Nord Anglia
04 June, 2024

Managing Stress During GCSE and A-Level Exams - A Comprehensive Guide

Exams are inherently stressful, especially significant ones like GCSEs and A-Levels, which can shape your academic and professional future. However, stress doesn't have to dominate your experience. With effective strategies, you can manage stress and perform your best. 

Oxford Sixth Form College Head of Pastoral, Dr. Laura Simmons, has put together a quick guide to help you navigate this challenging time.

1. Understand Stress and Its Impact
Understanding that stress is a natural response to challenging situations can help you manage it better. A certain level of stress can actually be motivating, pushing you to study and perform. However, excessive stress can be debilitating, affecting your concentration, memory, and overall well-being. Take a proper break if you feel overwhelmed: a walk, a phone call with a friend, ideally not scrolling through your phone!

2. Create a Realistic Study Schedule
A well-structured study plan is essential. Break your study sessions into manageable chunks and include regular breaks. Use tools like planners or digital apps to organise your time effectively, making sure you build in time to revise exams according to their schedules. A good schedule should balance study time with relaxation and social activities to prevent burnout.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your daily routine can significantly reduce stress. Practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga can help calm your mind and improve focus. If you are not into mindfulness and would see this as a chore, then skip to the next suggestion!

4. Stay Physically Active
Regular physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Whether it’s a daily walk, a run, or a workout session at the gym, physical activity can help clear your mind and keep you energised.

5. Maintain a Healthy Diet
What you eat can impact how you feel. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can boost your energy levels and improve concentration. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, which can lead to energy crashes and increased anxiety.

6. Get Enough Sleep
Adequate sleep is crucial during exam periods. Lack of sleep can impair your cognitive function and memory. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. If you have trouble sleeping, establish a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid screens before bed, and create a comfortable sleep environment.

7. Practice Past Papers and Timed Exams
Familiarity with the exam format can reduce anxiety. Practice past papers under timed conditions to get a feel for the exam pace and structure. This will help build your confidence and improve your time management skills during the actual exam.

8. Seek Support When Needed
Don’t hesitate to seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Talk to your teachers, friends, or family about your concerns. Sometimes, just voicing your worries can help alleviate them. 

9. Stay Positive and Keep Perspective
Maintaining a positive attitude can make a significant difference. Remind yourself of your strengths and past achievements. Understand that exams are important, but they are not the sole determinants of your future. Keeping things in perspective can help reduce the pressure.

10. See Beyond Exams
Make a list of activities you’ll enjoy doing after exams: attending a concert, travelling with family or friends, watching a movie, or hanging out with friends. It’s good to have something to look forward to.

Above all remember: these weeks will soon be over. Make the most of your preparations and believe in yourself.