stressed female at laptop - how to deal with exam stress
stressed female at laptop - how to deal with exam stress

A Guide To Exam Stress & How To Deal With It

Exam stress and anxiety impacting your well-being and university experience? You’re not alone.

Education is no easy feat. 

Many of us will experience stress and anxiety when studying and revising for exams, as well as the pressure while you’re actually taking the exam, too. But, for a number of students, exam stress can be debilitating and overwhelming to the point of impacting their wellbeing. 

This impact on their wellbeing can lead to under-performance in their studies, which could again contribute to their mental health, causing the cycle to repeat itself. Been there, done that, got the tear-stained t-shirt…

Raise your hands if you’ve ever been personally victimised by exams?

Here at Student Beans, our User Research team surveyed nearly 2000 UK students on the topic of dealing with exam stress. 

When asked the question ‘do you find exams stressful to the point that they impact your mood, wellbeing and performance?’ a huge 62% of students answered yes. Only a fraction of students said no (10%) they don’t find exams that stressful, and over a quarter (29%) said sometimes

We could sit around envious of the 10% that said no, or take it as a signal for the opportunity for change. Exams = too intense. 

Do you find exams stressful to the point that they impact your mood, wellbeing and performance?

Student Beans survey - exam stress pie chart

When asked ‘does the number of exams included in a degree or module impact your choice of degree or module?’ 51.5% of students said yes, it does impact their choice of degree, while 48.5% of students said no, it doesn’t impact their choice. 

But, why are these statistics important?

These findings imply that individuals are turning down subjects they want to explore or need for future career paths because of the added stress and anxiety of exams. This may lead to students opting for degrees with less exams that they’re not entirely interested in studying — adding to more stress regarding their career aspirations and life after graduation. 

You’d think in this day and age that we could study whatever we wanted without being scared away from it with harsh requirements and strict assessments. Eye roll.

We spoke to Ches Castle, People Partner & Mental Health First Aider at Student Beans to ask for her opinion on the statistics and any advice she has for students:

“It is concerning to see that over half of students are finding exams are impacting their wellbeing and performance. While stressing over exams is a natural part of student life, overstressing can be extremely damaging to both mental and physical health. 

“Try to do things to manage your own stress levels. Have regular study breaks, eat healthy snacks and make time for relaxation and exercise to help you focus and clear your head.

“If you are struggling to keep on top of high stress levels, reach out to your university counsellor for further professional help.”

In this guide, we’ll go over what exam stress is, including the symptoms to keep an eye on. We’ll dive into how to deal with exam stress (with tips from real students), plus how you can get support to help manage it. 

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In this guide:

What is exam stress?

Exam stress is stress and anxiety caused by the prospect of exams – studying for them, completing them, waiting for the results. But, exam stress will look and feel different from person to person. 

It’s normal to worry about exams and assessments. In fact, stress is your body’s natural response to pressure, but if you let that stress take control it can be damaging to both mental and physical health. 

Stress can feel like a weight on top of you.

Stress can sometimes act as a driving force, helping to motivate the individual to push through the pressure. Other times, stress is so overwhelming that you end up feeling stuck, unable to move forward to succeed. The thought of failure can lead to more stress, causing your mood to snowball to the point you feel incapable of getting out of its grasp. 

We’ve got expert advice on what to eat before your exams to help you get the most out of your studies.

What causes exam stress?

The whole idea and concept of an exam is stressful. The timed pressure, strict conditions, no help or resources — not exactly an accurate depiction of real life. 

However, it’s not just the exam itself that can add to the exam stress. The following may contribute to your stress and make you feel worse:

  • Feeling unprepared — such as leaving revision till the last minute
  • Pressure from others — teachers, parents, even yourself
  • Worrying about the future — like whether you’ll get into uni or get a decent job
  • Worrying about what’s in the exam — trying to guess what could come up and whether you’ll be prepared for it
  • Comparing yourself to peers — worried you’ll do worse than everyone or you have to get the same grades as your friends
  • Dealing with life changes — maybe you’re in a new place, maybe you have a newborn sibling, life changes can add extra stress
  • Personal difficulties — relationship trouble, break-ups, family problems
  • Responsibilities — you might be a carer so have a lot of responsibilities that can add to your stress
  • Physical or mental problems – you may be dealing with a physical or mental illness that could prevent you from preparing for exams or cause you a lot of extra anxiety

What causes exam stress will differ for each person and the way they show or express stress will also differ.

If you need help upping your studying game, here are the five best exam revision techniques you need to try out.

Does the number of exams included in a degree or module impact your choice of degree or module?

Exam stress survey bar graph

Symptoms of exam stress

Exam stress can manifest in many different forms. It can affect anything from the way we feel, to the way we behave.

Symptoms of exam stress may occur before, during or after exams. It may be prominent throughout the exam season, even without any additional stressors and even if you are actively revising and studying.

Physical symptoms

Exam stress can cause a range of different physical symptoms, with different levels of severity. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Abdomen pain
  • Tearful
  • Feelings of tension throughout the body
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in breathing
  • Brain fog or struggling to concentrate
  • Poor memory
  • Restlessness

Emotional symptoms

Some emotional symptoms of exam stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Hopelessness
  • Disappointment
  • Embarrassment
  • Irritability
  • Exhausted

Behavioural symptoms

Sometimes, exam stress might be evident through someone’s behaviour. Symptoms may appear as:

  • Overworking/studying, especially without breaks
  • Lack of motivation
  • Avoidance of revising, planning, and studying
  • Day-to-day life may be harder to manage
  • Sleep problems  — sleeping too much/not enough
  • Stop doing things typically enjoyed, not finding enjoyment in anything anymore

How to deal with exam stress

Remember you’re not alone in feeling like this. 

There are various ways to help you deal and manage your exam stress, but we thought you’d prefer to see what real students say and their tips for dealing with it. 

Real exam stress tips from real students

In our Student Beans survey, we asked students ‘do you have any tips for other students on how to deal with exam stress (mental or practical)?’ And boy, did they deliver! 

Great minds think alike — below are some real student-approved tips to help deal with exam stress.

“Always remain positive, as this period is only for a short while.”

“Stretching and exercising.”

“Little and often for revision”

“Make time for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it!”

“Treat them like photographs. Some turn out well. Some turn out poorly. None of them actually change who you are, however.”

“If exam details are provided early, get started on them right away! I was given some information in November, I completed that whole module and began the other before Christmas. This helped me be less stressed during peak exam season. Alongside this, do not revise 24/7. Even during my 72hr exam, I spent most of that time resting, doing things I enjoyed, then set time aside for my exam. If you do things you like between, it decreases your fatigue of staring at pages of words and gives yourself a fresh mind when continuing.”

“Rose oil scent during revision and the exam aids recall”

“Chew gum because it keeps your brain working. Chocolate for extra dopamine.”

“(For people with ADHD, like me!)  Just sit down and start the work. Once you start, you’ll actually begin to reinvest in what you’re doing again. You have chosen your course for yourself presumably – so it must be something you enjoy doing. Take advantage of extensions to lighten your workload and try to do even a little bit every day.”

“Stay calm, and do your best, and know that if you try your hardest, that is enough”

“I really have to big up myself, like look in the mirror and talk to myself like a coach would their team… Remember that exam’s aren’t everything and they don’t define who you are. You’ve worked too hard to get here for anxiety or stress to knock you down. I look for a study plan that works for me and the class. I try not to put too much stress on myself the night before and morning of the exam.  I also think it’s important to know who you are outside of exams, especially if you feel that your academic achievement defines you, because they don’t. Find you and find your drive. This helps because it gives you motivation.”

“Learn how you learn, you can only do what you can do, don’t compare yourself to other students, comparison is the thief of joy!!”

“The Wim Hof Method. This has helped me massively! And i would and will recommend to anyone that is suffering from either stress or anxiety or mental health.”

“Use the Pomodoro method. It’s a system where a timer is set for 25 minutes…. during that time you study without distraction and because you are being timed you subconsciously cram more in. When the timer ends you take a break…. usually 5 minutes then do another block. There are some great apps for this. Try it, it will improve your studying techniques.”

If you’re in need of a cheer up, here are some stand out student tips that made us chuckle…

“Just be ready and real”

“There’s a Nigella Lawson mushroom pasta dish where it takes as long as the pasta to be done for the dish to be done. This dish is great, healthy and easy.”

“Preparation, preparation, preparation… and a banana.”

“Accept the stress; it means that you care”

“If your roommate is a cat, then you’re a lucky one”

“l just panic, do loads of prep, write everything down, baffle myself, but generally get through it”

“Clary sage oil and pick and mix!”


Yeah, fair TBH.

Study playlists

Many tips which we hadn’t included mentioned listening to music or meditation sounds to help with exam stress. 

Find what works for you, although we recommend you avoid listening to your ultimate fave tunes or songs with catchy lyrics as you may be more focused on singing than your revision…

This playlist features a variety of sounds and frequencies that contribute to increasing your focus.

Binaural Beats are illusions created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time.  Some benefits of binaural beats include:

  • Improved mood 
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved sleep
  • More focus and attention
  • Better memory retention
  • Increased creativity

Listening to these frequencies may allow you to focus more on your exam revision, at the same time as relaxing you. While not a lot of studies have been done on this, some research suggests listening to these beats can improve performance and memory.

Other playlists to help you focus:

Intense Studying — Spotify playlist
Background Noises for sleeping, working or studying — Spotify playlist
Binaural beats: focus — Spotify playlist
Focus Frequency/Brain Music — Spotify playlist

What is Exam Wizard?

One way to help reduce exam stress and anxiety is to practise, practise, practise. 

Practising past exam papers is a great way to help prepare for upcoming exams — examWizard is your go-to for this. 

examWizard is a free exam prep tool with a whole load of past Edexcel exam questions, marking schemes, and even examiner reports on a range of GCSE, GCE, BTEC, and Functional Skills subjects. 

It’s an amazing tool that saves you time by creating mock exams and revision activities in minutes — all according to your subject curriculum so you know you’re learning what you need to. Hone your skills and build your confidence so you can enter your exam knowing you’ve prepped yourself as best as possible.

examWizard enables you to:

  • Search for past papers — filtered by year, unit, tier and series
  • Create topic based tests
  • Build your own papers

Pearson Qualifications have a handy step-by-step guide to help get you started with examWizard.

Gender and exam stress

As much as we strive for gender equality in all aspects of life, it’s no secret that females are, unfortunately, more susceptible to stress. Our Student Beans exam stress survey supports this idea.

For the question ‘Do you find exams stressful to the point that they impact your mood, wellbeing and performance?’ we analysed the data and found that nearly 49% of females answered yes, compared to just 10% of males.

Females were also more likely to choose a degree based on the number of exams expected as part of the course. ‘Does the number of exams included in a degree or module impact your choice of degree or module?’ — 39% of females said yes, compared to only 11% of males.

Support for exam stress

It can be really difficult to go through things alone, especially exam stress and feeling like you’re the only one. 

Even if you’ve revised and prepped a lot, the anxiety can still linger and your mental health may have taken a knock. Reach out to your university to see what support they can offer. This may be extra help from a tutor, extra resources for revision, or if your mental health counts as a disability, you can ask for reasonable adjustments. 

Reasonable adjustments can include extra time in exams, sitting the exam in a private room away from other students, or assistive software (e.g. screen readers).

Your university may be able to offer some counselling sessions or services which may help you in the short term. 

If your exam stress is becoming too much for you to manage and you’re struggling to cope, below are some organisations you can contact for support.

Exam Results Helpline

If you’re struggling after receiving your exam results, this helpline can help you through results day and go through your options.

National Careers Service

The National Careers Service is on hand to help you with information, advice and guidance around learning, training and work.

The Mix

The Mix offers support for anyone under 25 years old. They have a crisis messenger, one-to-one chat, email and counselling services for anything you need help with. They also have an anonymous discussion board for individuals to talk with peers about anything. 

Student Space

Student Space is an all encompassing hub for students. They have resources for mental health, studying and general university life. They have 24-hour text support available, as well as web chat support from 4pm-11pm every day and email support, too.

Remember, you’re not alone in this and exams do not dictate who you are as an individual.

How NOT to cope with exam stress

People will cope with exam stress in different ways. What helps one person may not help another, but there are some things you probably shouldn’t do in order to not exacerbate your stress and anxiety.

Don’t ignore it

Running away from your anxiety or problems might seem like the only way to cope sometimes, but sorry to break it to you — avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away or get better. 

Acknowledge your stress and try to tackle it, even just revising a little can help clear some of the anxiety.

Don’t blame yourself

Have you attended your lectures? Have you left studying to the last minute? Look, we get it. There are many things you can do to prevent exam stress, but blaming yourself is not going to help. 

Don’t dwell on what you haven’t done or where you can do better. Accept the fact you’re human and that you make mistakes, but don’t admit defeat. Give yourself a break and try to keep the negativity to a minimum.

Don’t remove all fun and joy from your life

Many of us have been victim to isolating yourself from everything you enjoy in order to try and revise. Does it ever work? Barely.

We, as a nation, would simply combust without enjoying a little treat every now and then, so treat yourself! Make sure you’re taking breaks during your revision and allow yourself the things you enjoy. Studied that morning? Go out for a coffee and cake break. Memorised some key dates for your history exam? Let yourself watch Netflix.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations

Not every one of our goals will be achievable! Planning your revision is a smart move, but don’t set goals that are too unrealistic. Want to read the entire collection of Shakespeare’s literature before your English exam in 2 days time? Try breaking it into small, digestible chunks instead and lower your goals — you can always surpass them if you’re on a roll!

You’ve got this!

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