Home > ACADEMIC RESOURCES & SUPPORT > Tests & Exams > Exam readiness: Dealing with stress

Exam readiness: Dealing with stress

Many students who are new to university experience stress because university life can bring new experiences. You’re meeting and living with new people, you’re becoming accustomed to new ways of learning and you’re experiencing the stress caused by tests and exams.

  1. But stress is also the body’s warning mechanism – it’s a signal that helps you prepare for something important that’s about to happen. So stress is a natural experience. However, it is important to manage it so that it doesn’t interfere with your learning or your performance.


  1. Stress can appear in different ways. It can be physical (you could experience headaches, nausea, faintness, have problems sleeping, experience stomach aches), it could be emotional (you could feel irritable, get frustrated or angry quickly, or feel fearful), it could be behavioural (where you’re always fidgeting, pacing, abusing substances or you’re easily distracted)….and sometimes it can be more cognitive which means it affects your thinking and reasoning. You may experience difficulty concentrating or you could experience symptoms like  ‘going blank’ even though you’ve studied. So, it’s important to recognise the signs of anxiety in yourself.


  1. When you’re under stress your body releases the hormone adrenalin, which prepares it for danger (this is known as the fight or flight reaction).

This also causes some of the physical symptoms like sweating, a pounding heart, and rapid breathing.

  • Focusing on bad things fuels anxiety or fear. In a test situation, asking yourself questions like ‘What if the test is too hard?’ or ‘What if I forget everything I know?’ only fuels anxiety.
  • A lack of confidence or fear of failure also contributes to anxiety. If there are things you’re unsure of, whether these are academic or emotional, ask for help.
  • A fear of making mistakes can also be a contributing factor. Sometimes these pressures can come from your family. Often, if your self-esteem is tied to the academic task you focus on your chances of failing instead of preparing.
  • A lack of preparation can contribute to stress. Make sure you’ve prepared well in advance.


How can you manage stress?

Be prepared! If you’re worried about a test or exam or an upcoming essay, the first step is preparation. This could be a plan for how you’ll tackle the task, when you’ll work on it, and how much time you’ll devote to it.

Remember to ask for help if there’s something you don’t understand. You could chat to a tutor, visit the Writing Centre or make use of forms of academic support like the hotseats in your faculty. If there are issues affecting your time at university you can also talk to your student advisor or mentor.

Try to be healthy. Our lives can get very busy. Sometimes you’ll have to schedule exercise or even setting a definite time for bed. Make sure you get enough sleep. Often students try to pull all nighters before a test or exam but this can negatively affect your performance.Eat a healthy diet. While the occasional burger or pizza is okay, junk food can also contribute to stress.

Take care of yourself. Take the time to do things you enjoy, whether this is a movie night, or making time for your favourite society. This may be difficult during exam time. Sometimes you’ll have to explain to your society or club that you need to take the time to study and THIS IS OKAY!

Accept mistakes

At university you’ll have to learn to accept mistakes. No matter how much you plan and prepare certain mistakes are unavoidable but it’s important to move on from them. A bad result in one area signals what you need to work on. Remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to work harder, it could just mean that you need to work differently (pause for emphasis). Experts at the Writing Centre, your tutors and counsellors at Student Wellness can help you with this.

Find out more here