Worrying and feeling anxious at times is normal and can help us perform better, study more and work a bit harder. Too much pressure and anxiety can have a negative impact on how we perform and feel. Finding coping strategies to help avoid the negative impact are not only useful for exam preparation but can also become skills for life.
Flight, fight and freeze
When we feel under too much pressure, we can become anxious. When we are anxious or stressed, we can act in different ways and is sometimes referred to as ‘Fight, Flight and Freeze’. This video from Anxiety Canada explains how this can affect teens really well: Flight, fight and freeze explained for teens
For more general information about worries and anxieties, check out the Worries and anxieties page of this site.
There are phone apps that might be useful to support young people to manage some of the anxiety they might experience working towards exams or assessments. There are links to some popular and useful phone apps below. Other self-help phone apps are also available, such as those in this list created by the NHS.
Study skills and self-care routines
Make a Study Plan or Timetable
Plan your time so you can break down your studying into managable chunks. The first thing to do when creating your study plan is to put in the self-care activities such as sleep, meals, exercise and any hobbies or activities that you do regularly and want to maintain. It is important that you look after your health and wellbeing as this will help you feel better and you will feel more ready to learn and revise. After that, then see what free time you have left and divide this into chunks with regular short breaks.
There are helpful apps for organising your school work such as My Study Life.
Regular, short breaks can help us stay motivated and focused without getting too tired or distracted. Try to only check your phone etc. during these short breaks, and consider putting your phone on ‘flight mode’ so you do not get interrupted by notifications. During your breaks you may want to move around, stretch, have a drink, have a small snack, look out of the window, or maybe walk away from where you are studying for a few minutes. The short break should refresh you and let you do the things that may distract you while studying, so you can focus better.
Take time to relax
Including relaxing activities and hobbies into your routine and study plan can help things feel more managable and keep us in a better state for learning and revising. Use this link to download some suggested relaxation techniques that you can try. Use this link to download some relaxation techniques that you can try. Relaxation exercise is like any other form of exercise – it gets easier and more beneficial with regular practise.
Practise HOW to Answer, not just WHAT to answer
When you are studying, practise putting the information you have revised in your own words by talking about it or writing about it from memory. Teaching someone else is an excellent way to make sure you really know the information. In the exam, you want to show that you understand the information as well as know it.
For essay questions, think about how you will structure your written answers and what would be relevant. The key words in the exam question will give you an idea of how to answer. Talk to your subjects teachers and, if possible, look at past papers to become familar with the langauge in the questions.
Revise in a way that suits you
There are various ways to revise, the list below contains some examples. Just make sure that the way you choose to revise is not distracting from revising the subject content. You can also use more than one or different ones for each subject. Most people focus better in a quiet environment but if you prefer to work with some background noise then try instrumental music or ambient noise at a low volume.
- Take notes from your reading and summarise the information
- Reading your notes aloud, or recording them and listening back to them
- Use highlighters or underline key passages and words to find them quickly when you look back over your notes
- Make your notes interesting and colourful with coloured pens, drawings, diagrams and flow charts.
- Make a mind map or concept map
- Make flash cards to test yourself
- Watch relevant videos or listen to relevant podcasts
- Wider reading to help your understanding
- Teaching or telling someone else
In the exam…
- Try to stay calm. Take a few breaths and tell yourself you are going to do your best.
- Look through the whole exam paper to get an idea of what you need to do in the exam time. If there are essay questions, read them carefully and underline or highlight key words if that helps. Check the back of any pages just in case.
- Look at how many marks the questions are worth and plan your time. Questions worth more marks will need more time to give enough detail in your answer. Include a few minutes to read through and double check your answers at the end. Planning how you use the time you have for an exam is important so you can use your time effectively and pace yourself properly.
- Answer the questions as well as you can. You do not have to complete the questions in the order they are written and if you are stuck, try the next question and come back later. If you have no idea then give your best guess based on what you do know, you may know more than you think.
- For essay questions, make a quick plan before you start writing. This can be a mind map or list and should not take more than a minute or two. It will help you stay on topic and if you do run out of time it tells the examiner what you planned to write. When you have finished your written answer, score out the plan.
- Keep an eye on the time and try to stick to your time plan as much as possible. (This could be part of your practise and revision.)
- Proof-read your answers and correct any mistakes. We all make silly mistakes when we rush so check what you have written and correct any errors.
If you need it, get help!
If you are not sure about what information you need to focus on when revising, talk to your teachers to get advice. If you are feeling stressed, talk to someone you trust. Lots of people get stressed about exams, so get help if you need it.
If an exam did not go to plan, talk to your family, your teachers and if necessary a career advisor. Your plans may change but you can make a new plan. More often than not, you can plan a new route to your preferred career, it may just take a bit longer to get to your destination or you can find a suitable alternative.