8 ways to cope with exams

Person studying at a desk

Exams. If even the word makes you feel a little uneasy, you’re not alone. At any time of life, it’s not uncommon to feel worried or under pressure as you approach exam season.

The good news is, there are a range of things you can do to help you prepare and deal with the stress you might be feeling. Read on for our 8 top tips for coping with exams.

1. Plan ahead

Person writing on post-it notes.

Getting organised is the best way to help make sure you feel as prepared as you can before the big day.

Start by working out the basics, such as which exams you have, how marks are allocated, and how much you need to know for each one. You can’t know everything but knowing where you’ll pick up the marks can help you prioritise your learning and revision.

Make a realistic revision schedule and break your sessions into small chunks in the weeks leading up to your exams. This way, things will feel more manageable. And once you have a plan, you’ll know exactly what you need to work on each day.

2. Think about your environment

Image of a tidy desk with laptop, desk lamp, notebook and flowers.

Think about where you work best. Some people need to sit quietly in the library to study, whereas others do better in a group or with a little background noise.

If you’re studying at home, a clean and tidy environment can help you to feel more zen. Make your space a place you want to spend time in and choose comfortable seating.

If you know there are lots of distractions at home, head somewhere else. There are lots of study spaces across campus, from silent zones to group study pods. Find what suits you and your learning style to get the most from your revision sessions.

3. Eat and drink well

Image of porridge, avocado, fruits

Our diets have a huge part to play in how we feel, both mentally and physically. You might have your head in the books, but take the time to eat and drink well, too.

Eat slow-release foods like multi-grain bread, porridge, nuts and vegetables. These foods hep you maintain a good blood sugar level to avoid highs and lows of energy.

Staying hydrated has been linked to better concentration and enhanced short-term memory – so drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol as these will have a negative impact on your energy and concentration in the long term.

And, did you know, eating a banana before an exam can help improve concentration? Make sure to add some to your shopping list!

4. Stay active

Image of person sitting on a gym mat.

Exercise is one of the quickest and most effective ways to de-stress – and you don’t need to be a finely-tuned athlete to enjoy it.

Fresh air is a great way to clear your head and re-energise, so get out for a stroll around the local park or the neighbourhood where you live.

If you’re a member of the gym or a sports club at university, don’t side-line your usual exercise for studying. Yes, you have exams coming up, but it’s important to maintain a good work/life balance and set time aside to still do the things you enjoy, too.

5. Schedule some down time

Image of a bath and bath tray, with a book, herbal tea and flowers.

Take regular breaks when you’re studying. Psychologists say we can only concentrate properly for 30-45 minutes, so take a short break away from your desk by making yourself a drink or going for a short walk.

And schedule in plenty of free time to unwind at the end of the day. No one can work all day every day – it’s important you take some time to rest and recharge before tackling the next project.

Find activities that help you to relax. It might be getting outside, spending some time in the gym, a hot bath, watching TV or a creative activity. Whatever you need to take your mind off studying for a while.

6. Get a good night’s sleep

Image of a tabby cat asleep under a duvet.

A good night’s sleep is crucial for our overall physical and mental wellbeing. Make sure you’re well-rested in the run-up to your exams and get around 8 hours sleep per night. Reducing your caffeine intake, alcohol consumption and screen time can really help with this.

And hey, if you need a power nap between revision sessions, have a power nap! Don’t feel guilty about taking some time out for you if you’re feeling tired.

7. Keep things in perspective

Image of a hand holding a glass orb.

Lots of people say that exams aren’t everything. That is true, but we know that it mightn’t stop you from feeling pressure at the time.

Even if you don’t do as well as you hoped, you can still be successful in life beyond. Remember, exam success doesn’t define you as a person. There’s so much more to you than how you can respond to an exam on one day. Try to keep things in perspective.

Remember how far you’ve come already. You’ve made it this far and done incredibly well to get to university. Have faith in yourself and your ability.

Then, once you’ve done an exam, try to put it out of your mind. No amount of overthinking will change the outcome now, so don’t waste your energy worrying about things you can’t control.

8. Get support from friends and family

Image shows three friends sitting together and looking at a laptop.

One of the most important things is to reach out if you are feeling worried or anxious. Speak to a good friend, family member or tutor – it often helps just to get it out of your system. And they may even be able to think of ways to make life a little easier.

Getting prepared for exams might sometimes mean saying no to social events, but your good friends will understand this and support you. It’s not forever – it’s just for now.

We hope these top tips will help you to get exam ready. Remember, there’s lots of support and advice at the University should you need it – from Learning Hub workshops to support with your mental health.

The team from Student and Library Services have also written some helpful guidance on preparing for your exams. Good luck!


Author: Amy B

Amy studied English and now works in the Communications and Development team at Teesside University. She's also a home interiors blogger with a passion for nature, art and colour. Away from work, Amy loves great vegetarian food, indie rock and a good box set.

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