7 tips for coping with exam stress

I think we can all agree that it’s that time of year – that month of absolute procrastination which we spend neither working nor feeling like we can enjoy ourselves.  Instead, we (statistically speaking, I can’t be the only one) resolve to drown our stresses of last-minute revision (read: learning) under a duvet with copious amounts of chocolate. Needless to say, Plan A isn’t exactly reliable.

Most of our exam-related problems bottle down to the stress and fear of failure, and while these block our abilities to think, revise and properly prepare for exams as we try to cram as much in as little time as possible, stress also has many health-related drawbacks, including lack of sleep, breakouts, headaches, sometimes depression… One morbid website even mentioned Alzheimer’s and premature death.

There's no way you'll feel stressed with this kid around. (Photo credit: Pippy & Timmy)

There’s no way you’ll feel stressed with this kid around. (Photo credit: Pippy & Timmy)

So in the interest of longevity and in theme with my current exam situation, I’ve compiled a list of a few things I do to help cope with the exam stress that’s currently haunting many of us. For those of you whose universities or schools haven’t had the same stroke of genius as mine to open a petting zoo for stressed students (a short-lived idea sadly), you might find something in my routine…

1)      ACCEPT IT

This might sound like beginner’s advice from an AA meeting, but the amount of time I spent hiding in bed with copious amounts of chocolate in distraught denial is embarrassing. That D-Day will come, and once you’ve accepted this horror, you can begin to do something.


Probably the only positive point of exam periods is the lack of timetables, lessons, courses, the list goes on… I like to see pre-exam period as a well-deserved holiday to relax before tests hit.  Sadly, this is more denial, and in my masochistic way, I destroyed my holiday with my own schedule. This doesn’t have to be a strict, crash-course 9-11 revision-based schedule, but being awake by 9am, giving yourself a number of hours of study per day, putting a stop to work in the evening and giving yourself regular breaks in your revision means you don’t waste the day, you’re able to concentrate for longer (working solidly for three hours will drain you into uselessness), and give you the evening to wind-down and get some much-needed sleep through the night.

3)      BEDTIMES

Carrying on from no.2, thing you will probably be lacking when you do get into your exam (and I speak from experience) is sleep. I’ve started setting myself an old people’s bedtime of 11pm (translation: 12-12:30pm) to give myself a good 8 hours sleep per night. That means I can even wake up at a godforsaken 8:30am and not feel like a freight train’s victim.

Exercising is awesome for revision. (Photo credit: ZAGGORA)

Exercising is awesome for revision. (Photo credit: ZAGGORA)

4)      EXERCISE

And there it is. The other big E. Stress causes pretty much everything from lower immunity to diseases to emotional unbalance and sleep deprivation, but exercise is one thing that really helps. My Premium gym membership has never been more abused, and apart from getting me away from the books and breathing fresh air, I’m so focused on not hyperventilating to death on the treadmill that I spend an hour blissfully unconcerned about my nearing exams. 

5)      FOOD

Confession time: my entire stock of chocolate bars and sneaky little snacks has been eaten. Partly because I’ve nothing left, partly because people at the gym is almost sickeningly healthy that it guilt-trips me into food awareness, I’ve begun a small diet, the 5-and-2 diet which I will be reviewing when I’ve seen (or not seen) and effects. I am not suggesting you start a diet, but I would definitely advise eating healthily, swapping a KitKat for an apple or banana… The main reason being, that eating healthily will affect your general mood and productivity, and will give you more energy over a longer period while gorging on chocolate will always drive you back to a huddled pile of laziness on your bed. Because I’m convinced chocolate necessary for my continued survival, I’ve only limited myself to it – a chocolate bar a day or every other day, as cutting anything out of your diet suddenly will lead to breaking down and eating a lot of it later on.

Treats are important but don't go mad. (Photo credit: Renee Bertrand)
Treats are important but don’t go mental. (Photo credit: Renee Bertrand)

6)      GO WORK

Stop procrastinating! You’ve got yourself a sleeping and health routine, now get working! Set a target and timetable for what work you’ll do every day of a week and work through it. Starting is the hardest part. I took to working for 40 minutes before giving myself a 20-minute break to watch an episode of Cougar Town, which is light enough to not get me hooked but keeps me going through my work routine.

7)      AND FINALLY…

Don’t begin to doubt yourself. Lack of faith causes most of my stress and habit of freezing up in exams. Have confidence in your abilities and knowledge and know that if I can do it (and you really want to believe me on this), then you can too. Really.

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Categories: Fashion & Lifestyle, Procrastination

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1 reply


  1. MSc Economics – The Best Feeling | Cogitations of Bilal Mussa

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