more stressed. Try to let go of the exam talk now that it’s done.

Once you’re done, have something good lined up after. It could be hanging out with friends or taking some time for yourself. It’s tough to switch off, especially if you have more exams coming up, but it’s important to let yourself recharge first.

Six young people playing table football in a youth club.
I have found that putting in time for activities that I enjoy alongside revision helps me to de-stress, so I’ve started adding in time throughout the day to take a break and read or watch a TV show that I like. I've found that including activities that I look forward to in my daily schedule helps make revision feel more bearable.
Jess, 18

Coping with life pressures

  • Sometimes, life can throw you curveballs that make it hard to study, like moving house, looking after a family member, dealing with a breakup or general life stress.

    If life’s throwing you something like this, don’t feel you have to go it alone. Talk to someone you know or contact a helpline. Whatever it is you’re going through, you deserve support.

The importance of self-care

  • When exam stress hits, it might feel like there’s no time for self-care, or that you should be spending every second revising. Revising is important, but it’s going to be harder if you’re not looking after yourself.

    Try to eat right, get some sleep, and give yourself a break – whether that’s gaming or hanging with your friends. We’re not robots – we all need a breather now and then.

Revision tips

  • Break it into chunks and make a timetable

    Figure out what subjects you need to study and when. If you’re not sure how to make a revision timetable, ask a teacher or tutor for help. BBC Bitesize has lots of tips to start you off.

  • Be real about what you can do in a day

    If your revision plan feels like a mountain to climb, tweak it. Your plan should keep you feeling on top of things, not leave you burnt out. It might take some trial and error, but finding a plan that works for you is key to feeling less stressed.

  • Take regular breaks

    Taking a break is just as important as revising. It gives your brain a break and makes it easier to focus. Young people have told us they often feel guilty for taking a break, but rest is productive. You don’t have to earn rest – take it whenever you need it.

Different ways of learning

We all have our own ways of learning. If you feel distracted or can’t remember your notes, it might be time to switch it up. There are loads of techniques out there – check out some below:

  • make posters, post-it notes or flashcards
  • use colour-coded revision timetables and notes
  • draw mind maps, spider diagrams or graphs
  • record yourself reading your notes and listen back
  • listen to podcasts or audiobooks
  • listen to a playlist while you revise
  • do practice papers
  • go to group revision sessions
  • use flashcards
  • go to group revision sessions
  • read your revision notes aloud to yourself or someone else
  • rewrite lesson materials in your own words

Experiment with different techniques. One way might click for one subject, but not for others, so find whatever works.

Three young people sitting and talking together in a livingroom.
The monotony of revision and endlessly reading notes can really put us off, so try mixing it up! Flashcards, mind maps, voice notes, videos and even teaching the work to a friend/family member/pet/wall (!) can all be used to engage different areas of our brain and keep it interesting.

Dealing with disappointment on results day

Not getting the grades you want on results day can be devastating. Whether it impacts what you do next or you just feel you could’ve done better, it’s alright to feel upset. But remember, there is so much more to life than exams.

If you don’t get the results you want, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Remember, exam results don’t define you

    We don’t usually think about what people got in their exams. Grades don’t stick in our minds when we think about the people we care about. Your true worth – how you see yourself – it’s not based on the grades you get. You’ve got lots of qualities that make you, you – like making people laugh, giving great advice, being creative, or whatever else sets you apart. Those qualities can’t be measured by exams.

  • Make a list of things you want from life that don't involve exams

    Exams are just a tiny piece of the puzzle. No matter what grades you get on results day, it’s still possible to have the future you want. There are so many paths to where you want to be. Your route might change, but your destination doesn’t have to.

  • Know that your life outside of exams is important too

    Make a list of the things that bring you joy and find time to do them. This can ease your stress and improve your mood. No need to feel guilty about carving out time for yourself – you’re allowed to have a life beyond exams.

Here are some things you can do if you’re unhappy with your results:

When you’re ready to think about what’s next, talk it through with your teacher, tutor or careers advisor. They’re there to help you decide what’s next, like:

  • getting a re-mark
  • retaking exams
  • switching subjects
  • thinking about different career routes and options

There are lots of organisations that can help you find your next step, like the National Careers Service, UCAS, Not Going to Uni and AllAboutSchoolLeavers.

Once you know your options, talk them through with someone you trust. They can help you figure out what’s best for you, or just be there to listen.

Two boys sitting in the park with their arms around each other, smiling and looking at each other.
If you are retaking exams this school year, the number one thing you need to remember is you are not alone.
Chloe, 20

If something happened during your exams, you might be able to apply for ‘special considerations’. Things like your health, grief and loss, or something happening that’s out of your control can all affect exams. Exam boards might take this into account and add points to your marks, so it’s worth speaking to someone at school or college. They can help you with your application for special considerations.

You might feel pressured to share your exam results, but you don’t owe it to anyone. Young people have told us that agreeing among friends to not share results has helped. You could also chat to your teacher about taking the pressure off sharing results in class. It’s okay if you’re not up for it.

If you’re worried about sharing your results with family, try writing down what you want to say first. If it would help, ask a teacher or friend to be with you when you tell them. If they don’t react in the way you want, remember you’ve done nothing wrong. Talking things through might help calm the situation down, but it’s not your responsibility to make them feel better.

Try not to compare yourself with others - their success is not your failure. Appearances and grades don't always reflect circumstances and only you know the work you put in.
Rachel, 24

Get help now

If exam stress is taking over and getting too much, you’re not alone. These organisations can help.

  • Exam Results Helpline

    Provides careers advice to help young people and their families decide on options following GCSE, A Level and Nationals results days.

    Usually available through August. Opening days and hours may vary each year - check website for details.

    If you live in Scotland, call 0808 100 8000.

  • National Careers Service

    Provides information, advice and guidance to help young people make decisions about learning, training and work.

    Webchat available via the website homepage.

    Opening times:
    8am - 10pm, 7 days a week
  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
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This page was reviewed in October 2023.

It was co-created by young people with lived experience of exam stress.

We will next review the page in 2026.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

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