Date: 4 May 2023

The months of May and June mark exam season for students around the world. Whether it is the GCSEs, IB exams, AP exams, A-Levels, French BAC, end of the school year tests, SATs/ACTs or any other exam, ‘tis the season for studying hard and (let’s be honest) stressing out!

Despite preparing and revising diligently, getting through the exam period can still feel like a struggle. Stress isn’t a new feeling for high school students, but for certain exams the feeling is insurmountable simply because test results can potentially define the direction of their future, including the colleges you apply to and where you are ultimately accepted.

Certain practices can help you manage stress to successfully get through exam day. Here are a few tips to help you feel more confident:

  1. Pack your bag the night before.

Having your bag and uniform ready the night before is a surefire way of reducing morning test anxiety. Double check the contents of your bag against the list of what is required and permitted in the exam hall. This should be provided to you by the school or exam centre. Ensure your necessary paperwork and identification documents are packed and ready as well. Carry extra pencils and pens, check your geometry set is complete, ensure your calculator works (carry extra batteries if required) etc. Include an extra layer to wear in case the hall gets cold. Throw in a high-protein snack along with some fruit for break-time and don’t forget a bottle of water.

2. Double check where you need to be.

Nothing increases your stress quotient quite like suddenly discovering on the morning of the exam that the location has been changed or that you are expected to arrive ahead of an assumed time. It is always a good idea to double check where you need to be, and at what time, the night before. Know the route you plan to take and check the traffic reports in the morning to avoid any unnecessary delays.

3. Get to bed early.

Do not be tempted to pull an all-nighter the night before exams. Scientists studying the impact of sleep on the ability to perform well on tests have found that sleep improves memory, learning, retention, and recall. Try and stick to a solid sleep schedule for a few days before your exam period begins to normalize your sleep cycle. If you are struggling to switch off the night before the exam, consider engaging in a relaxing activity, like going for a walk, reading a book, playing video games, working out, taking a bath, or meditating before hitting the sack with plenty of time to get a full night’s rest! Remember to set an alarm for the morning to avoid worrying about oversleeping.

4. Don’t skip out on breakfast.

A balanced breakfast, which includes a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein for slow release energy, will ensure you have the capacity to make it through the exam. While you may have woken up with the jitters and lack an appetite, a growling stomach half way through the exam, or worse, a lack of energy, can affect your performance. So take a moment the night before to plan your morning routine to include a healthy bite!

5. Harness the power of H2O!

Even a slight case of dehydration can lead to headaches, reduced alertness, and diminished concentration, so make sure to stay hydrated! Start the day with a tall glass of water, milk or fresh juice. If permitted, take a bottle of water with you into the exam hall. A study from the universities of East London and Westminster found that students who carried water to the exam hall scored an average of 5% higher than those without water. Avoid sugar-laden sodas and energy drinks – you don’t want to experience an energy crash during the exam!

6. Chew peppermint gum.

If permitted in the exam hall, consider chewing peppermint gum while taking your exam. Scientists with the British Psychological Society found that chewing gum can help you stay awake, alert, and focused. Other studies even suggest that chewing gum increases the blood flow to the brain, which improves brain function by reducing stress and improving memory flow. Why specifically peppermint? A study published in the International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology confirmed that peppermint is more beneficial than normal gum in increasing the chewer’s attention span. Interestingly, while many teachers remain reluctant to permit gum smacking in the classroom, some educators are allowing students to chew gum during tests and exams.

7. Read the questions carefully.

Several things can happen in the moments immediately following students having access to the exam paper. Some students immediately panic and blank out. Some race through without reading the questions properly, for fear of running out of time. Others seem to take the whole process in their stride. Whichever way you handle those first few moments, stop and focus carefully on the instructions and questions provided to focus your mind on the task in front of you.

8. Breathing!

If you find that you are still feeling stressed, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Control your inhales and exhales using counting techniques such as breathing in for 3 seconds and slowly releasing your breath to the count of 6. 

Good luck to all our students facing exams over the next few months and throughout the year!