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.

It’s normal to feel stressed and worried about exams. Stress is your body’s natural response to pressure. While it can help you focus and feel motivated to get things done, sometimes it can feel hard to manage.

Exam stress can affect anyone and it can show up in different ways. For example, you might:

  • feel anxious or depressed
  • feel irritable and angry
  • struggle to sleep
  • notice changes to your eating habits
  • have negative thoughts about yourself
  • worry about the future
  • lose interest in the things you enjoy
  • struggle to focus and concentrate
  • feel unwell – for example, you might get headaches, feel sick or tired
Three young people sitting together in a classroom. They are smiling while looking at their mobile phones.

You might experience symptoms of stress that aren’t listed here, and that’s okay. We are all different and cope with stress and pressure in different ways.

If you notice any of these feelings or you’re worried that exam pressure is taking over your life, you are not alone. We have tips on this page that can help.

Coping with exam pressure

The pressure to do well can be overwhelming and only add to the stress of exams. This could be pressure from your school, family, friends, or the pressure you put on yourself. You may feel it when you come to do exams, or you may feel it long before they begin.

Often these pressures are unspoken. Even if the people around you aren’t putting pressure on you, you might still want to do well to make them proud on results day. But remember, whatever your results, you’re not letting anyone down.

There are things you can do to help ease the pressure:

  • Be kind to yourself

    It can be helpful to think about all the things you’ve achieved so far, in or outside of studying. Or write a list of all the things you like about yourself, and the things other people value about you too. Setting aside time for the things you enjoy and are good at 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, it can help to tell them what you feel able to achieve. Let them know if your expectations are different to theirs. You could also talk to a teacher you trust about the pressure you are under at home.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others

    Try not to worry about how others are preparing for exams and focus on what you can do. You might think that other people are doing better, revising more 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 feeling just as worried as you are.

two-young-man-wearing-grey-hoodie-and-black-jacket-walking-and-laughing-on-a-street
I wish I knew then what I know now, which is that I am worthy and valuable regardless of what I’ve ‘achieved’.
Hannah, 21

How to deal with exam stress

A group of students wearing school uniform sit at their desks in a classroom and write in their textbooks.

Exam stress can feel lonely and like a heavy weight to carry, but you don’t have to handle it all by yourself. Lots of young people find exams difficult and it’s okay to need support from people around you.

Try talking to someone about how you feel. If someone knows that you feel stressed, they can be there to support you, encourage you and offer a listening ear. This could be a friend, family member, carer, community or faith leader, a teacher, or anyone else that you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Below are more tips and advice to help manage stress and get through exams.

In the lead-up to your exams

Here are some things that can help in the lead-up to your exams:

Think about whether there’s any practical support that might help you deal with exam stress. If there is, speak to a teacher or tutor about it. This could be support with:

  • a subject you’re struggling with
  • revision help and advice
  • balancing different subjects
  • somewhere quiet to revise
  • access arrangements

It can feel nerve-wracking asking a teacher or tutor for help. But remember that they will have spoken to lots of students who are feeling the same way.  Schools want to help their pupils pass exams and you deserve the help and support you need.

Everyone has different needs. Access arrangements help students with special education needs (SEN) or disabilities. This could look like:

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

You can speak to your school, college or university to find out about applying for access arrangements. Some access arrangements can be organised by the school, but others need the permission of the examining body, so it’s best to talk to your school as early as possible.

If your friends are studying too, they are likely to understand what you’re going through. Knowing that someone else feels the same way can make all the difference. You can talk to each other about exams or take a break from studying by doing something you enjoy.

You can work through problems together and help each other with different subjects. This can be a nice way to keep your social life going and boost your mood. It can also help you to see that you are not alone.

When exams start

Here are some tips to try when exams start:

Get everything you need for your exam ready the night before. You could ask someone you trust to help you make sure that you have everything. If you’re going somewhere for your exam, check when and where it’s happening. You can plan your journey and give yourself plenty of time to get there.

Try not to cram in last-minute revision before your exam. This can be really overwhelming and make you feel like you’re unprepared, but you’ve done everything you can. Instead, try to focus on remaining calm. Breathing exercises and grounding techniques can help you feel calmer before your exam. Take a look at Kerry's blog on the techniques that help her when she feels anxious.

The grounding technique that helps me when I'm anxious

It’s hard not to come out of an exam and talk about it with your friends, but this might make you feel more stressed. Try not to think about the exam now that it’s done.

Give yourself something to look forward to after your exam. That could be doing something fun or taking time alone to rest. It’s difficult to switch off if you have more exams to prepare for, but remember to pause and recharge first.

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 feel stressed 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. It is of course important to revise, but you’ll find it harder to revise if you don’t take the time to look after yourself. You might try to eat and sleep well, or give yourself time to unwind by gaming or seeing your friends. We are not machines – we all need a break sometimes!

    When you're thinking about how to use your time before exams, make sure to factor in time to take care of yourself. You deserve it!

Life doesn't stop around exams

We all have things going on in our lives outside of school, work and exams. Complicated things can happen during exam season that make it hard to study. You might not have the time, space, motivation or concentration.

It could be things like:

It’s so important to ask for help if something in your life is making it harder to revise and feel ready for your exams. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know, there are lots of helplines at the bottom of this page. You deserve support with whatever you’re going through, no matter how big or small it seems.

More on reaching out for help

Keeping things in perspective: results aren't everything

Exams can help you take the next step in your academic or professional career - but results are not the only measure of success. We asked our Activists how they keep things in perspective when dealing with exam stress. Here’s what they said:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Exams are a small snippet of your whole life when you put it into perspective, how can your whole life and world possibly be defined by that short amount of time?

How to remind yourself that there is more to life than grades:

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

    We don’t usually think about whether the people in our lives did exams, BTECs or what grades they got. Exam results are not something we remember or value in each other. Your worth and how you see yourself is not based on the grades you get. There are lots of qualities that make you, you. But they can’t be measured by exams. For example, you might be good at making people laugh, giving advice, being creative, 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. Whatever grades you get on results day, it’s still possible to have the life you see for yourself in the future. There are lots of different routes you can take to get to where you want to be.

  • Your life outside of exams is important too

    You could try making 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.

Revision tips

  • Try breaking it up into chunks and creating a timetable

    Figuring out what subjects you need to study and when can make revision feel more manageable. If you’re not sure how to create a revision timetable, it’s okay to ask for help from a teacher, tutor or someone else. BBC Bitesize has lots of tips to help you get started.

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day

    If you’re struggling to get through your revision plan each day, have a look at how you can change it. It should make you feel better about revising and not leave you feeling burnt out. It might take some trial and error to find a plan that works for you, but it’s worth doing to feel less stressed.

  • Make sure you take regular breaks from studying

    Time spent taking a break is just as important as time spent revising. This will give you some relief and make it easier to concentrate. Young people have told us that 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.

Not everyone learns in the same way

We all have our own ways of learning. If you feel distracted or struggle to remember your notes, it might help to try something different. There are lots of techniques to test out and see what works best for you. Take a look at the examples of learning styles and techniques for exam revision.

You might find one way of studying works for one subject, but not for others. You can try different techniques and see what helps you learn best. Revise in whatever way works for you.

  • posters, Post-it notes, flashcards
  • colour-coded revision timetables and notes
  • lay out your revision in 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

  • practice papers
  • group revision sessions
  • flashcards

  • group revision sessions
  • read your revision notes aloud to yourself or someone else
  • rewrite your lesson materials into your own words

More tips and advice from young people

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

A boy wearing black jacket and smiling as he looks to his friend beside him.
Stress – especially academic stress – has really affected my sleep over the years. I struggled with insomnia all throughout secondary school when I was facing my GCSE exams and then my A Levels.
Niamh
  • 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 disappointment on results day

Illustration by elziebug. A purple flower with a smiley face on a green background with black text over the top. The text reads, 'be as kind to yourself as you are to others.'

Illustration by @elziebug. An image of a purple flower on a green background. The flower is smiling. The text reads: be as kind to yourself as you are to others.

If you don’t get the grades you want on results day, it can feel devastating. Whether it’s going to affect what you do next, or you just feel you could have done better, it’s okay to sit with any emotions that come up for a little while.

But know that 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 okay. There are still loads of options available to you.

Here are some steps you can take if you are unhappy with your exam results:

You don't need to make any snap decisions in the heat of the moment. It’s okay to pause, breathe and let the dust settle before you think about your next steps. Results day is tiring, so it’s okay to sleep on it and decide when you feel ready.

If your grades might affect your plans for the future, talk to your teacher, tutor or careers advisor. They are there to help you decide what to do next, such as:

  • getting a re-mark
  • retaking exams
  • studying a different subject
  • thinking about different career routes and options

There are lots of organisations that help young people find their next opportunity. These include the National Careers Service, UCAS, Not Going to Uni and AllAboutSchoolLeavers.

Once you know what options you have available to you, it can really help to talk them through with someone you trust. They can help you figure out what’s best for you, or they can just lend a listening ear while you get everything off your chest. Either way, it can be a good reminder that you’re not alone.

If you are worried about sharing your results with family, it can help to write down and plan what you want to say first. You can also ask a teacher or friend to be with you while you tell them. Talking about your exam results might seem scary, but your family are there to support you. If they don’t react in the way you hope, it’s not your fault, and talking it through can calm things down.

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

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 speak to your teachers about taking the pressure off sharing results in class. You are allowed to say no if you don’t want to share.

Don't give up - there is always more than one route to get to where you want to be. It doesn't matter how long it takes or how you get there.
Rachel, 24

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. 

  • 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:
    24/7
  • 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:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday

You might also find helpful...

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

 

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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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