Exam stress

Pressure to do well in exams can be overwhelming and affect your mental health. Here's our advice if it's all getting a bit too much.

Dealing with exam stress

It is normal to feel a bit worried about exams, especially if you're under pressure from school or family. Exam stress can cause you to feel anxious or depressed, and this might affect your sleeping or eating habits.   

If you recognise any of these feelings, or are worried that exam pressure is taking over your life, you are not alone, and there are things you can do:

  • Let your trusted friends and family know if you are struggling, so they can be there to support you, encourage you and offer a listening ear. You don't have to go through this alone. Keeping it all in will only make things worse in the long run, so don't be afraid to open up.  
  • Ask for help. Think about all the practical support you need, and be honest with yourself about it. You are allowed to ask for help. Talk through your concerns with your teacher/tutor who can let you know what support your school, college or uni can offer you. They will have spoken to lots students before who are going through similar things, and they are likely to know about helpful resources or services available to you. 
  • Try finding a study group, or start your own. Working through problems with other students can be a nice way to keep your social life going and boost your morale. 
  • Be kind to yourself. Think about all the things you have achieved so far. It can be helpful to write a list of all the things you like about yourself, and the things other people value about you too.

If people around you, like your parents or family, are putting pressure on you, it can help to tell them what you feel able to achieve, and let them know that your expectations are different to theirs. You could also talk to a teacher you trust about the pressure you are under at home.

What success really looks like is a lot of ups and downs, as opposed to the straight line we all imagine. Without failure we cannot grow, and without failure there is no success.
Ulfa, Activist

Keep it in perspective

Exams can help you take the next step in your academic or professional career - but results are not the only measure of success. Here are some things you can do to remind yourself that there is more to life than grades:  

  • Keep in mind that exam results do not define who you are. You might be the comedian in the family, the person your friends come to for life advice, or something else.
  • Remember your strengths. You have so many skills and qualities. 
  • Make a list of all the things you want from life which don't involve exams. This can help you realise that exams are only a small part of the picture.  
  • Have fun! Remember your life outside of exams is important too. Make a list of all the things you enjoy, and find time to do them. This can reduce your stress levels, improve your mood, and help you feel refreshed and relaxed. There is no need to feel guilty for taking some you-time to unwind. You’re allowed to have a social life and interests outside of studying.
  • Never forget that your health and happiness is worth looking after.

Take a look at Ella’s letter to her younger self about what she wishes she knew the night before exam results day.    

What you think you might have wanted to do with certain grades might not turn out to be for you after all - getting different grades might actually put you on to a much more enjoyable and fulfilling path, even if it wasn't the one you originally set out to be on.

Revision tips

Here are some of our top tips.

  • If you're anxious about the amount of studying you have to do, try breaking it up into chunks and creating a daily timetable, so you know what you want to study when. This can make revision feel less overwhelming and much more manageable.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day - an unrealistic revision plan won't help you, and will put you under unnecessary stress.
  • Make sure you take regular breaks from studying. Your brain cannot concentrate for hours at a time.
  • Not everyone studies the same way. Some people prefer to read, others find it helpful to make notes or draw diagrams, while others prefer to talk things through. Do what works for you.
  • Focus on you and don't compare yourself to others. It can be really stressful when you think everyone is doing better than you, or spending more time on revision, or just not as stressed as you. But we're all different and that's ok. Remember, your friends don’t have their results guaranteed – life is unpredictable – and they might well be feeling just as worried as you are.
Constantly revising without a break can make you feel emotionally and physically drained, so it’s crucial that you take time to step back and do something that you enjoy.

Dealing with disappointing exam results

If you don’t get the grades you want, it can feel devastating. But it really isn’t the end of the world and it happens to lots of people, for all sorts of reasons.

Life doesn’t always go to plan, but stay calm, you are going to be ok. There are still loads of options available to you.

  • Don't panic, take a moment to breathe. 
  • Speak to people who will help you stay calm and who you can talk to about how you're feeling. 
  • Explore your options properly. Your education provider will be able to help you with this.
  • Remember you don't need to make any snap decisions in the heat of the moment. 
I'm not an 'exams' person, I'm a practical person, and there are lots of people like me who can't stand exams but will go far with their practical skills.
Joel, Activist

Where to get help

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

  • Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
  • If you need urgent help text YM to 85258
  • All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
  • Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.


  • if you're in distress and need support, you can ring Samaritans for free at any time of the day or night.
  • freephone (UK and Republic of Ireland): 116 123 (24 hours)
  • email: [email protected]


The Mix

  • if you're under 25 you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or on their webchat. You can also use their phone counselling service, or get more information on support services you might need. 
  • freephone: 0808 808 4994 (1pm - 11pm daily)
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