Here are a number of ways you can help calm your exam anxiety symptoms. Lots of students allow themselves to get very overwhelmed in exam season and often can’t find a way to relax. A little nervousness is normal and can even be helpful as it can motivate you to study hard but exam stress shouldn’t be interfering with your daily life. It’s important to take time for yourself to ensure your anxiety doesn’t get the better of you. After all, regardless of how well you prepare for an exam, if you let your anxious thoughts get the better of you, you’re unlikely to reach your full potential.
1. Establish a consistent revision routine.
Making a good routine to structure your revision is very important to keep you organised and on top of your workload. Many people like to make a timetable of what they need to cover every day in set amounts of time. I don’t like this method. It only adds to your stress if you don’t complete what you set for that day and it can be very disheartening if you don’t reach your targets.
When I say make a consistent routine I mean sitting down in the same place for your studying every time. That could be at a desk, your kitchen table, the living room sofa…wherever you want! I wouldn’t recommend your bed as a study space though as this can make you too relaxed and not concentrate as well.
How to make your routine:
Next, I’d suggest making a list of all of the topics and sub-topics that are in your courses. For example, a Geography A-Level might cover 4 topics and within those, there will be sub-topics. Utilise your subject specification set by your exam board to pick out sub-topics. Use this list while revising to tick off things you are confident enough to leave until closer to a mock or exam. Mark sub-topics you need to revisit again within the next couple of days and finally, underline in red anything you do not understand and need to speak to a teacher about.
Then you should set a realistic target of how many days a week you want to study. When I sat my A-levels I studied 3 nights a week, for 2 hours, from January through to March before scaling up to 5 days but with much longer hours as I had study leave. This was on top of my dedicated study periods in school. While this might sound very draining to some, it made things a lot more manageable for me and I didn’t find myself overly anxious as exams approached in May. It also might not sound like a lot to others. It is completely up to you to set your targets and what is realistic to fit into your schedule while covering all of your course content.
You should consider this!
I would highly recommend the Adapt app for GCSE and A-Level revision. It is completely free and I found it very useful while preparing for my exams. The app recognises courses from multiple exam boards across the UK and allows you to input information about what you want to study and how often. Download it through the Apple Store or Google Play here: https://getadapt.co.uk/.
2. Learn how YOU study efficiently.
All students study for exams in different ways and some methods that work for your friends might not work for you. It’s important that in the run-up to exams you try lots of different revision techniques and find what helps you take in the most content and is the fastest.
DO NOT DO THIS
Lots of students get caught in the trap of getting a pad of lined A4 paper, a few nice pens and colourful highlighters and then simply re-write everything from their notes and textbooks. This is definitely not the most efficient study method. It takes lots of time and never tests what you know as you are simply copying what’s in front of you.
I would recommend trying mindmaps, fishbone diagrams, Cornell notes and making flashcards of KEY information. You can find more information on effective study methods on this website if you’re stuck for ideas.
The take-home message is to make sure you try lots of different styles of studying for your exams rather than sticking to the method you’re used to or all of your friends are using. Knowing you are effectively revising will help calm your exam stress.
3. Don’t forget to eat and drink.
This might sound very silly to some people but lots of students don’t take proper care of themselves if they are struggling with anxiety at exam time. Dehydration and lack of good vitamins and minerals will lower your ability to concentrate well. It’s important to make sure you are drinking enough water. I do this by making sure I take a water bottle with me everywhere I go. This means when I need a drink it’s always there and I don’t have to disrupt my revision or another task to go and get one.
Around exam time it’s crucial that you eat well, even when you don’t feel like it. If your anxiety is making you nauseous it might help to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals throughout the day instead of sitting down to a daunting big breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eat nutritious foods when you can, fruit or chopped-up vegetables as a snack is a good way to make sure you’re getting a good dose of vitamins.
For those that don’t like fruit and veg, I recommend trying snacks that are made from them. Yoghurt-covered fruit flakes, fruit bars and veggie straw crisps are all good equivalents and healthier than a chocolate bar or fried crisps.
Try to lay off tea, coffee and fizzy drinks as the caffeine in these can increase anxiety and make you feel more on edge.
Eating and drinking well is a great remedy for calming anxiety and fuels your brain for all of your studying.
4. Try to get a good night’s sleep.
This way to calm exam anxiety might sound easier said than done. When you’re stressed you often don’t sleep well and there can be a lot of tossing and turning as your mind races. What I mean by this is setting up a good, consistent routine for sleeping. Academic attainment is directly linked to sleep. I recommend making sure you try to get off to sleep at the same time every night and aim for at least 7-8 hours.
Have a digital detox every night!
Turn off your phone at least half an hour before you go to bed, it’s also best to keep it out of your room or at least far from your bed so that if you struggle to sleep you won’t be tempted to start scrolling.
However, the exception to having your phone near your bed would be if listening to a podcast or a sleep story help to calm your anxiety. I love the sleep stories by Headspace. You have to pay for the app to unlock all of their content but there is a lot on YouTube.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Choose your bedtime activities.
Pick something you can do every night as part of a routine before bed. This will help ease any anxiety if you know exactly what you’re doing every night. About 2 hours before I go to sleep I’ll always get a snack and put on my pyjamas. Within about 1 hour of wanting to go to sleep, I’ll put on a short TV show – usually something about 25 minutes long. While I watch it I’ll brush through my hair, do my skincare and then brush my teeth. I’ll then turn on my sleepcast and settle down to sleep.
By doing the same things every night, particularly during exam time, I found that I am a lot calmer and able to settle to sleep a lot quicker. Exam anxiety can be a very pesky thing though and I’ll often find myself waking up during the night, often in a panic about a topic I’ve forgotten.
To combat this I practise deep breathing and doing a body scan. Headspace also has videos available on YouTube that can explain the techniques better than I can.
5. Talk to your teachers or a counsellor if necessary.
When exam anxiety becomes a bit too much and you feel like you can’t cope, it’s really important you speak to someone you trust. That could be a parent or another family member. It could also be a teacher or a qualified counsellor. Teachers are very understanding and do not want exam anxiety to get in the way of your revision. They can offer academic advice to help you consolidate the content but also advice on calming your nerves.
It’s important to remember that your teachers have been through lots and lots of exams in their lifetime and they know how daunting it can be. They might also be able to speak to someone about getting you an appointment with your school counsellor or an outside agency. There has been a big movement recently about removing the stigma on mental health and you should remember that it’s okay to feel like you are struggling sometimes!
To finish off…
So those are some of my top tips to help you manage exam anxiety. I hope you found them useful and will try out some of the relaxation methods or the Adapt app for your revision. Don’t forget to check out all of my other exam-related content!