Student Advice: Coping with Exam Stress

Student Advice - Coping with exam stress.jpg

Sweaty palms? Sleepless nights? Mind working in overdrive? You could be in love, or you could be cramming for exams. 

Ah, it's that dreaded time: exams are looming. There can be a lot of pressure from your parents, peers and teachers to do well; good grades are at the front of your mind and you can't seem to focus on anything but. Try not to worry too much, though – there are steps you can take to prepare, and the support you need to cope with exam stress is out there.


If you know what is expected, you'll start to feel in control of your workload. Here are a few things to consider before starting revision:

  • How will your work be assessed? It's important to know what the exam board are looking for when marking your work. Are spelling errors going to lower your grade? Quotes, they're always a bonus - right? These are the kinds of questions you should be raising with your tutors. 
  • How many lectures, classes or other appointments will I have to attend? This may seem like you're looking for a get out (of your exam) card, but it's always good to check. Time spent in the library pouring over last minute revision notes may be more productive than an hour of Bio? 
  • When are the deadlines for your work? Yes, the dreaded "D" word. It's a student's worst nightmare and can make you feel rushed. If this sounds like you then it's probably best planning for each deadline in advance (see plan ahead). 


There's nothing wrong with taking some time familiarising yourself with the buildings you are studying in. Find out how you can access the services you need. Books, journals, laptops or technical equipment; making sure you find these early will save stress later on.  


If you are struggling with exam stress, or perhaps you're worried about a mental health problem, it's your choice whether or not you want to tell someone. Opening up to your academic councillor or tutor about a personal problem may seem scary at first. However, if you are willing to speak about it to someone you trust then it can be easier to access support networks than you think.

Additional support for someone with a mental health problem are more demanding and will depend on the nature of your course. Some common forms of support are listed here: 

  • Scheduling regular meetings with your college tutor. During this time there can be a lot of planning needed for your exams, but taking time out to discuss any concerns will give you a motivational boost. 
  • Asking your tutor for flexibility around absence (to go to a doctor's appointment). This shouldn't be a problem once your college is aware of the problems you face and will give you time to reflect on your work. 

Think about what methods of support would be most suitable. You may want to talk to a trusted friend before you start a course.


There are many welfare options available to students - some based in your college or college, and some in the wider community.

  • Some places of study have welfare support - a student councillor, liaison officer or other mental health service provided directly by your college or university. They will often be able to offer you confidential advice about your circumstances independently from your tutors or GP. 
  • If you're at university, your students Union (SU) will have a welfare officer who can give you independent support and advice. This will either be an elected student, who will have received appropriate training, or a member of staff. They can also refer you to an external support network, if you have the money in your student account to help you access this. 


When you’re stressed, it can be hard to sleep – and, when you’re sleep deprived, it can make you even more susceptible to stress. It’s a vicious cycle. It's only natural that before an important exam you feel anxious and it plays on your mind late at night. What can you do about it? Don't let revision stress consume your every thought. Do something to take your mind off the workload, cut back on stimulants (coffee, tea and sugary drinks), and make sure you have time to relax before bed.

Ultimately, don't lose sight of the fact there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things might seem intense now, but they won't last forever.