How can I manage exam stress?
The run up to exams or assessment deadlines can be stressful but it is important not to let stress overwhelm you. Learning to manage stress and taking time to relax will help you study more effectively. Use the following tips and advice to help you manage your stress more effectively.
Tips and advice for managing exam stress
- Do some exercise (e.g. walk, swim, cycle)
- Read a book
- Watch your favourite TV show
- Go to the cinema
- Do something creative (e.g. draw, paint)
- Visit a friend or family member
- Listen to music
- Sit or lie comfortably with your hands side by side in your lap, or your arms by your side and your legs uncrossed. Close your eyes. Now concentrate on becoming aware of your feet on the floor, your legs and arms where they are resting and your head against the cushion, pillow or chair back .
- Keep your shoulders down and take in a really deep breath – it can be helpful to put your hand on your tummy to feel it inflating like a balloon, as this lets you know that you are doing it right.
- Then make each out-breath last longer than your in-breath. A good way to do this is to breathe in to the count of 3 then breathe out more gently and slowly to the count of 5. If you cannot breathe out for that long, hold your breath for the remainder of the time while you keep counting to 5 and then breathe in again.
- Do this about 10 to 20 times, knowing that you will relax more with each breath. Concentrate on the counting (try not to let your mind wander off; if it does just gently bring it back) and be aware of how much less tense you feel just by relaxing you breathing and blocking out your over-busy thoughts.
- The 3/5 (or if you want to make this longer 7/11) technique is good for instant relaxation too. Just do it a few times, wherever you are, if you feel tearful or panicked or if you are getting so wound up you can’t make a simple decision. No-one will know you are doing it so there is no embarrassment to fear.
Challenging unhelpful thoughts
- Identify the patterns your thoughts take
- What would you say to a friend in a similar situation?
- What are the costs and benefits of thinking this way?
- Is there another way of looking at this?
- Focus on your breathing – start to notice your breath leaving and coming into your body
- Visualise being in a safe, pleasant and comfortable environment – how does it feel?
- Count things you can see that begin with a specific letter of the alphabet
- isten to your favourite music – identify the different sounds and instruments you can hear
- Count backwards from 1000 in multiples of 7
Resources and useful links
Headspace – Useful app for meditation and breathing exercises. Has specific exercises for exam stress.
Student Minds – Exam stress advice from the UK's student mental health charity
Save the Student – Exam stress tips and advice
Moodjuice – Mental health advice from NHS Scotland
NHS Inform – Breathing and relaxation exercises
Big White Wall
Big White Wall is a 24/7 mental health support site which is available for free to all Heriot-Watt Students. Big White Wall provides a safe space online to get things off your chest, explore your feelings and learn how to improve and self-manage your mental health and wellbeing. It's available 24/7, is totally anonymous and provides online peer support. Go to bigwhitewall.com and sign up with your university email address. You then choose an anonymous username for your time on Big White Wall.
Student Wellbeing Services
The Student Wellbeing Service is also here to help you manage and cope with exam stress. For more information, you can email email@example.com.
Student Success Advisors
The Student Success Advisors are recent Heriot-Watt graduates and are experienced in sitting exams at the University. They can provide you with advice and guidance if you require it. You can contact the Advisors at firstname.lastname@example.org