Overview

Exams are a time when stress levels are higher than usual. Stress can be positive, helping you to stay motivated and focused. However, too much stress can be unhelpful - it can make you feel overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and edgy. Check out this page for some study tips.

Topic Videos

Stay the Course: Find your balance

To help you reach your peak performance at university there are a few important mindsets to have at your disposal: maintaining a balance between work and play is essential to ensuring that you have the physical and mental energy to deliver on your potential.

  • Author: University of Sydney
  • Upload Date: 2013-02-12

University of Sydney

Stories on this Topic

Featured Story (text)

My mind and it's mirage of 'I'm fine'

My mind and it's mirage of 'I'm fine'


A work by Caroline

My name's Caroline. It's been a year out of school, and I'm just simply glad. I would walk the halls every day, to find people pointing at me and laughing. You don't know how bad that felt. I felt like an outcast. Ever since school, I've found it the hardest thing to open up to people. Hardly anyone knows what's going on inside my head, and what had gone on.

I was suicidal. I had suicidal thoughts every day. I was thinking, if I didn't do anything wrong, and they still hate me as much as they do, would they care if I was still here? Would they care at all? I would also sometimes laugh. As strange as it sounds, I was thinking that if I did end up committing suicide, what would be their reaction? Would they blame themselves? I began going crazy. I had panic attacks and sleepless nights. I was also diagnosed with 'Alice in Wonderland syndrome' which was a neurological disorder that the person who had it describes that normal actions would be ten times or even a hundred times faster. Their minds would race like the speed of light, and I believe mine were triggered whenever anyone said anything bad about me, or bad to me. I would constantly over think, and over analyze. I would never do anything risky in my life, because I would think about it too much and put barriers up to prevent myself doing those things.

Through my last weeks at school, I started panicking. I started simply scattering my brain as I was nervous about my exams. I would sit at home and study for hours, because inside my head I was constantly telling myself I was going to fail. Failure was death to me, because I wanted to prove myself to my parents. Being the third and youngest child in my family, I was constantly under a shadow of my two older sisters. They were doing such great things in their life, and here was little ole me, failing everything I tried. I felt like a disappointment.

Mum realized I was stressing overly, and decided to give me a few pamphlets, they were for counselors, but she ended up just sending me to the school one. I would sit in the office for hours, just pouring my heart out, and it felt just like a burden had lifted off my back. I was free, and I could just relax and breeze through my exams. It was like, if I ever needed help, I could go to her, because she knew exactly how I felt through the previous things I had told her.

I always blamed myself for not going sooner, but I was glad I went. Things have never been the same, and I'm thankful.
Promise me you'll do the same, ask your parents, teachers, counselors, anyone. I was foolish and thought I didn't need any help, but I was so very wrong.

Click to read the text

I was always bullied in school, to the point of breaking. No one understood how I felt because I kept it to myself. That was until I got in touch with a counselor, my life has never been the same.

  • Author: Caroline
  • Upload Date: 2012-11-03

I love writing, so I thought i'd share my story. Plus, my phone has just broken beyond repair, so it would be lovely to receive a new one as i can''t afford to get one :)

Factsheet

Provided by Reach Out

We have partnered with Reach Out to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. Reach Out offers information, support and resources to help young people improve their understanding of mental health issues, develop resilience, and increase their coping skills and help-seeking behaviour.

Managing Exam Stress

Exams are a time when stress levels are higher than usual. Stress can be positive, helping you to stay motivated and focused. However, too much stress can be unhelpful - it can make you feel overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and edgy. It's important to try and keep things in perspective and find ways of reducing stress if things seem to be getting on top of you.

Preparing to Study

Many people feel overwhelmed at exam time - having to revise a lot of information in a short space of time and not understanding course material can be a big stress. See below for more practical advice on effective study techniques.

Keep your routine outside studying + take regular breaks

It's important to have regular study breaks and time for relaxation and exercise. Going for a walk, run, or to the gym is not a waste of time, it is a great way to clear your head and help you study better. Watching your favourite TV show or going to the movies are also good ways to take a break from studying. Check out the Reach Out fact sheet on Relaxation for more ideas to help you relax.

Limit drugs

Caffeine (Eg - coffee, no-doz, V) and other drugs (Eg - speed, coke) give you a short lift before making you crash and burn. They can make you feel sick, and unable to sleep or concentrate properly. You actually study better with regular breaks, getting lots of sleep, and from exercising (really!).

Have a number of options for the future

Getting the marks to get into your first preference is great, but it's not the end of the world if you don't - there are other options to get into your course. These include deferring and getting some practical experience in your field, doing further study, writing to the university, retaking some subjects in some cases, or transferring in after a year or two. And, if you do accept another offer, you may find that you like it even more.

Manage expectations

External pressures around exams can be huge. It can be hard to deal with, especially with family and people you respect, but you need to remember that it's your life and your exam, with you in control.  Things that might help you manage expectations:

  • Base expectations on your past performance and doing the best you can do.
  • Put the exam in context.¬† In the scheme of your life, how important is it?¬† If you don't do as well as you'd hoped there are always other alternatives.¬† It's not going to dictate whether you are a good or a bad person, or whether you are a success or failure.¬† Exams can't measure these sorts of things - all they measure is how well you can present the material asked for by the examiner; nothing more, nothing less.
  • Take it as a compliment (admittedly this can be easier said than done).¬† These people want you to do well, and think that you are capable of achieving. Their definition of 'achieving' is sometimes a little (or a lot) misguided, so you need to educate people about what you think is realistic.¬† Talk to them, find out what they hope for you, and tell them what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Use the expectations of yourself and others to assist your studying.¬† Talk to people about how you are feeling, see if they have any advice or help they can offer.¬† It's important to ask for, and accept support from those around, especially family members.

Look after your body

It's easy to let exams get on top of you and to forget to look after yourself. If possible try to get a good nights sleep. It's a good time to make an effort to eat healthy, including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Ask for + accept support

If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might find it helpful to talk to a teacher or counsellor.  It's also important to ask for, and accept, support from your family if you can. This support might be practical, like picking you up from the library, or emotional, including advice or help. If you need to talk to someone outside the situation, call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (won't show up on your phone bill) or Lifeline 131 114 (both are anonymous, 24hr help lines).

Remember...

There's always a light at the end of the tunnel.  Exams have a beginning and an end, and the stress that goes along with them should end with the exam.  Once the paper's in, there's nothing more you can do to (legally) influence the outcome - which means it's now time to chill and enjoy the summer.

Study Hints

The exam period is a time when stress levels are higher than usual. Stress can be positive, helping you to stay motivated and focused. However, too much stress can be unhelpful, it can make you feel overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and edgy.

It's important to try and keep things in perspective and find ways of reducing stress if things seem to be getting on top of you. This section  gives you some suggestions of things you can do to maximise your study time and help you learn better.

Study habits

exam stress

Find out some tips for effective study. Photo by Jernie @ flickr

 

Study area

Having a good study area can make a huge difference to how well you learn. Study in a well lit, quiet area, away from noises and people in the house. If this is impossible, it might be better to study at the library. Make sure your desk is tidy and organised - it means you can concentrate on studying and learning, not trying to find information.

Find out about the exam

Find out what format the exam will take i.e. Are the questions in essay, short answer or multiple choice format? Is the exam open book or closed book? Knowing how the exam is marked and what proportion of your total mark it’s worth might also be helpful.

To do lists

Make a to do list before each study session. Breaking tasks down into small, managable tasks will make it less overwhelming. Cross them off as you go.

Past exam papers

Ask your teacher for past exam papers. They can be a useful insight into what your exam will be like and can also provide a guide for what you know and the areas in which you need help. If possible, practice some under exam conditions and get your teacher to mark them.

Study groups

Forming a studying group can be a helpful way to revise your notes and work through past exam questions (it can also help you feel supported, keep you motivated and focused). If you have questions about your work, a study group may be a good place to have them answered. Ask your teacher if they know of anyone else interested in studying with other people.

Switch the phone , Facebook, twitter email off!

If you find that you are being distracted by the phone or emails, it might help to put the answering machine on or get others in the house to take messages for a while. You can always ring people back later.

Wallpaper

Write down key concepts you have to learn on small sheets of paper followed by examples of how they are used. Post these sheets around your house, Eg - your bed, on the toilet door, in front of the CD collection.  It helps with remembering things like equations, quotes and foreign languages.

Ask lots of questions of your teachers or tutor

Your teacher or tutor can help if you are having trouble developing a study routine or need help with understanding subjects or a particular topic. Asking for help doesn't mean you're a failure or stupid - it's smart to tap into their experience and knowledge to help you perform better. Keep going back to them if you're still unsure or you have more questions. It's their job to be available for you.

Know your preferred learning style

Some people work better using text based memory tools, like acronyms (Eg ROYGBIV - colours of the rainbow; acrostics Eg Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit). Other people find more visual tools more useful, Eg mind maps or tree diagrams.

Take regular breaks

Getting up, moving around and away from your desk at least every 50 minutes for 10 minutes makes you concentrate and learn better.

Revise and learn (don't just re-read)

Sometimes reading through notes doesn't result in learning or understanding. Include the following in revising each topic:

  • vocabulary, technical terms definitions
  • summaries of points
  • formulae, rules, diagrams, charts
  • ability to understand relationships.

Time management

Avoid procrastination

Procrastination is when you do everything else but the task you need to do. It is normal to procrastinate a little. However too much procrastination can just add to your stress and can result in you not giving yourself enough time to prepare. Managing your time and setting realistic goals for each study session can be helpful ways to avoid procrastinating and make tasks seem less overwhelming.

Make a study timetable

Write down all the things you need to do each day of the week, and how long you need for each, including time for enough sleep, relaxation, and exercise. Find out the date of each exam and work out a study timetable leading up to them. Include tests that will help you identify gaps in your knowledge. This can give you some direction and help you focus on what to study each week or day.

Use your frees

Studying in the school library during your frees gives you access to lots of information available on the reference shelves. Some material, such as sample solutions, often can’t be taken out of the library or can be too long to photocopy.

More Information

Most libraries or bookshop stock a range of books on effective studying and time management that can help reduce exam stress.

Coping with Exam Results

Not doing as well as you expected or hoped in your exams can be really tough, especially if you've just finished school and you needed higher marks to get into a particular course. It can also be tough if you feel as if you didn't meet the expectations of others, such as family members or teachers.

How expectations + pressure might affect you

You might be experiencing a range of feelings waiting for or after receiving your results including:

  • disappointment
  • happiness
  • excitement
  • stress or anxiety
  • anger
  • down or depressed
  • numbness
  • guilt
  • confusion
  • sadness
  • physical sickness
  • hopelessness.

It can be especially difficult if your friends are celebrating and are happy over their results. Expectations and pressure from yourself, family, teachers and friends may be a positive influence and help to challenge or motivate you to do your best. However, too much pressure to achieve can cause you to burn out.

If you find that expectations or pressure about your results are interfering with your day to day life, it is important that you talk to someone about it, such as a friend, teacher, or counsellor. For more info on how these people might be able to help you, check out the Who can help you section.

Suggestions for coping with exam results

Even though your results may not be what you were expecting or hoping for, it does not mean that your future is hopeless, you are a failure or you won't be able to achieve great things. Here are some suggestions that may help you manage the situation:

Talk to someone outside the situation

Talking to someone outside the situation, such as a friend, teacher or counsellor, can be a great way of expressing your feelings and exploring other options.

Talk to the person setting the unhelpful expectations

Sometimes the person might be unaware of the unhelpful pressure they have put on you. When you talk to them, it might be helpful to use a phrase such as "When you treat me like that, then this happens".

Challenge and reset your expectations

Sometimes it can be helpful to re-think your own expectations. This may help you decide if they are achievable for you. A useful question to ask might be 'What would I suggest to a friend in this situation?'

Explore other options for the future

Sometimes expectations are only focused on one outcome and if you don't meet it you might feel disappointed or that you have failed. Usually there are a number of ways to achieve a goal. It may help to talk to someone you trust about what the different strategies might be. This may be a friend, counsellor or family member.

Get some head space/chill out

Sometimes getting some head space and a change of scenery can be helpful - it's important to give yourself permission to do this. This might include going for a walk or listening to your favourite music, reading a book, going to the movies - whatever works for you.

Express your feelings

Writing down your feelings or keeping a journal, can be a great way of understanding a situation and reducing the power of expectations. It can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems. Other ways you might express your feelings in a way that won't cause bodily damage to yourself, another person, or your computer might include yelling, punching, or crying into a pillow, or dancing around the room to loud music.

Look after yourself

Expectations can lead to a lot of stress. It's important to take time out by doing something that you usually enjoy. Even though you might not feel like it or have time, exercising and eating well can help. Getting plenty of sleep can also help.

Exercise helps stimulate hormones, such as endorphin, which help you feel better about yourself and your life. If you haven't done a lot of exercise before, it might be a good idea to start doing something small a couple of times each week, such as a 15 minute walk or 2 or 3 laps of a pool. Visiting your GP for a general check up can be a way of making sure there isn't any physical problem.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Try not to use alcohol or other drugs (including lots of caffeine or other energy boosting drinks) in the hope of feeling better or forgetting expectations and pressure. The feeling is usually temporary and the after effects often make you feel worse.

Related Pages
Latest Topics

Join the Discussion

Tell us how you have positively managed this topic and help others find their way through...

One Response to “Exams”

  1. [...] Our exams topic page and managing stress section has information on how to study effectively and how to cope with results but what about preparing for the actual exam? What do you need know? What do you need to organise? What do you need to take? Check out this blog for a quick low down and don’t be like me and get awoken by the school informing you that the exam has started¬† and having to run up the road in your PJ’s – not a great look or a starting point to take an exam. [...]

Leave a Reply

Name (required)

Email (will not be published) (required)