Reducing Exam Stress

Reducing Exam Stress

Knowing that the exams are drawing near can be a big stressor for students in their preparation for end-of-year assessment. In this bonus post, we asked Discover You coach Kylie McLerie to give us her tips for helping you reduce stress in the lead-up to exams.

Has your usual motivation for study gone on holiday? Are your stress levels creeping higher and higher because you can’t find the energy to hit the books the way you want to?

If so, you’re not alone.

Many students feel stress when it comes to tackling their final exams, but know that experiencing stress is not only normal, it’s to be expected.

Feeling stressed is just a signal to your brain that something you care about is at stake. And there are actions you can take to reduce how these negative emotions affect you, so you can stay focused on what you need to.

While it might seem that navigating this difficult period without eating ALL the chocolate is just not possible, there are things you can do to help relieve the stress you feel and keep you smiling as you go. Try the following.

1. Dial into your emotions. Whatever you are feeling, know that it’s valid. Identifying and labelling your emotions can help you to acknowledge what’s going on for you and allow you to move forward.

2. Embrace the power of the ask. Don’t leak energy by just wondering whether you can or should talk to someone about your stress – this will only make it worse. Reach out to the people who can help.

3. Engage in positive self-talk. We often take time to give those motivating pep talks to our friends, so why not do the same for yourself? A quick ‘You’ve got this!’ or ‘You’ve got everything that you need to be successful here’ can boost your own positive emotions.

4. Get in ‘the zone’. Sure, you’ve heard this before but pausing notifications on your devices can help you focus. Stopping yourself from getting distracted will enable you to make the most of the time you spend studying, and also means you’ll remember more! Bonus!

5. Take a mindful minute to breathe. You may not think that a minute is very long, but one minute of breathing will have a big impact. Set a timer and just breathe. In that minute, engage all your senses. What can you hear, smell, see, taste and touch? This small exercise can really help you clear your mind so you can refocus on the task at hand.

6. Get gritty. Grit is the ability to treat the journey towards achieving your goals like a marathon rather than a sprint. It is about persevering even when things get hard. Having a plan of attack for studying can help you to navigate these challenging times. Use your phone calendar or timer to set clear boundaries for study. Don’t forget about time for activities that allow you to decompress, make you smile or clear your mind.

7. Look after you. We all know what the right thing to do is here, but in times of stress and pressure we often forget the simple things that allow us to function effectively. Show yourself some compassion by forgiving yourself at those times that you don’t manage to get everything done. Think about some self-care activities that dial up positive emotions.

8. Be flexible. While planning study time is important, we also need to allow for some flexibility. Sometimes our body, mood or perspective tells us that we need to take a break. Pay attention to these signals and don’t beat yourself up for not rigidly sticking to the plan.

9. Re-think stress. Research tells us that when we think stress is bad for us, it is – it negatively impacts our thinking and our physical health. What if you considered instead that the stress you are feeling is your body’s way of telling you that you care about your performance? That you want to do well? Try journalling your answers to the following questions.

    • What am I feeling right now? Tell yourself that this feeling is normal and is a part of life. You are not alone in this.
    • What can I do to be kind to myself right now? Go for a walk, listen to some music, contact a friend?

10. Give yourself a break. This is a significant time in your life but there is more than one pathway to success. Do your best and know that you are enough.


Remember that caring for your wellbeing and managing stress doesn’t involve a cookie-cutter approach, as what works for others may not work for you. Consider these tips a menu of options to select from, and see which ones have a beneficial impact on you.

And, most of all, remember – you’ve got this!

Kylie McLerie

Co-Founder of the Education Lab/Discover You Coach

This content was inspired by the Discover You program. To learn about more evidence-based practices that will help you to thrive at school and beyond, get in touch with us at the Education Lab: A Michelle McQuaid Program.


Image credit: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

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