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Coping with exams


The Dreaded Exam Time: How to Cope

Academic stress is something that all students will encounter. The most stressful time for any student is the exam period. The exam period is made up of all the time preparing for exams, the actual exams and then the time spent waiting for the results. At each of these times, there are a number of stressors that you may face. Read on to find out about general stress management ideas, as well as how to tackle particular stressors before and during exams.

General stress management ideas
  1. Try a relaxation exercise or meditate.
  2. Follow a healthy and active lifestyle.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Decrease/stop substance use (like alcohol/drugs).
  5. Get organised.
  6. Manage your time effectively.
  7. Engage in extra-curricular activities.
  8. Talk about the things that are worrying you.
  9. Focus on positive self-talk and avoid fatalistic thinking.
  10. Be more assertive about meeting your needs.
Before the exam


  1. Finding time to study.
  2. Realising how much there is to study/cover.
  3. Thinking about possible exam questions.
  4. Deciding which sections to ‘spot’.
  5. Reduced social life or isolation.
  6. Inadequate sleep the night before the exam.
  7. Concern about how much more others have studied than you have.

Possible ways to cope

  1. Establish effective study habits in advance that include: Preparing for, and attending, lectures. Consistently taking notes in class. Consulting your lecturers. Doing assignments and required reading when these are expected. Setting a realistic study action plan a couple of weeks before exams begin.
  2. Find out the structure and format of the exam – ask your lecturer.
  3. Ask which sections the exam is going to cover and study ALL these sections.
  4. Find a study method that works best for you and stick to it, instead of trying to study the way others do.
  5. Let off some steam before the exam – exercise, sport and/or relaxation.
  6. Budget enough time for sleep – learning is consolidated while you sleep.
  7. If possible, form a study group.
  8. Make use of past exam papers –consult the library and lecturers about this.
  9. Consider how you can manage your time more effectively.
During the exam


  1. Getting questions that catch you off-guard.
  2. The feeling of going blank.
  3. Running out of time.
  4. Being distracted.
  5. Feeling tired.
  6. Not knowing how to approach an answer.

Possible ways to cope

  1. Being well prepared for the exam.
  2. Getting a good night’s rest before the exam and having a good breakfast on the morning of the exam.
  3. Ensuring that you know the venue for the exam, the starting time and duration of the exam well in advance.
  4. Ensuring that you have organised your stationery the night before the exam and that you include spare stationery for use should the need arise.
  5. Giving yourself enough time to arrive at the venue – at least 30 minutes early so that you can start to focus and find a comfortable seat.
  7. Use positive self-talk to calm yourself.
  8. Read the exam paper carefully to ensure that you understand what you have to do and what your answer should cover.
  9. Number the questions carefully and write neatly.
  10. Write down something for every question – even if it’s just a definition or some points.
  11. If you go blank – DO NOT PANIC – KEEP CALM. Simply take a deep breath and begin to work through a question that you can answer (even if it is not the first question). This will assist in restoring confidence to deal with the rest of the paper.
  12. Review your answers.
  13. Stay till the end of the session.

Click here: Tips to help you manage exam stress

Click here: The Complete Guide to Stress & Time Management: Emma Carlile