With some exams already underway and others starting this coming week; children, young people and adults around the country and across the world will be priming themselves for EXAMS! 

Be it, Year 2/Year 6 SATS tests, end of year exams, GCSES or higher education examinations, now is often the time when people start to feel their nerves kicking in! 

So, are you ready to take new challenges in your stride or is your stress bucket already starting to overflow? 

Whether you are a student preparing for what lies ahead or a parent, family member or professional supporting a student over the exam times, one common factor that is often referred to is the increase in stress that people experience around this time of year.  The run up to exams will see some students feeling confident and prepared whilst others are living in fear of impending doom.  

But why is this the case, what makes some people more resilient to stress than others? 

There is a wealth of information to suggest that depending on a person’s genetic makeup, nature and the personality traits that they are born with, can have an overall impact on a person’s ability to cope with stress.  Whilst some people are naturally more resilient and when faced with stress, they find ways to manage any difficult thoughts or feelings, developing their own coping mechanisms, others struggle. 

Some people are indeed more sensitive in nature and because of this they too can become sensitive to stress.  They may feel more threatened, recognising a series of uncomfortable physical symptoms firing off inside their body.  Because of this, sensitive people have a tendency to worry more than others, finding it hard to manage situations.  Often, a degree of overwhelming thoughts and physical symptoms can lead to further thoughts of not being able to cope, negative self-talk that impacts on an individual’s confidence and belief in themselves. 

At times of pressure, people are often quick to discount their successes and become the self-critic, playing down anything that they may have done, the hard work they have already completed.  Ultimately knocking themselves and their ability to cope, this can often lead to a person feeling incapable of dealing with stress. 

The Mental Health Foundation define stress as the ‘degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable’.

Steps to help reduce stress

There are many things that you can do to alleviate anxiety and exam pressure from building.  Here are 4 simple yet effective ways to combat unwanted stress and increased anxiety. 

1. Plan ahead:  Take the time to plan, make a visual timetable, map out what you have got coming up and also what you need to be focusing on. Taking time out to plan may seem like a waste of time, time that you believe that you have not got but by putting a clear plan in place will help you to organise your time better.

Using colour can help make things seem clearer.  Mapping out what lies ahead enables you to prioritise on what you need to do and when.  Once you have completed each task mark it off. 

‘There is no greater sense of achievement than seeing hard work come together.  It is never too late to make a plan!’

2. Take time out to rest and restore your brain:  There is a lot of research  which refers to the importance of having regular breaks when trying to either revise or complete any form of academic work.

As someone who has a number of perfectionist traits, I am fully aware of how easy it can be to just ‘keep going’.  Not wanting to stop and continually pushing myself until I have completed a task, be that writing a report, an article or preparing for training.  I am learning however, the longer I work, the harder I find to take in what I am actually trying to do.  I scrutinise what I have done, I go over and over something until I feel it is perfect.  But by doing this, I can also feel my level of anxiety increase as ultimately, I do not give myself a break. 

When making your plan, make sure you schedule some clear breaks into your timetable/revision planner. Get up, make a drink, spend ten minutes out in the fresh air. 

‘Take time out doing something you enjoy!  Clear your mind so that when you come back to work you can do so with a fresh pair of eyes and perspective’.

3. The importance of sleep:  Worries often start when we are trying to switch off, preventing us from getting off to sleep, not having enough sleep has a knock on effect. Whilst it might seem working into the early hours is a good thing at the time, it does very little for productivity. Try and set a realistic time to stop working each evening, spend time doing something that will help you relax; read a book, have a bath, play a game (anything but work!).

If you are able to start switching off earlier on an evening, you are more likely to feel relaxed and then get off to sleep at a reasonable hour.   Mind  provides a number of different strategies that help with establishing a bedtime routine and the use of ‘switching off’ before bed, preparing your body physically and mentally for sleep.

‘Do you find that your mind is unable to switch off and thoughts pop into your head just as you are about to close your eyes? Why not try keeping a notebook by your bed in order to write thoughts down – getting them out of your head and down on paper’.

4. Have courage in your convictions:  Anxiety and stress can play tricks with our brain, planting a seed of doubt. When preparing for exams, it is important to try and keep a clear mind. Remember, an exam is about testing your knowledge and understanding of a subject you have already been taught.  Around exam time, it is very easy to begin to doubt and second guess the things that you already know.

Make some positive affirmations to help you over the coming weeks ahead, post notes around your room/home/in your planner/bag.  Positive reminders that you can do this! 

It is important to remember that everyone copes differently with tests and examinations but ultimately, you are not alone. If you are having any doubts, talk about your worries, people care about you and want you to succeed.

Be kind to yourself and remember, it’s the small steps we take that help us achieve our long term goals! 

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