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Tips for coping with exam stress – for 11-18 year olds

Tips and ideas for young people on how to cope with exam stress.

How to cope with exam stress

Exam stress can feel like a lot to cope with, but there are things you can do to improve your wellbeing. We have tips and ideas to help you cope at different times.

Remember: we are all unique, so what works for you might be different to what works for someone else. You might also have to try a few different things to see what works best.

Understanding difficult feelings about exam stress

See our page on exam stress

We're making sure we have a balance of relaxation as well… We all struggle with our mental health so trying to find this balance is extremely important.

During exam period

You might be on study leave or you might have to continue going to school. You might also be working a part-time job. The exam period can feel long and difficult, and you might feel under pressure.

You can look after yourself in different ways:

  • Make time for things you enjoy. Find ways to release stress and celebrate progress. You could listen to music, draw, cook, play with a pet or go for a walk. You can try things alone or with friends.
  • Talk to others about how you feel. Connect with other people, especially people who are going through the same thing. For more information, see our page on talking about how you're feeling.
  • Try to find balance. Take regular breaks and be realistic about what you can do in a day. Keep things in perspective and remember that exams won't last forever.
  • Take care of your physical health. Make sure you get enough sleep, food, water and exercise. If you take regular medication, keep up with your routine.
  • Focus on yourself. Try not to compare yourself to others. Think of things you like about yourself and what you're good at – this can help boost your confidence.

When I finally sat down with my thoughts... I was like, I'm so angry towards her because of the stress from my exams. I've been keeping it inside, I need to talk to somebody – Bernadine, 18

Looking after your wellbeing

View wellbeing tips

Preparing for an exam

While you're preparing an exam, you could try lowering stress levels by:

  • Finding a study group. If there's nothing at school, try starting one with friends or people in your class.
  • Making a revision timetable. This helps organise your revision and your breaks. You can find useful tips on the BBC Bitesize website.
  • Working in the best way for you. Be creative or active if it helps, like drawing diagrams or making up songs. Try being open to different types of studying and revision.
  • Revising in the best place for you. You might prefer the quiet or being around others. If you don't have a space to study at home, you could try at school, the library, a cafe, or a family member or friend's house.

Remember: feeling stressed about exams is normal, but you don't have to struggle on your own.

On the day of your exam

To help cope with stress on the day of your exam, you could:

  • Prepare your items the night before. Get everything you need ready to take with you, like pens and water for your exam.
  • Start your day the best you can. Try to eat breakfast and make sure you have enough time to arrive at your exam without rushing.
  • Try to ground yourself with a breathing exercise. If you feel overwhelmed in the exam, try to breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold it for 2 counts, and breathe out through your mouth for 7 counts. If you repeat this, it can slow your breath and help keep you calm.
  • Take your time. Read the exam carefully and plan what you need to do before answering.
  • Remind yourself that it'll be over soon. You've done your best and that's all you can do.

I was nervous but said to myself ‘by Thursday evening it will be done’. Whatever happens, when I come home I can relax, enjoy it and don't have to stress for the future.

After your exam

To cope with stress and difficult feelings after an exam, you could:

  • Try not to compare your answers to others. If possible, avoid talking to other people about the questions, comparing answers or looking up answers online.
  • Reward yourself. Think of something to do afterwards that you enjoy. You could go out with your friends, play video games, or eat your favourite food.
  • Focus on next steps. Plan what you'll do next, like going home, doing something fun, then revising for the next exam. Think ahead in a positive way – if you have another exam, focus on the time and date that it'll be over.
  • Relax before your next exam. The stress from doing an exam can leave you feeling exhausted. You might find it hard to revise again before you take a break.

Remember: you can only try your best. Each new day is a chance to start again.

Even if you don't do well on tests, that doesn't mean you're any less worthy than anyone else. It may just mean you're less strong in how the school tests for knowledge.

This information was published in April 2023. We will revise it in 2025.

The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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