Managing your mental health during exams
A guide for pupils
What is this guide for?
At some point or another pretty much everyone has to take tests, assessments or exams at school or college. These sometimes happen without us really noticing or paying too much attention as they become a normal part of life. Towards the end of secondary school or sixth form, exams can become a more formal process, with a longer build-up and pressure to attain certain grades. If the pressure becomes unmanageable, it can affect your mental health and wellbeing. This guide offers some simple tips and reminders of how to take care of yourself when exam season approaches, and how to reach out for help and support if things get too much.
Are exams something to worry about?
There’s a fine line between being serious about your exams and worrying about them. It’s normal to be apprehensive or feel a little nervous from time to time. However, if you are, very stressed or anxious, worrying excessively or struggling to sleep, it’s time to talk to someone. It’s also OK if you don’t have any real feelings about exams; some people even enjoy the process and are able to take each day as it comes, so don’t worry if you’re not worrying!
What's the best way to manage exams?
Some exams such as GCSEs, Highers and A-Levels generally occur in May and June, but there will be several different tests and assessments throughout the year. There are lots of things you can do to make these times easier:
- Listen to what your teachers say. Your teachers believe in you and want you to do well, and they will want to do all they can to help and encourage you.
- Eat, sleep, exercise: plenty of sleep, some decent food and taking breaks to get some fresh air will all help keep you calm and aid concentration.
- During an exam, don't panic if you can't answer a question. Pause and take a deep breath! You can always move on to the next question and go back later, or you might find it helps to make some notes of things you can remember as this can jog your memory to remember more. You won't get any marks if you write nothing at all, so try to write something.
- Remember your wellbeing is the most important thing. Look after yourself first.
Who can I talk to about exams?
If you have any questions or worries about exams, it's important you talk to someone. There are probably lots of other students in your class who feel the same way, so make sure you speak out.
- If you have any questions about exams, ask a teacher.
- If you have any worries about exams, trust and talk to a teacher.
- If you have any feedback about exams, tell a teacher.
Each is going through exams with you and wants to help you at every possible stage, so talk to them: they want you to do well. Also, remember they were students themselves once; they have been where you are! It's good to talk to your parents or the people you live with too, and tell them how you’re feeling; the more support you have, the better. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your subject teacher, reach out to your tutor or another teacher of that subject. They are here to support you. Don’t go through this time alone.
How can I look after myself?
There are steps you can take to look after yourself during your exams:
- Make sure you have all the information you need about each exam – date, time, place, what you need to take with you...and what subject it is! Have a copy of all the information at home so the people you live with know what you're doing and when. Being well organised will help you stay calm.
- It's important to revise but you need to rest too. Too much revision is as unhelpful as too little – find a good balance between revising and take time out to do the things you enjoy.
- Go outside. Many people find they don't need to be sitting in front of their laptop or tablet to revise. Take your books and sit in the park in the sunshine; it's good for the soul and the fresh air will do you good.
- During exam time, it's normal to feel some stress or anxiety, so keep some perspective. You might find it helpful to practise techniques like relaxation, mindfulness and breathing exercises.
- Talk to people. You do not deserve to feel upset by exams, so if you need support, speak to your teachers or someone else. Speak out about any worries or fears you may have as soon as they pop into your head – you'll be surprised how many other people feel the same. You're not alone.
- Leave the exam at the door. When it’s done, it’s done. Don’t rush home and flick through your work to find all the things you might’ve forgotten, and avoid comparing notes with friends. You can’t go back, so don’t waste energy on something you can’t change.
How can I look after my friends?
- Spend time together, revising, resting and staying in touch. Don't let anyone feel lonely.
- Listen to your friends. You might be loving the buzz of exams but not everyone will feel that way. If a friend says they're worried or anxious, take it seriously and ask them what you can do to help.
- Help your friends to get help. You can support your friends and be there for them, but sometimes that might mean you need to speak to a teacher to tell them that you're worried about a friend.
- If any of your friends don't seem to be sleeping or they are more anxious than usual or tearful, please speak to someone, even if your friend doesn't want you to. Your friend might not realise how much they need some support until it arrives – and you might be the friend who has made that happen.
Plan something fun to mark the end of your exams. Enjoy your well-earned free time and be proud of all your hard work.
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