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Exam stress

​​School exams can be stressful for many reasons, for example:

  • The material is difficult. 
  • You don’t know how to prepare.
  • You aren’t sure if you’ve studied enough.
  • You feel pressure to get a certain grade.
  • You have stress in another part of your life, such as relationships, home, or work.
  • You worry about getting into university, college, or another program.
What does exam stress feel like?​

Exam stress is different for everyone and shows up in different ways:

In your body: fast heartbeat, clammy hands, tense muscles, headaches, trouble sleeping, stomach problems (such as nausea, diarrhea, not feeling hungry) 
  • In your mind: trouble concentrating or remembering, racing thoughts, mind going blank
  • In your feelings: feeling moody, scared, or overwhelmed
  • In your actions: fidgeting, nail biting, using more substances (such as tobacco, alcohol, or others), losing touch with friends, not doing activities you like

What are study tips to help lower my exam stress?

There are many ways to manage and prevent stress. For an exam, studying well and being prepared can help you feel less stress. Try these study  tips:

Be organized

  • Find out what style of exam it is such as multiple choice, short answer, or essay. 
  • Organize your notes, handouts, quizzes, and other materials you need to study. 
  • Study the hardest material first. Break bigger sections into smaller parts you can manage.
Plan your time
  • Study at a time that works best for you. 
  • Find a study space that works for you (such as a quiet room, the library, or a coffee shop). Avoid studying in your bed to keep it as your sleep space. 
  • Use a calendar, white board, or wall planner to create a study schedule.
  • Use a timer or set reminder alarms on your phone to help you stay on track.
Take breaks and use stress busters regularly
  • Include study breaks in your schedule. 
  • If you are having trouble focusing, take a break to refresh your body and brain.
  • Take a few breaths in through your nose that are a bit longer and deeper than your usual breaths. Breathe out quietly through your mouth longer than you breathed in. 
  • Make time to be active every day. This can help clear your head and boost your mood so it’s easier for you to study.
  • Have fun with friends, do things you enjoy such as drawing or talking to a friend, and get enough sleep.

Limit distractions

  • Find a quiet study space that works for you.
  • Limit or avoid anything that distracts you while you study, such as your phone, social media, TV, or video games.

How can I study to match my learning styles?

Everyone learns in their own way. Use learning styles that works best for you.

Learn by hearing 

  • Read your notes out loud.
  • Record key points and play them back to yourself.
  • Study with others and talk about what you are studying.

Learn by seeing

  • Make flush cards.
  • Use colours or sticky notes for important points.
  • Break down harder sections on a white board or large piece of paper.
Learn by doing 
  • Work with a partner or in a group.
  • Practise teaching what you are studying to your study partner.
  • Make models or diagrams to highlight important points.​

Learn by reading 

  • Read your notes again, rewrite your notes using different words.
  • Put information from diagrams, charts, and graphs into words or sentences.​

​What if I need help to study?

If you don't understand the material, ask for help. Keep asking questions until you understand it and can explain it or do it.

Ask your teacher or school counsellor about getting extra help during lunch, before school, or after class. They may also know of courses to help you. 

It can also help to study with someone in the same course.

How can I take care of myself before my exam?

Before your exam, be sure to eat healthy food​ regularly. You may be nervous and not hungry. But it’s important to eat so your brain has enough energy to focus. It may help to eat a small snack before your exam starts. 

Drink water to stay hydrated and alert. Too much caffeine from drinks such as pop, tea, coffee, or energy drinks can make you anxious and upset your stomach.

How can I manage stress during my exam?

Try these tips to help you stay calm and focused during your exam:

  • Before looking at your exam, take a few slower, breaths in and out to relax your body and brain. 
  • Look at the whole exam before you start. Note questions that are worth more marks or may take longer to answer.
  • Answer the easiest questions first.
  • Read each question carefully. Underline important words and instructions to make sure you are answering what the question is asking. 
  • If you can’t remember the answer to a question, take a few slower breaths in and out. If you still can’t remember the answer, move on to the next question. 

What should I do after my exam?

When you can,​ reward yourself for studying by doing something you enjoy.

Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services