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Exam Stress

Tips on how to avoid exam stress.

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in education

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Maybe it’s the Leaving Cert, or those final exams at university. Then, after you survive the exams themselves, it’s a whole new type of stress while waiting for the results.
Worries about the future, panic, guilt about not studying more, despair at having messed up - we all go through ups and downs at these times. It doesn’t help that everyone talks about the exams non-stop. Your friends have their own fears, your parents seem to expect straight As and teachers warn about the earth- stopping consequences of not studying.

So, here’s some advice to avoid stressing too much (although don’t get so chilled out that you forget to study!):

  • Remember that some stress is normal, but minimise stress by putting in the study all year, not just at exam time. Do daily and weekly reviews of study and exam material.
  • Stress can prevent you from doing your best. Learn a good relaxation technique and practice it well ahead of the exam so that it will come easy to you on the day. Get help from a counsellor if you need to.
  • Be realistic. Take studying seriously and try to do your best, but don’t set yourself crazy goals like “600 points or I’m not happy” or “Four As is what I want”. If you set the standards very high, you’re putting yourself under massive stress. Look at the results you need for what you want to do and aim for this.
  • If you’re having problems studying, ask for help. Talk to a teacher or lecturer about it.
  • Don’t leave yourself without time to study. If it’s too late for that and you’re cramming, then listen to your body and rest when you need to. Otherwise you’re risking burn out.
  • Don’t use drugs (prescription or illegal) to help you stay awake or alert for study and course work. It’s not healthy and in the long run your work will suffer.
  • Don’t panic before the exam. Stay away from anyone who is stressing loudly or revising frantically, they’ll only make you feel nervous too.
  • Take breaks, get some fresh air and some exercise: apart from helping you to relax it’s also good for the brain. Try to get enough sleep too.
  • Practice old exam papers as if they were the real thing and time yourself so that you can complete the papers within the allotted time.
  • Don't overdo the caffeine (especially energy drinks or caffeine tablets) - it can cause heart palpitations and panic attacks.
  • Eat well (especially complex carbohydrates), sleep well and don't use alcohol to relax, as it interferes with sleep (deep sleep that is refreshing).
  • Try to keep things in perspective. Grades are not a measure of your value as a human being, nor do they measure intelligence or creativity.

Get loads more info in the exam section.
If exam results stress is getting you down, talk to someone like your GP to let them know you are finding things difficult. Alternatively, you can contact the Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy or talk to Samaritans who provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

If you are at university or college there is often a free counselling service provided. See Please Talk for information on student support services at all the universities in the Republic of Ireland.

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Published December 11th, 2012
Last updated May 30th, 2016
Tags stress mental health junior cert leaving cert exams
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