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LAST REVIEWED 15 June 2023

Stressed about exams? Focus on what you can control

Good Thinking offers advice to students of all ages across London to help them stay mentally well while taking their exams.

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Are you about to sit exams at school, college or university? It’s an intense time so it’s perfectly natural to feel stressed about your studies and anxious about what the future holds. 

With the disruption of COVID-19 in recent years, this might be the first time some of you are taking a formal exam. You might be worrying about the impact of low grades on your uni or job applications and you might feel under pressure from your family and teachers. If you’re a part-time or mature student, you might be juggling work and family commitments alongside your studies.

More than a third (36.7%) of 16 to 25-year-olds who took part in Partnership for Young London’s Levelling Up London survey cited ‘career’ as their biggest aspiration and we know that achieving GCSEs, A Levels, BTECs, degrees and other qualifications are key milestones in a young person’s journey to the workplace. So, it’s important to know how to cope with the pressure of exams.

First of all, remember that stress is a normal, even healthy, reaction to a threat (it prepares you for ‘fight or flight’). If it’s affecting you badly, however, one of the ways to manage it is by focusing on what you can control. It can be a small thing, either to do with your studies or something fun, but completing the activity will give you a feeling of achievement and help to boost your mood.

Good Thinking has put together these simple wellbeing tips for students. We hope you find them helpful and wish you all the best for your exams!

And finally, here’s some advice from students at Birkbeck, University of London and Birkbeck Students' Union on how to cope with exam stress:

Pedro Malheiro, Student Leader, Birkbeck Students' Union

"As the Student Leader at Birkbeck, I understand how challenging exam season can be for students. The pressure to excel academically while maintaining optimal mental health and wellbeing can feel overwhelming. 

Be kind to yourself. It's normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious at times, but it's crucial to recognise that you're doing your best. Embrace your journey, trust your abilities, and remember that success is not solely defined by academic achievements but also by personal growth and resilience."

Tonya Moralez, LGBTQ+ Officer, Birkbeck Students' Union

"I usually do a 5-10 minute mindfulness meditation about 10 minutes before an exam. This helps me to calm any anxiety and regain focus after heavy revision before the exam. It allows me better control of my nerves and my concentration.

After an exam, I usually decompress with a bath and I allow mental activity to flow freely so that all of those jumbled, rapid thoughts can slow down and dissipate."

Ikenna Okoye-Ahaneku, Black Students' Officer, Birkbeck Students' Union

"I de-stress by taking breaks from studying occasionally, engaging in my hobbies that include listening to music, watching sports, watching films and TV, reading books and playing video games.

We are not robots – we need to have a balance between work and leisure, so we don’t burn out!

I also exercise, for example, jogging – studies have shown exercise is a great way to decrease stress and is good for our brains."

Struggling with exam stress or another mental health concern?

Try talking to a parent, carer, friend, teacher or someone else you trust. If you’d like professional support, your GP is a good place to start. You can also call the 24/7 NHS mental health helpline in your borough, text SHOUT to 85258 or call Samaritans (116 123). Our urgent support page contains more details.

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Person lying in bed worrying about money

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