How to beat exam and revision stress

exam stressNearly everyone gets stressed in the run up to and during exams. With the right guidance, exams can be managed in a way which means you feel more ready and prepared for them.

With revision, unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’. You have to work out what works best for you. These tips, from the Student Support team, will help you through the next few months.

Get motivated. Sometimes the hardest thing can just be getting started. Even if you start small, it doesn’t matter. Just as long as it helps get the ball rolling for you.

We’ll start with some practical tips on approaching your revision…

Be prepared. Start as early as you can. If you want to actually retain the information it’s best to start early and revise in small chunks. The longer you revise a topic, the more likely it is to stay in your long term memory.

Make sure you have everything you need in terms of notes, information and resources to be able to revise thoroughly. Practice papers are great for knowing how the paper will be structured, the types of questions you will get and managing question timings.

Vary your revision. It’s very easy to stick to just reading when revising, but using a variety of different revision techniques could help you to remember if you’re struggling with a difficult topic. You could try:

  • Talking thorough a topic with your course mates in a study group
  • Watch YouTube or other study videos online
  • Make flash cards to test your memory

Know when, and where, you work best.  If you work best in the morning and in the Library, study there and then. If you work best in the evening, on the sofa, do that. Everyone works best at different times, so utilise when you are at your most productive.

Make a revision timetable. Devise a workable and realistic revision timetable that includes breaks. In terms of the structure of the timetable, you may find that you want to revise one whole subject per day or break the day up into subjects. Harder topics may need more hours of revision earlier on.

Try and avoid stressed people. Especially if they stress you! Sounds harsh, but being over-stressed does themselves (and you) no favours.

Try and avoid the ‘exam post mortem’. Once your exam is over, it’s OVER. Don’t dwell on what you wrote compared to your friend and don’t think about what you could have answered a question with. You can’t go back and change it, so instead you might as well either focus on your next exam or relish in the fact it’s over.

Here are some tips on how to stick at it during your revision sessions…

Take breaks. Most people can only concentrate for 40 – 45 minutes. To make each day more manageable you could break down each hour to 40 minutes of study, 20 minutes of rest. (So, have a herbal tea, listen to some music, watch a funny dog/cat video, go for a quick walk, whatever relaxes you.) Don’t feel too chained to your books/laptop.

Give yourself rewards/encouragement. Put a sweet in random pages of text books – then you’ll have a surprise treat every now and then!

Listen to something. Grab a good pair of headphones and play some instrumental music. Lyrics can make it harder to concentrate, but instrumental music settles in the background and helps you to sharpen your focus.

And lastly, some tips on how to look after yourself both before and during the exams…

Eat well and drink plenty of water. Although the temptation to comfort eat is the highest when you’re stressed, try and avoid all stimulants such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol (and drugs). As well as saturated fats and too much salt. l help your brain function and avoid sugar/caffeine dips. The NHS Livewell website can point you in the right direction if you’re struggling to work out what is good and what is bad.

Sleep. A productive brain is one that is well rested. If you can’t sleep then make sure you rest. Close your eyes and find some relaxing music to listen to.

Stay active. Don’t cancel your exercise class just because you are worried you don’t have enough time. Exercise will help you relax, keep your brain sharp, uses energy which should hopefully make you sleep better, plus it can help you get out any rage/frustrations you may have.

Go outside. Make sure you try and go outside at least once a day. Whether through exercise, or by having a break in the garden, try and get some fresh air.

Treat yourself. Want a bath? Have one. If you’ve been healthy all week and fancy a pizza, have one (remember to keep to a balanced diet most of the time). Want to go out and watch a film? Do it. Beautiful day and really want a walk on Dartmoor? Go have a walk. The odd treat here or there wwill be good for your mental wellbeing during your revision.

If you are struggling to cope, talk to someone! You can confide in close friends or family you can confide and/or access support on campus:

  • Well-being Signposting Service – runs 2-3 mornings a week. To book an initial 15 minute appointment, just email or call 01752 636891. This is a safe listening space and a place to get initial information about other support, both within the university and externally.
  • The Chaplaincy Listening Post – you can drop-in anytime, Monday to Friday, and speak to Michelle. To make an appointment then you just need to email
  • Student Counselling – there is a short waiting list and generally students are asked to make use of the Well-being Signposting Service and Chaplaincy Listening Post in the first instance. However, if you have had counselling before and are sure this is the best way forward for you, please email
  • Online – check out the full range of resources in the Student Handbook – including information on: anxiety, stress, Mindfulness techniques, and people to talk to out of hours.

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