Studying for and sitting exams can be a difficult and stressful time for some young people. You might begin to feel that you can’t cope with your revision, or you might feel under pressure from your family and school to get certain marks and grades. You might worry that you won’t get the marks and grades you need for college or the job you want. A lot of young people and adults feel like this before a test or exam and there are lots of things that you can do to help calm those nerves.
What is it?
A little bit of anxiety can actually be a good thing. It helps to motivate us and encourages us to take action and do something. There can be a lot of pressure on young people to do well in exams and problems might begin when the worry and anxiety over the exams stops us from doing the things we need to do and interferes with our enjoyment of day-to-day life.
- Feel worried and/or sad
- Get lots of headaches and stomach pains
- Not sleep well
- Be irritable and bad tempered
- Lose your appetite
- Stop enjoying activities that you used to enjoy, such as sport, exercise and seeing friends
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Worry about the future
Often it is the negative thoughts about exams that can cause the feelings of anxiety, leading us to think things such as ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’.
If there are also other difficult things going on in your life, such as your parents separating, you’re being bullied at school, or other such worries then this can make the anxiety worse. It’s important that you tell someone if these things are affecting your ability to study – talking to a parent, teacher or friend is a great first step to improving the situation.
What can help?
Try to think positively. It can be difficult to change negative thoughts into more positive ones, but try to think ‘it’s going to be okay’, ‘lots of people feel like this before an exam’.
Planning your study time can help. Set yourself a routine, such as a set time each day and for a certain length of time, and pick a time of day which works best for you. It could be that you learn best when you first get home from school, so you could plan to spend 45 minutes studying when you first get home, and then another 45 minutes after your evening meal.
BBC Bitesize has some really helpful tips and information on planning your studying.
Eat regular meals
Try not to skip meals; eating a well-balanced diet is essential for our concentration and learning. A good healthy breakfast is really important to start your day and can help with your memory and concentration.
Try to go to bed at a regular time and aim to get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
It’s a good idea not to use your mobile phone, tablet or TV just before going to bed and once you’re in bed, as the light from the screen can cause you to feel more awake and disrupt your sleep.
Have regular breaks
Taking regular breaks is really important and can help with concentration. You can try things like:
- reading a book
- spend time with friends – it’s easy to feel isolated during exam times, so try to spend time with friends doing fun activities and chatting
- talk about how you feel – it’s important to talk to people about how you’re feeling and not keep things bottled up. You might be surprised that some of your friends are feeling the same as you about exams; they could also be stressed, worried, anxious, having stomach pains or feeling underprepared – these are all normal feelings that many of us feel during stressful times. When you share how you’re feeling with other people, it can make you feel so much better straight away, as many people have felt the same and will understand
I really struggled with exam anxiety when I was doing my a levels. I found myself obsessively revising, unable to take breaks due to fear of failing my exams and subsequently found basic forms of self-care impossible to juggle. I struggled to eat, sleep and felt in a constant state of panic so much so, that I never truly felt in the present moment and was consumed with fear. I thankfully received support from my college who were able to implement adjustments to help me be able to sit my examinations but this was still a really difficult time for me.
For most young people the stress and worry goes away once the exams have finished, but if you find that the anxiety and worry continues and begins to interfere with your life, stopping you enjoying things, it’s a good idea to get some help and support. There’s lots of ways you can do this:
- talk to a family member, friends or your carer
- speak to a GP – it’s confidential
- chat with a teacher, mentor or counsellor
- ChildLine provide a free advice line
Real Life Experience
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