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Coping with exam stress

You’ve got this!

Exam stress in manageable doses is not necessarily a bad thing. It can get your adrenaline pumping just enough to kickstart you into exam mode. Sometimes a bit of a nudge to get us going is all we need to fire on all cylinders, but once we are in it, we don’t need as much motivation to reach the finish line. There are times, however, exam stress can leave us in a really negative space. It’s important to understand when the stress is too much, and how to cope with that stress in a practical way.

How do I know when my stress levels are out of control?

High levels of stress can affect different people in different ways. If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should speak to a teacher or a family member that you trust:

  • You either lose weight or pick up weight due to eating too little or too much (stress eating is sometimes described as ‘eating your feelings’)
  • You sleep less and when you do sleep, you either have trouble staying asleep or you don’t sleep peacefully
  • You have panic attacks – these can be scary, and symptoms can be a racing heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath
  • You feel anxious all the time, or even depressed
  • You struggle to focus and feel overwhelmed most of the time
  • You get headaches often and your muscles feel tense

Exams are difficult enough as it is. Feeling one or more of these symptoms on top of normal exam stress will really take its toll on you. If you have one or more of the symptoms mentioned above and are looking for ways to reduce your stress levels, here are some practical tips:

  1. Put a realistic study plan together: once you have finalised your study plan, you will feel less stressed knowing that you have set aside all the time you need to study for each exam. Give yourself some breaks and reward yourself with a treat if you are on track with your study roster.
  2. Put a list together of what you want to achieve when you have finished school: put the list up in your bedroom where you can see it and read it regularly. It will remind you why you are studying in the first place.
  3. Arrange a study group for the subjects you find hardest: sometimes studying in a group or in pairs can help you understand the work better. Hearing more than one point of view helps give you a broader view of the subject.
  4. Tutor a friend who is struggling: as strange as it may sound, the best way to learn is to teach. The questions you will be asked by the person you are tutoring can often help you get a better understanding of the subject.
  5. Eat properly and get enough sleep: simple but very practical advice. Sometimes something as basic as getting a good night’s rest can make a big difference to your overall energy levels.
  6. Don’t compare yourself to your friends: everyone has totally different circumstances. Someone you know may not have to babysit a younger brother or sister or help as much in the house with chores but may face other family challenges. Comparing yourself to others will put unrealistic and unnecessary pressure on you.


Just remember, you have made it through exams before, you can do it again. Even if you don’t pass, or don’t do as well as you wanted to, it is not the end of the road. You can just try harder next time. Let your disappointments be the fuel that fires you back into first gear. You can do anything you put your mind to!

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