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Exams: Reducing Exam Stress

Useful tools and techniques to help tackle exams. Advice on revision techniques, memory aids, and how to reduce exam stress


Follow these tips for mental, organisational and physical preparation for examination day.

Sitting Exams

The way that you prepare for the actual day of the exam mentally, organisationally and physically can also have a significant impact on your level of success.

Stress and Anxiety

Being a student can be both challenging and rewarding, but difficulties can get in the way. Counsellors are used to working with people from many different backgrounds and cultures, and are happy to talk to you about anything that's bothering you, from an inability to study, poor concentration and depression, to relationship problems and bereavement. The service is free and confidential: Counselling Service at the University of Westminster

Eating healthily for exam success

When you are stressed about exams and spend all your free time revising, it is easy to slip into unhealthy eating habits. You might find yourself reaching for an energy drink or sugary snacks for that boost to get you through the day. However, making better food choices can improve your concentration, memory, focus and energy thus promoting your academic performance to help you achieve your educational goals.

Try to:

  • have breakfast the morning of an exam to keep your blood sugar levels up
  • have a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods that release energy slowly like brown rice, oats, nuts and seeds


  • Foods that are typically thought to nourish the brain are berries, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, eggs, fish and avocados.

Developing a positive mental attitude

If you are stressed about revision, you might want to think about developing a healthier mental attitude towards exams. When studying, a positive attitude can help you to relax, concentrate and recall what you have learned more efficiently.

So, while exams are important to your course, you should start to develop a more positive attitude by keeping them in perspective. They are an opportunity to demonstrate your learning; they are not there to highlight how much you don’t know! Nor is your overall success dependent on the results of one exam.

A useful tool to help you get started on developing a healthy attitude to exams is positive visualisation. 

Positive visualisation is a technique that can help you to achieve your goals. It is a mental rehearsal of an approach to stressful situations, such as exams, that focuses on the positive and relieves anxiety as we see ourselves in full control of the sequence of events that will ultimately lead to our success!

One way to do this is to immediately follow thoughts of an exam with visualisations of something that makes you feel happy and relaxed. Over time start to visualise yourself sitting the exam, feeling confident and see yourself doing well.

Another method is to create a vision board. Put a notice board on your wall or get a large piece of paper and add words and pictures to it that depict successful exam experiences. Spend some time looking at it each day, feeling the positivity and happiness that comes with that success.

Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is the internal narrative you hold about yourself and is a combination of conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs and biases. It interprets what you do and what is happening to you and can be positive and helpful (e.g. “I did well in that exam”) or negative and destructive (e.g. “I’m not good enough”).

To identify your current pattern of self-talk around examinations and studying, consider your last exam experience and answer the following questions:

  • How did you feel before the exam? Did you expect to do well or to do badly?
  • What were you telling yourself during the exam?
  • What did you tell yourself after the exam?
  • How did you feel after the exam?

If your responses to these questions contain a lot of destructive self-talk patterns, think about trying to change them. Constantly allowing a critical inner voice to have dominance over your thinking can take a toll on your confidence and foster shame which ultimately limits personal growth.

Instead, try to engage more with positive self-talk. This can be a powerful tool to help you through the stress of exams as it calms anxiety and encourages a can-do attitude.

Coping with feelings of panic

If you feel overwhelmed and start to panic about your next exam, there are some coping strategies you can try to help you calm down:

  • To control your breathing, inhale deeply through your nose and breathe out through your mouth, relaxing your shoulders as you exhale.
  • If you feel lightheaded, ground yourself by placing your feet firmly on the floor and wiggling your toes until you feel better.
  • Focus on your senses by chewing some gum or by touching something cold.
  • Do some light exercise such as yoga or go for a walk. These activities can help you to relax.


This LinkedIn Learning video considers the "Doing Mode Overload" and how to re-focus on 'being' rather than merely 'doing', which may help when undertaking revision and attempting to overcome exam stress.


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Helpful Videos

The following are links to some informative and useful videos that can help you to control the stress and anxiety you may experience during exam time:

Positive Self-Talk

Dealing with exam stress meditation

Coping with panic

Conquering exam stress: Lessons from our bodies

Self-Care Tips for Anxiety provides useful tips and advice on managing anxiety:

Crisis Support

If you are feeling distressed, the following are the contact details of organisations that can provide urgent support:

London Nightline offers a confidential telephone listening service, run by students for students, which is available from 6pm-8am every night during term-time, Tel 020 7631 0101. 

The Samaritans offer a listening ear 24 hours a day, Tel 116 123, this number is FREE to call.