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The University of Southampton
Enabling ServicesPart of Student Services

Managing Exam Stress

Published: 3 August 2018
Studying for exams

During the supplementary exam period, some students will find themselves feeling stressed or anxious. Whilst some stress can actually be helpful to motivate your revision, in some cases it can escalate to a level that also impacts both your performance and wellbeing. Thankfully there are lots of ways you can manage your stress levels, and lots of things you can do to boost your relaxation and performance. Check out our Top Tips and Useful Downloads below for managing your exam stress and anxieties.

Make a Plan

A quick way to reduce stress or anxiety around exams is to take time to get organsied. Start by focusing on the basics such as where and when you will study most effectively, and how long you will dedicate to each course. Prioritising tasks and breaking them down into small chunks makes it easier to focus and feel accomplished. Remember - this also means scheduling breaks for relaxation. For every 45 minutes try to take a 10-15 minute break to unwind, or you could try the Pomodoro technique. If you go slightly off schedule, don't panic – tomorrow is another day!

Take Care of Yourself

It can be easy to let little things slip when we are stressed. Keep it simple and focus on good habits that will actually improve your ability to study and succeed.

  • Eat well: too much sugar or fatty food may cause dramatic surges of energy, but will also leave you drained. Stick to slow-releasing energy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains. 
  • Drink water: staying hydrated will help your mind and body function properly and sufficiently under stress.
  • Exercise: doing something active like walking, cycling or yoga releases endorphins in your body which make you feel happier.
  • Sleep: our memories are backed-up when we sleep; this shows the importance of getting enough sleep during the exam period.
  • Relax: there are lots of simple calming breathing techniques and body movements that you can practice to help reduce stress. Relaxation podcasts can also be an easy way to relax as you study. You could also try an online workshop or use our self-help guides which deal with anxiety and stress.
  • Reward yourself: studying for exams is not an easy task. Make sure to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, and take the time to pat yourself on the back. Balance studying with something enjoyable or relaxing – take a hot bath, listen your favourite album or enjoy a small treat every now and again.

Know What Not to Do

Try to avoid the common pitfalls that can occur during stressful periods. Bad habits such as setting unrealistic goals, cutting out all enjoyment or fun from your life, and overusing stimulants (such as caffeine, alcohol and drugs) can have a negative impact and prevent you from reaching your goals. Try to recognize when you might be getting stressed and consider the tips on this page for ideas on management.

Keep it in Perspective

While they are significant, it is important to remember that exams aren’t everything and are certainly not the only element that defines you as a student. Reflect on how far you’ve come and your previous academic successes that have gotten you to where you are now. It also might be helpful to remember that employers don’t just look at exam scores, nor is it likely that your course is based entirely on your exam score.

Ask for Help

Talk it out! If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious it can be helpful to talk about it. Enabling Services offer a drop-in from 13:00 - 15:00 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (outside of term-time) in B37, and Student Life are available through the night.

The Academic Skills Hub at the Hartley Library also offer lots of online and in-person resources to ensure your revision is efficient and effective.

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