Managing Exam Stress

“ Manage stress, before it manages you.”

In order to deal effectively with exam stress, the following things need to be kept in one’s mind:

Diet (what to eat and drink and what not to)

  • Avoid fast foods and drinks like tea and coffee which contain caffeine as it lessens the process of grasping.
  • Health drink fortified with micronutrients and vitamins helps relieve examination stress.
  • Always have Breakfast in the morning as avoiding it, may cause trouble concentrating.
  • Drinking plenty of water keeps the brain hydrated.
  • Well balanced diet, including health beverages boosts memory and improves concentration.

Exercise and rejuvenation

  • Exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling 15 minutes a day helps by keeping one physically active.
  • Taking short breaks helps refocus and gives time for relaxation, rejuvenation and assimilation.
  • Studying regularly for more than 50 minutes, leads to receding concentration levels. Sitting continuously at the study table for long hours is, therefore, a waste of both energy and time and is unproductive.
  • Physical exercise and sportshelp improve general circulation, facilitate increased blood flow to the brain, and are instrumental in raising the levels of nor-epinephrine and endorphins – all of which may reduce stress, improve mood, induce effect, and perhaps as a result improve achievement.


  • Adequate sleep routine help you feel fresher for longer and help’s one learn more.
  • Regular seven or eight hours of sleep is mandatory for the body to function well and keeps one alert and responsive.
  •  Staying up late a few nights in a row and then trying to catch up on the weekend does not help.

Time management

  • Managing your time effectively is an important part of studying. An overly restrictive schedule should be avoided as it doesn’t work.
  • One should have a regular study time and place each day.
  • One should try and do the most difficult stuff first when one is fresh in the morning.
  • Avoid getting stuck. When faced with something difficult, it helps to skip that for a while and take help later for the same. However, skipping everything is not allowed.
  • Making a semester planner (this will enable you to map out tasks for the semester) or a weekly timetable (this will ensure that you structure your time in the short term while allowing flexibility) or a diary with daily ‘things to do’ (TTD) lists helps significantly.
  • Each night one can make a list of what to do the next day.

Goal setting

  • Prioritizing ones goals is essential.
  • Set clear concrete goals by breaking larger tasks into simpler ones and try to achieve them bit by bit.
  • Reward yourself. After achievement of each goal, one should reward oneself. The rewards can be small, like treating oneself with ice cream, or buying a new outfit or playing a game etc.
  • One needs to regularly review to one extent one has achieved one’s goals.

Altering one’s negative thoughts

Research has shown that our mind listens to what we say to ourselves. The more negative to talk, the more negative it thinks, the anxious it becomes and hence poorly it performs.

  • Therefore, it’s important to rectify the statements we tell ourselves.
  • Try and talk positive to yourself focusing more on arriving at solution to your problems than simply procrastinating or avoiding them. For example, instead of saying that lot of syllabus is still left, I will surely fail; it is better to say that I can choose at this point to cover up those concept properly that carry more marks in exams.
  • Similarly instead of repeatedly telling oneself that one would forget everything, it’s better to say that I have studied hard and I know the concept hence I will be able to write it in my own language.

 Study tips

  • Choose that time for self-study when your mind works best—- be it morning, night or middle of the afternoon.
  • Before getting down to studies, ensure that you are not hungry, sleepy, tired, or thirsty in order to avoid unnecessary interruptions.
  • Try studying in a library or on a study table kept in a room, where you do not have an easy access to television, radio or magazine etc, so that there are fewer distractions.
  • If while studying your mind gets occupied with various thoughts, then you can write whatever comes to your mind before you actually sit for study and tell yourself that you would think about them after finishing a chunk of your studies. This helps in increasing one’s concentration.
  • Always take short breaks while studying and take a real reward break after each intensive session.
  • Instead of studying only one subject the whole day, it is better to engage in at least 2 or 3 distinct tasks.
  • It is always better to read a text that is going to be taught in the class or tutorial before hand as it makes one familiar with the key terms and ideas and facilitates understanding.
  • Re-reading all your notes on the same day of the lecture further enhances ones understanding and dramatically reduces ones examination study time at the end of semester.
  • In order to enhance your understanding of a chapter, it is always better to first quickly skim over the chapter to get an overview of the material; then ask yourself questions about the headings and key words; followed by reading the first section and answering its question. Thereafter, you can revise what you read in the first section; make a note of key point and then move on to reading the next section and so on. Also try to relate each section to the preceding and the following section, so that the entire chapter flows like a story in your mind. You can even explain what you learnt to yourself or to someone or to an imagery audience, as it has been proved that teaching other is the best way to teach oneself.
  • Making and learning from one’s own notes is far better than borrowing notes from others as each one of us has a different language that our mind understands better. Hence writing notes in one’s own language is always recommended.
  • It is always better to get help for what you don’t understand rather than spending hours on it, trying to figure out things on own. After receiving help with the question or a concept, try and redo it on your own. It is often easy to watch someone else do a question but another thing to be able to do it yourself.
  • Try and clear up things you don’t understand well before the examination so that the day before the examination you just need to review rather than relearn new material.
  • In order to facilitate your understanding and memorization of concepts graphic organizers such as semantic maps, flowcharts etc can be used.
  • To memorize certain concepts several memory enhancement strategies (Mnemonics) can be used. For example, one can use acronyms (for example, the five great lakes namely Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, superior can be learnt as HOMES). Or a sentence can be made in a similar manner (for example, the sentence King Henry died, Mother Did not Cry Much stands for Kilometer, Hectameter, Decameter, Meter, Decimeter, Centimeter, Millimeter. One can even remember some piece of information in a musical manner; or link a word or image to the material one wants to recall.
  • In order to learn the formulas in maths well, one can write down the important formulas under each topic and revise them as often as possible. Also doing various sums (some easy, some medium and some difficult ones) involving them helps one to learn the formulas and their application better. That is why it is often said that more than your mind, your fingers should know the sum.
  • To remember things for long, multiple revisions is the rule. It is believed that the maximum forgetting takes place within an hour of what you have learnt and the rate of forgetting is gradual along the day, week and the month. Hence one you revise what one learnt the same next, the next morning, after 2 days , after a week, after 15 days and then after a month in order to remember the information for long.
  • Above all the most important thing is to be honest with oneself as deep down we all know whether we have put in the time and effort in preparing well for our exams.

Exam writing skills

  • Knowing the content is one thing and presenting it clearly in writing is another.
  • The components of a good writing are that the information should be clear, to the point, well organized containing all the main themes and written in a neat or at least clearly readable hand.
  •  It is better wherever possible to present your answer with a diagram or in a tabular or a flowchart form etc. 
  • Before answering a question, it’s important that one reads the question carefully in order to clearly understand what the question is asking and how much weight-age it carries.
  • Usually, each question contains certain ‘code words’, which indicates what kind of answer the examiner is looking for. For instance, certain commonly used terms and their respective meanings are as follows:
  • DEFINE: tell what a term briefly means. Definitions can be clarified by giving brief examples.
  • LIST, ENUMERATE: give a series of point and number them 1, 2, 3……..
  • STATE: give the main points in brief
  • SUMMARIZE: give a shortened account of something longer
  • EXPLAIN: give a longer, more detailed account of a thing or idea, offer more facts and examples to support your answer, state how and why something is.
  • DESCRIBE, DISCUSS: explain in some detail.
  • OUTLINE: develop an organized account of something, distinguishing between main and secondary points.
  • ILLUSTRATE: explain by giving examples
  • RELATE: show connections between things
  • COMPARE/CONTRAST: discuss two or more items, not just one. Compare means to tell how the items are alike, contrast means to tell how they are different.
  • CLASSIFY: follow a process like definition for several items in turn, tell how each item is like and unlike the others.
  • ANALYZE: describe the constituent parts of something and show how they relate to each other.
  • PROVE, JUSTIFY: give well developed reasons for something
  • INTERPRET: explain the meaning and significance of something
  • CRITIZE, EVALUATE: set out criteria for considering the value of a thing or idea and systematically measure it against those criteria, give negative and positive aspects of something and your overall judgment of it.

The above mentioned steps can be followed to be able to effectively plan and deal with exams, so that exams no more become a source of distress.

You can also read our Blogs on:

  1. What is Exam Stress-” Don’t limit your challenges ,challenge your limits.”
  2. Exam Stress: Facts and Myths
  3. Managing Exam Stress – “Manage Stress, before it manages you”.
  4. Preparing for the D-DAY- Exam Stress
  5. Suicide Prevention- Exam Stress

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, you can contact our counselors at our Helpline Number:


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