You are here

How NOT to Cope with Exam Stress

How NOT to Cope with Exam Stress main image

Got exams coming up? A little exam stress is inevitable, but make sure you don't fall into any of these traps:

1. Ignore it

Some people’s response to exam stress seems to be to carry on (la-di-da-di-daaaa) just as normal. Great in the short term – no revision, no late nights at the library, no worries! But (unless you’re actually able to reverse time) this ‘strategy’ does have an obvious downside when exam day rolls up and you haven’t prepared at all!

Are you an ‘ignorer’? If you answered yes, well done. The first stage is to admit this to yourself. Now stop ignoring and get revising!

2. Beat yourself up (on the inside)

At the other end of the spectrum are those who respond to exam stress by constantly giving themselves a hard time. “I’m not doing enough, I haven’t stuck to my schedule, I’m never going to do well at this rate...”

Sound familiar? I bet it does – we’ve probably all done this at some point. To an extent, a little self-chivvying can be helpful – helping you stay disciplined. But too much negativity is likely to be demotivating, and sap your energy levels. Give yourself a break!

3. Attempt to develop super powers

This brings us to the next point... You’re not super-human! Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting goals that you’re never going to meet. Covering ten revision topics in one day was never going to be achievable – be realistic with your targets!

4. Stop doing any of the things you like

Another common response is revision ‘lock-down’, focusing all your time and energies exclusively on the impending exam. This may seem reasonable – after all, if it’s so important, it makes sense to give it your all.

However, just like too much self-criticism, this is likely to backfire. Taking time out and doing the things you enjoy is absolutely essential to give your brain time to rest and digest information – and will boost your energy levels too.

5. Overdose on caffeine

Lots of people instinctively reach for extra coffee, cola, or energy drink - thinking that the extra boost will give them a head start. This might help you stay awake an extra hour or so, but it won't do you much good in the long term!

Instead, make sure you stick to a balanced diet, full of slow-burning-energy foods (like pasta, wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables), drink lots of water to keep your brain hydrated, and try to get plenty of sleep.

Also not advisable:

Pretending you’ve been kidnapped 

You might be laughing, but stress can make people do some pretty strange things... Like this Spanish school boy who was so freaked out at the prospect of his parents meeting his teachers, he went into hiding and texted his parents pretending he’d been kidnapped. I’m pretty sure he ended up in A LOT more trouble this way!

Faking your own death

The next level up from faked kidnapping: faking your own death. Again, probably not a great long-term plan! If you get busted (which seems pretty likely), you could even face the shame of being charged with “conduct unbecoming of a gentleman and an officer, dereliction of duty and adultery” – well, if you’re a naval officer trying to escape the clutches of a lover...

Calling in a bomb threat

Think potential employers will turn up their noses at a third-class degree? They’ll be even less keen to meet someone who fakes terrorism to get out of stuff! (Even if you don’t get found out, this probably wouldn’t buy you THAT much extra time anyway – though you might get some free fruit.) 

Pretending to faint in the exam

A little less extreme - but still likely to get you into trouble! Plus, instead of practising how to collapse convincingly without injuring yourself/flashing your knickers, how about actually spending that time doing some revision?!

Related categories:

Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including How Do Students Use Rankings?

Want to leave a comment?

Please login or register to post
comment above our articles

Add a comment