Wednesday, 13 April 2016

How to manage exam stress

The mere thought of exams and tests can strike panic into our hearts and leave us feeling like we haven't done enough. Whatever the subject/s being revised, it can be hard to get the revision balance right. The closer the exams are, the more panicked people often become and there is a tendency to cram in as much revision as possible, however this is not usually beneficial.

"There are a number of things students can do to help themselves in the run up to exams and tests," says Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of First Psychology Scotland.  "Learning to recognise the signs of stress and ways to manage the symptoms can be hugely beneficial." 

"Often people get engrossed in their studies as the exams approach and feel the only way they can get a good result is to cram in as much information as possible. This can make them feel overwhelmed and can be counterproductive," says Professor Gillon. 

Instead he advises on the importance of having a realistic revision plan which includes rest days and treats to keep motivated. "Working with friends can be helpful to keep you all on track, but only if you can be disciplined enough to actually work. If you find that study sessions with friends are not productive, then perhaps setting up nights out or scheduling in catchup time with friends to break up periods of revision can give you something to look forward to and help keep you motivated." 

Professor Gillon suggests structuring your revision schedule using relaxation time to break up sessions or topics into bite sized chunks with the relaxation time between aiding retention of information. 

"Finding ways to relax can really help you achieve your goals and prevent you panicking. The human mind needs time to assimilate all the information being taken in during revision and study. Relaxation gives your brain time to do this important job and gives you the best possible chance of retaining the information for the exams. Different people find different things relaxing, but taking some exercise, doing a hobby, yoga, tai chi, or relaxation techniques such as Body Scan are tried and tested methods for relaxing and reducing stress." 

So what can parents and teachers do to help during this stressful time?

Parents can sometimes be just as stressed as their children about exams. They have often invested time in helping their children over the years and understandably want them to achieve their best." Professor Gillon suggests that parents can assist by providing healthy food, offering regular drinks and gently reminding children to take scheduled rest periods or to keep on track with their revision schedule. "Parents may also benefit from relaxation techniques and activities, which can help them deal with the tensions created by looming exams. Often understanding the pressures our children may be under and giving them some leeway at this stressful time can help keep the mood of the house stable."

"I'd like to see teachers helping pupils relax as part of their exam preparation. We learn better when we're relaxed as our minds are open to take in information and retain it. Study skills and planning are vital, but for maximum wellbeing and resilience, relaxation is imperative too."

Professor Ewan Gillon will be presenting a FREE webinar 'Building Resilience to Exam Stress' on Thursday 21 April, 7-8pm. Places are limited. Reserve your seat now at