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  • Anya Fernihough

Exam Stress And How To Overcome It

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Sometimes it feels like school is all about being tested. We’re not actually learning anything, just seeing how far our brains can stretch, how much we can regurgitate in a short time frame, how much we can memorize. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it can certainly feel like it.

In the UK, at the end of Year 11 (equivalent to sophomore year of high school), we do our GCSEs. These exams are important, as they can determine where we go for our last two years of school before we move on to university. In fact, if we don’t pass our English and Math papers, we have to re-sit them until we do. Naturally, this causes a whole lot of stress, and because our schools love us so much, we even do mock exams in the new year, five months before we do the real thing.

Thankfully, I have just completed my mocks, and although they were extremely stressful, I feel like I am now at least somewhat qualified to give advice on how to handle them (but whether this advice is actually helpful remains to be seen!). This may not be useful to everyone but I know that I will definitely be referring back to this in the weeks before and during my GCSEs.

I honestly can’t emphasize enough how important sleep is. You may not be able to fit in the recommended eight hours but making sure that you get enough sleep can be really beneficial. I realized that being well rested was way more helpful to me during my exams than revising for that extra hour more. I could focus better and overall, I think I was more prepared than if I had studied all night. It seems counter-intuitive to sleep instead of study but prioritizing mental health and downtime is extremely important. The reality of it is, you can’t focus on a subject if you are struggling to stay awake, so it is a much better use of your time to get some sleep and be well-rested.

Unfortunately, I discovered quite quickly that (at least for me personally) I can’t focus with music playing in the background: I couldn’t hear myself think. Now, music may help some people study better as it can block out other sounds and help them focus but it’s important to recognize what helps us and what doesn’t. If you can’t revise with music playing, turn it off.

As the pile of exercise books and revision resources began to grow larger, I realized that being in a crowded environment was preventing me from being able to concentrate in my own room. Making time to tidy my study space had a positive impact.

That doesn’t mean to say that exam season should be solely focused on studying. Although important, school isn’t the be-all and end-all of life, and you should still try and make time to fit in hobbies, exercise and socializing. Taking a bath (especially if you have a bath bomb that you’ve been saving) can be particularly relaxing and is a great way to unwind, free of screens and study notes. Going on a short walk, perhaps with friends, can also help to take your mind off any stresses and can seriously improve your mood.

I think it’s important to understand that school shouldn’t be causing you excessive stress. Take the time to unwind and relax. Make sure that if the stress is really getting to you, to talk to someone about it, whether it’s friends, family, or some other form of support system that is available to you. Good luck!


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