How to Reduce Exam Stress

Counseling psychologist and Exam Aid member Roger Phillips takes a detailed look at the whole area of examination stress and how it can be managed, beginning with a general look at relaxation, moving on to coping with stress in study methods and concluding with some specific examples of coping techniques.


It is very valuable to set aside a quiet period each day in which you relax and turn off the noise of the world for a while. Whether you make time to do so will depend on how highly you value such a quiet period compared to your other activities. It need not be a long time; even five minutes would produce discernible benefits in reducing tension and anxiety, although fifteen, twenty or thirty minutes would probably produce better results.

Surprisingly, we usually have a poor idea of what it feels like to be relaxed; we are far better at becoming stressed. This is because we have all become part of the competitive ethic that is instilled into us from an early age. This puts considerable strain upon us because of the new pressures and new demands to perform better than our peers. A certain level of tension is, of course, always necessary if we are to function effectively. A life without stress would be very dull indeed, for we require the occasional stimulus of fear and anxiety to keep us alert.

However, stress becomes a problem, a harmful influence, when it is unrelieved. For many of us, a high state of tension is a permanent part of our lives. Our bodies are constantly in a state of readiness to fight or flee and we are locked into what is eventually a health damaging cycle. We try to relax, and the harder we try, the more tense we become. Relaxation is not something that comes with effort; it is something we have to let happen. When a person becomes anxious about something, for example exams, the anxiety may produce increased blood pressure, increased heartbeat, dizziness or fainting, ‘butterflies’ or nausea, trembling or shaking, tensing of the muscles, irritability and aggressive behaviour. Not all of these symptoms are necessarily evident at on time, and symptoms vary from person to person.

Competition – instilled from an early age

Being tensed or relaxed influences our ability in our performance when studying, in exams and in other areas such as our personal relationships. Good study springs from being relaxed, not from being tense or distracted. But relaxation, as mentioned earlier, is a skill which has to be learned and practiced regularly. It appears at first to be quite difficult, but with practice it becomes a natural part of our lives.

I have included some relaxation methods and some other ideas for you to peruse and maybe use.

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