June 2022

Blog | Coping with exam stress: Our top tips for tackling test anxiety

By Darren Campbell

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Read time: approx 9 mins

As you race towards the finish line of the academic year, sometimes exams can look like a big final hurdle.

You always want to achieve your very best, and the pressure to perform can be a powerful motivator. But if you feel like it's becoming too much, there are steps you can take to help combat the stress – whether you're worried about revision, daunted by exam day or feeling uncertain about your upcoming results.

Here are some top tips for students on coping with the stress of exams and tests:


Working out how best to prepare for your exams can feel like a challenge in itself, but whether you have one exam or a dozen, taking time to plan your revision will help you to make it feel manageable and under control.

In doing so, be realistic – don't plan around pulling all-nighters or powering through topics at breakneck speed. It's far better to create a manageable plan and set realistic goals for your revision. Acknowledge in advance the limits of what you can achieve each day, and you’ll avoid the stress of stretching those limits to breaking point once you begin. Remember: you can't learn everything.

It's also important to do what works for you. Whether you remember best through reading, visual aids or discussions, use whichever techniques work best for you. And don't compare your preparations to others – everyone learns differently, and you need a plan that fits around you.

Positive thinking

One of the most frequent factors behind exam anxiety is fear of failure. If you are worrying about failing to revise enough, failing at your exam or even just getting your results, you need to recognise all this for what it is: negative thinking. And it's never helpful.

What can help is actively replacing those negative thoughts with positive ones. Rather than fixating on your struggles or focusing on what you haven't yet revised, think about everything you have already learned and how each and every element of revision you do is helping you be more prepared. Instead of fearing the outcome of your exam, simply concentrate on doing your very best there and then.

Even if you do struggle to keep that anxiety from occasionally creeping in, don't give yourself a hard time about it. Everyone feels the same thing (even if sometimes it doesn't seem like it!) and responding to stress by constantly beating yourself up is only likely to make you feel even worse.


As well as thinking positively, it's important to think rationally. As much as you want to succeed, remember: your life does not depend on your exams!

Think about it – whatever career you want to go into, your success and worth in your future job will not be decided by exams, but by the work you do and what you bring as a person. There is so much more to you that will make you valuable to an employer – your experience, your skills, your personality, your attitude – and more importantly, there is far more that makes you valuable to the people who care about you.

Maintaining a sense of perspective will help you feel less obsessive about your revision, less stressed in your exams and less worried about your results afterwards.

Practising mindfulness

Whether you're worried about an upcoming exam or feeling stressed in the examination itself, a useful response is to practise mindfulness – to focus deeply on your current physical experiences and sensations, and to live only within the present moment.

There is an array of mindfulness techniques you can practise, such as breathing exercises or walking meditation. A wealth of tips and information is available online – for example, you can try this mindful breathing exercise.

Whenever you feel the worry welling up within you, try to adopt one of these techniques. They can help you shift your thoughts away from stress or anxiety about the future and centre solely on the here and now.

Physical health

While stress has much to do with your mental wellbeing, it's vital not to overlook your physical wellbeing.

In the midst of exam season, it can be all too easy to neglect your physical health – cutting back on sleep, feasting on fast food or downing stimulating drinks, as if to turn your body into nothing but a revision machine. This is often counterproductive, and can serve to increase your anxiety symptoms.

Steer clear of excessive caffeine in favour of drinking more water, eat healthy foods that will release energy slowly throughout the day, and always aim to get some exercise in, even if it's just a half-hour walk. Above all, try and get a good night's sleep – about eight hours will help you operate far more effectively when you do sit down to revise or enter that exam room.


Along with eating right, drinking right and sleeping right, you also need to relax right! Locking yourself down throughout your revision period without giving yourself downtime is only likely to result in bad moods and burnout.

Taking regular breaks will help make your revision time feel less all-consuming. And when you decide you're done for the day, don't dwell on it any longer – make sure your free time really is freeing, whether you enjoy watching TV, going out with friends and family, getting active or being creative. Don't deny yourself time for play and pleasure – you need it.


When it comes to revision, it's not just about what you do, but where you do it. Find an environment that helps you concentrate on your studies, away from unwanted distractions or temptations.

Revising at home or at a friend's place may be the best option for you. Or you may find it easier to learn in a dedicated study space – our campus buildings at University College Birmingham offer a variety of suitable locations, from the Library at The Link to ThinkSpace (located at McIntyre House for university students, or Summer Row for college students) as well as breakout study spots for a more casual environment.

Alternatively, you might prefer studying outdoors. There are plenty of parks and open spaces around Birmingham if you want to revise in the open air, from Cathedral Square or St Paul's Square in the city centre to bigger spaces further afield like Cannon Hill Park or Edgbaston Reservoir.

Peer support

Perhaps you don't like revising on your own. If solo study isn't your thing, why not meet up with friends on your course, plan your revision together or even test each other. Research has shown that revising with others can help individuals absorb their personal study notes more effectively.

Having the support of friends or others while you learn can also help boost your confidence. Sharing your study struggles can enable you to gain a different perspective or discover new ways of approaching your learning. Plus being with people who care about you when you're feeling stressed can give you the perfect pickup.

People who can help

You might be doing all the above and still feel like you're struggling. If so, don't keep it to yourself. As well as talking out your troubles with friends and family, talk to your tutors or our academic support staff – we are here to help you throughout the whole process of completing your course, including your exams.

Beyond that, you may also want to explore other support networks and resources. University College Birmingham's dedicated Health and Wellbeing Team can provide you with one-to-one advice or point you in the direction of tools that can help, including the Student Assistance Programme for our higher education students or the My Healthy Advantage mobile app. Find out more on the Health and Wellbeing section of our website or via the Portal.

There is also support available outside of the University, including Student Minds or the mental health support line offered by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Trust. Never suffer in silence – help is always at hand.

Check out more tips about coping with exams from our student bloggers:

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