Exam stress

Exam stress is a very common problem. Sitting exams will put most people under pressure and the pressure is likely to increase for those individuals who feel it is particularly important to perform well. It’s important to remember that a moderate amount of pressure is a motivating factor in helping individuals to perform better than they would do otherwise. They tend to work harder for longer which increases the chance of doing well. Psychological distress occurs when we feel  ‘out of control’ the stress response is the result of a feeling of being taken over by events or people beyond personal control. When pressure turns into stress, performance suffers.

 How can we avoid stress and enhance our performance? Preparation is key.

Preparation is key to success. You wouldn’t expect an actor to go on stage without knowing his/her lines or an Olympic athlete not to have trained for the race. In the same way, there’s not much point in turning up for an exam  without having done the revision.  Planning your revision is important. A written plan that factors in the learning goals including the time taken to reach them is better than an ad hoc approach.

What’s the best way to learn? Give it time.

Learning takes time  – how much time depends on the subject. Some subjects require ‘surface learning’ for learning facts. Other subjects require ‘deep learning’ for understanding and explaining concepts. The latter takes longer and needs extra time. There is not much point in trying to cram information at the last minute if ‘deep learning’ is required.

What’s the best way of remembering? Draw a map.

The ‘mind’ map is the tool of choice when it comes memorising material. Remembering is not a linear process. Map the main themes first. These are the main hooks through the information  to which all subsidiary material is attached. More information is recalled when organized in this fashion.

What’s the best way of revising? Remember to take a break.

Imagine that you’ve decided to study for two hours. The first hour was pretty difficult although you have been making some progress. In the second hour you seem to have found a new rhythm and appear to be making even better progress. Would you take a break? Even though logic dictates that you carry on, the best answer is to take a break. The reason is that while understanding will continue to be high, the recall of that understanding will get worse. Breaks are important because:

a)  the body gets a physical rest and a chance to relax. This releases build-up of tension and avoids stress.

b) they allow memory recall and understanding to work together to best advantage

c) They allow a period of time for consolidation of material where different pieces of information start to relate to each other to form a coherent whole.


What’s the best way of managing exam stress? All of the above…
Dr Penny Johnson PhD. C Psychol.

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