Almost all courses will have formal examinations and assessed work as a way of monitoring progress and grading qualifications. Most people feel some anxiety about what mark they will receive, and almost everyone feels significant pressure before exams – but there are lots of things you can do to help yourself cope. This page covers:
I tell myself to ensure I am prepared, breathe, and do the best I can.
It's a good idea to have all the information about the exams you will be taking as soon as possible, so you can make a plan for coping with them. You may want to:
- Confirm how you will be examined – find out what kind of assessments there will be and when they will be.
- Look at past papers. You can usually find past exam papers in your college or university library or on an internal website. If you have assessed coursework, you may be able to see example essays or reports from previous years.
- Make sure you know which parts of your course will have formal exams and what will be assessed by coursework. If you are not sure, speak to your academic supervisor or tutor or your department's academic administrator.
- Get a copy of the syllabus or a guide to what content you are expected to know.
- Make sure you have caught up if you have been absent for any significant topics.
- Keep your notes in an organised format that works for you, so you can look back at them.
- Remind friends and housemates that you have exams and they may need to be patient with you. Where necessary, you may want to ask that a quiet space, for example your bedroom, is particularly respected at exam time.
I didn't cope well during exams. I threw myself into them without revising and made myself ill.
Plan a revision timetable
Try to start your revision in plenty of time. Take time to plan a revision timetable that:
- is linked to your exam timetable, so you revise subjects in the right order
- is realistic and flexible, in case of any unexpected events
- shows your priorities clearly – distinguishing between 'things I have to get done' and 'things I'd like to get done' can help you see what can be dropped if you're feeling under pressure
- balances your revision with other demands on your time, e.g. meals, sleep, chores or other commitments
- takes into account your best time of day for studying – think about when you find it easiest to sleep or if you are taking medication that affects when you can concentrate
- includes plenty of time for breaks.
Manage your triggers
If you have previously experienced anxiety or become unwell in stressful situations, you might find that exams and assessments can be a trigger for you. It's natural for this to happen, but you may want to prepare. Here are some things you can do:
- Take time to relax – no-one can study all day every day. You may find it easier to study effectively if you take regular breaks and factor relaxation time into your revision timetable.
- Stay flexible – even the best made plans can be disrupted by unexpected events or the realisation that you are going to have to spend more time on a topic than you thought you needed. Planning your revision timetable with some spare space will help you feel calm when you need to make changes.
- Keep doing the things that matter – whether it is phoning home, meeting friends for supper, taking time to play sport or watching a film. Your routine at university may be important in helping you manage your mental health. While you may need to cut back on social activities during exam periods, it is important that you keep some of your routine, especially when things get stressful.
- Look after your physical health – eating well, sleeping and getting outside for a walk or other exercise is important to keep you feeling good.
Student Minds' resource on Exam Stress has more ideas for looking after yourself at exam time.
This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.