How to help ease exam stress and anxiety

Learning how to battle the worries before exams can help them to focus, build confidence and stay positive.

As part of our ‘Get Prepped’ series this month, we asked two tutors for the best advice to share with your teen for easing exam stress.

  1. Be prepared

“Not doing enough revision or being organized enough before going into an exam can be one of the major contributors to your stress levels,” says Freya Block, a Philosophy tutor

“How you can overcome this is making sure that you’re confident in the material you need for the exam and you understand it well. Seek the advice of your tutors outside lessons; ask your friends if you can study with them and help each other this way; when making revision notes, aim to make them as clear and concise as possible so you can easily understand them – different things work for different people. Find your preferred method and start working!”

  1. Eat well – especially before your exam

“Worrying about an exam may lead you to feel nauseous or uneasy and one of the worst things you can do is skip meals before,” says Freya. “Try to eat as healthily as you can and pick foods that are high in protein with slow releasing energy. Think porridge or scrambled egg for breakfast if you have a morning exam or fish, chicken or Quorn for lunch with an afternoon exam. Choose nutritious, healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts to give you the best brain fuel for your exam!”

  1. Share your exam stress and worries

“It’s an old saying but a good one: a problem shared is a problem halved. Keeping worries to ourselves can mean that we lose perspective about the severity of the issue. Talking your stresses through with a friend or family member can really help,” says Sophie Valentine, a Chemistry tutor on Tutordel.

“If you’re really suffering from exam-related stress, talking to somebody else can help you determine whether pushing for that top grade is really worth what you’re going through now. Ask your parents or guardians for support if you’re struggling.”

  1. Introduce a worry pad

A worry notepad is a great tool if you get distracted by worrying thoughts. It can be particularly helpful during stressful periods. Instead of trying to deal with all the extra worries that keep popping into your head while revising – ’I’m dreading that next Maths topic,’ or ‘I don’t feel confident for my French oral’ – you can write them down on the pad. 

When you’re done studying, you can address some of the worries. Sometimes you’ve naturally dealt with them or you can turn to friends, family or teachers for help.

  1. Try grounding techniques 

“One technique that I used to calm my mind when it felt like my revision notes were spinning round and round in your head is ‘conscious observation’. Much like depression is associated with concern over past events, stress is often due to worrying about future events, and both can be avoided by focusing on the here-and-now,” says Sophie. 

“To try conscious observation, select any object and focus on how you observe it with each of your senses, one by one (How does it look? What does it feel like?). This activity trains your brain to focus on the present.” You can also try these grounding techniques shared by the experts at mental health charity, The Mix.

  1. Distract yourself before the exam

“Cramming before the doors to the exam hall open is only going to make you anxious,” says Freya. “When I was at school, my teacher used to tell us to go for a brisk walk around school to get your heart rate up and your blood flow going as well as giving you something else to focus on before being sat down for the next few hours. This can help during long revision periods too.”

  1. Get a good night’s sleep

“Obviously this might be difficult if you’re worrying about your exams, but try not to stay up late revising,” says Freya. “Try a mug of chamomile tea before bed and put away your phone or laptop before you try and get some sleep – the blue light can affect your slumber.”

  1. Develop a positive attitude

“Going into the exam with the right mindset is not only going to help you do better, but it’s also going to help you feel a lot less worried about the paper you’re about to sit,” says Freya. “Have some confidence in yourself, take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can do it – positive self-talk really helped me!”

  1. Try a mindful activity

From meditation to yoga, journaling to walks in nature, don’t estimate the power of some wholesome self-care. All of these mindful activities have been proven to lower stress levels and help you cultivate a more positive outlook so explore what works for you.

  1. Remember that you’re not alone

“You’re not the only one who suffers from exam stress. Chances are your friends will be too!” says Freya. “Help and support each other, offer a distraction when needed and in return they will be there to calm you down and reassure you. Knowing that others are in the situation too can make it easier for you to cope with your own stress.”

These steps should help your teen through the exam period, and just being there can make a real difference. Helping them feel comfortable with sharing their feelings and explaining that stress is a natural part of life can help to dispel some of the fear. Good luck out there!