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Managing exam stress

Posted on 2020-05-18

Stress levels can be higher than usual around exam time. While a bit of stress can help you to stay motivated and focused, too much can be pretty unhelpful.


Exam stress can be overwhelming, while confusing and exhausting you. If it all seems to be getting on top of you, there are loads of things you can do to keep calm and get perspective.




Having to revise a lot of information in a short space of time and not understanding course material can be a big stress. See hints for effective studying for practical advice on effective study techniques that can also help keep you calm.


Keep a routine and take regular breaks

It’s important to have regular study breaks and make time for relaxation and exercise. Going for a walk, run, or to the gym is not a waste of time, it’s a great way to clear your head and can help focus.


Watching your favourite TV show or going to the movies are also good ways to take a break from studying. Have a look at relaxation for more ideas to help you relax.


Limit drugs


Caffeine (eg – coffee, caffeine tablets, Red Bull) and other drugs (eg speed or coke) give you a short lift before making you crash and burn.


They can make you feel sick and can interfere with your sleep and therefore your ability to concentrate. You actually study better with regular breaks, getting lots of sleep, and from exercising (seriously!).


Options for the future


If you are doing the leaving cert, getting the marks for your first preference is great, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. There are other options to get into your course.


Exam stress can be overwhelming, while confusing and exhausting you. If it all seems to be getting on top of you, there are loads of things you can do to keep calm and get perspective.


These include deferring and getting some practical experience in your field, doing further study, retaking some subjects in some cases, or transferring in after a year or two. If you do accept another offer, you may find that you like it or it suits you better.


Manage expectations


External pressures around exams can be huge. These can be hard to deal with, especially with family and people you respect, but you need to remember that it’s your life and your exam, with you in control. There are some things that might help you manage expectations:

  • Base expectations on your past performance and doing the best you can do.
  • Put the exam in context. In overall scheme of things, how important is it?
  • If you don’t do as well as you’d hoped there are always alternatives. It’s not going to dictate whether you are a good or a bad person, or whether you are a success or failure. Exams can’t measure these sorts of things – all they measure is how well you can present the material asked for by the examiner; nothing more, nothing less.
  • Take it as a compliment (admittedly this can be easier said than done). These people want you to do well and think highly of what you are capable of. Their definition of achieving is sometimes a little (or a lot) misguided, so you need to tell people about what you think is realistic. Talk to them, find out what they hope for you and tell them what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Use the expectations of yourself and others to assist your studying. Talk to people about how you are feeling, see if they have any advice or help they can offer. Ask for and accept support from those around you, especially family members.
  • Look after yourself
  • It’s easy to let exams get on top of you and to forget to look after yourself. If possible try to get a good night’s sleep every night. It’s a good time to make an effort to eat healthily, making sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.


Ask for and accept support


If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might find it helpful to talk to a teacher or counsellor. It’s also important to ask for, and accept, support from your family if you can. This support might be practical, like picking you up from the library, or emotional, including advice or help.


If you need to talk to someone outside the situation, call Childline on 1800 66 66 66 or Samaritans on 116 123 (both are anonymous, 24 hr help lines).




There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Exams have a beginning and an end, and the stress that goes along with them should end with the exam. Once the paper’s in, there’s nothing more you can do about it, which means it’s now time to relax and enjoy the summer


See hints for effective studying for more practical study hints that can help you reduce exam stress.

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