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Coping with exam stress | How to relax before an exam

Coping with exam stress | How to relax before an exam

by Newcastle University

Exams are stressful and it’s natural to feel anxious about them – in fact a little stress can be the motivational nudge you need to do your best.

But if you start to feel overwhelmed, there are things you can do to beat exam stress.

Read on to find out how to stay cool, calm and collected both in the run-up to your exams and on the day. We’ve even included some top tips from our students.


  1. Get organised 
  2. Develop good habits...
  3. ...Ditch bad habits
  4. Don't struggle alone
  5. On exam day
  6. Remember to breathe
  7. After your exam
  8. Be positive, not negative

Get organised

The best thing to do before your exam is PLAN.

Plan out your revision, working out how much time you have to revise each subject. That way you’re less likely to be frantically cramming the night before.

Check out our top tips on how to revise effectively. We’ve also included a revision timetable so you can structure your study – it’ll make you feel more confident as you track your progress.

Don’t panic if you go slightly off schedule. Instead, aim to revise in a calm, organised way that will keep the nerves at bay and leave you feeling prepared to sit your exams.


How to relax before an exam - the night before

Develop good habits...

Eat well: you need to be at your best, mentally and physically, so make sure you eat well. Snacks and treats are great to keep you going as you work, but they’re no substitute for a good diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Drink less caffeine and more water to stay hydrated.

Sleep well: according to Mental Health UK, you need around eight hours sleep a night. Develop good sleeping patterns and make your bedroom a restful space. Don’t go straight from revision to sleeping; you might find it more difficult to doze off if you haven’t let your mind settle first.

Get some exercise: exercise is one of the most effective ways to de-stress. Take a short walk after a heavy revision session or exam; it’ll clear your head and leave you feeling ready to start again.

Set realistic goals and targets: be sensible about how much revision you can achieve in a day. Trying to do too much, and failing, will just increase your anxiety. Remember to review your targets too – as you achieve them, you’ll feel more positive.

Make time to relax: you’re working hard so it’s important you also take time to relax. Build proper breaks into your revision timetable, as well as time to unwind at the end of your day. This will become particularly important during your exams, helping you mentally switch from one subject/exam to another.


how to relax before an exam - take time to relax

...Ditch bad habits

Ditching bad habits is just as important as developing good ones, so…

Don’t be hard on yourself. Pulling ‘all-nighters’ to revise will only leave you tired and raise your anxiety levels. Poor sleep, or a lack of sleep, can lower your mood, reduce your concentration and impact your memory – all things you don’t need during your exams.

Don’t be an avoider: putting off your revision, ignoring the fact time is ticking away before your first exam, or not preparing for your exams properly, will just increase your stress levels when you do start to focus.

Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy: being too focused on your revision and exams can be counterproductive – there really are times when you need to give your brain a rest. Take time to do something you enjoy; you’ll come back to your studies energised and refreshed.


how to relax before an exam - get some fresh air

Don't struggle alone

Talk to a teacher if you’re struggling with a particular revision topic. They’ll help you find a way to work through a problem that’s right for you.

Talk to a family member, teacher, or someone you trust about how you’re feeling – both leading up to, and during, your exams. They’ll help put any worries into perspective and their support will make you feel more positive.

Talk to your friends. They’re going through the same stresses and worries as you, but don’t compare yourself – or your exam preparation – with them. Focus on what YOU need to achieve.

On exam day

Starting exam day the right way actually begins the night before!

Get your clothes and school bag ready and set your alarm to wake up in good time; you don’t want to be rushing around in the morning, worrying about being late. Try to eat breakfast.

Get to school or college in good time before your exam so you can collect your thoughts and perhaps run through your revision notes for the last time. Don’t use this time to try to learn anything new – consolidate what you already know.

Remember to breathe 

If you start to panic before, or even during, your exam, try some simple breathing techniques.

Mental health charity Mind suggests breathing in through your nose for four counts, holding your breath for two counts, and breathing out through your mouth for seven counts.

How to relax before an exam - afterwards

After your exam

It’ll be tempting to discuss your exam – and your answers – with friends; try not to. It could undermine your confidence in how you performed.

Once you’ve finished your exam, learn from the experience. If time management was a problem, make sure you’re keeping an eye on the clock in the next one. If you arrived late and flustered, adjust your alarm!

After that, try to forget about it and give yourself a chance to ‘power down’. It’ll clear your head, allowing you to focus on your next exam.

Be positive, not negative

Flip the idea that exams are scary and instead see them as an opportunity to show how much you know and understand about each subject.

Stop worrying about failing, or the consequences of failing; you’re not defined by your exam results. Instead think about all the things you’ve already achieved.

Don’t expect to be stressed. It’s not inevitable and stress is nothing to be scared of. If you revise and believe in yourself, you will cope.

You’ve put the hard work in. You’ve got this.

Good luck!

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