Pressure and Stress

Exam pressure is often described as something very negative. For many students, it's the worst part of the whole exam process. They react badly to it and try to fight it. It kills their focus and they spend most of their time worrying instead of working.

The big problem with this is that you can't get rid of exam pressure. Everyone feels it. Instead, you need to learn how to accept it and handle it properly. Remember: the key to dealing with exam pressure is to work with it, not against it.

We are biologically designed to feel pressure and perform well under it. When used properly, it is actually a very powerful motivating force. Can you think of any great achievements that weren’t the result of intense pressure? As do the great achievers, view it as a tool to help you through the experience rather than something that wants to crush you.

Prepare Yourself For Setbacks

Exam pressure can be turned into good pressure, but pressure which does not relate to exams will lead to stress. Stress leads to mental crowding. You will not be able to fully focus on your work if there are other worries in the back of your mind.

You should try to eliminate any external sources of pressure during the study period. Avoid commitments and keep your schedule clear. Being busy is not a good way of staying relaxed.

Of course, there are certain worries that are unavoidable. There is little you can do if something bad happens to a family member shortly before your exams commence. Since your education spans many years, the chances are actually pretty high that you’ll be forced to deal with some negativity in your life at some point when doing exams.

With this in mind, you should mentally prepare yourself for setbacks. It is not a reliable strategy to simply hope that nothing bad will happen during the exam period.

For example, I had to deal with my parents’ divorce around the time of my GCSEs. Shortly before taking my A-Levels my family and I were forced to move out of our home under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Of course I was negatively affected by these events, but I quickly accepted that dwelling on the problem wouldn’t improve my exam scores. I had no power over those situations, so what was the point in wasting my energy on them? I still had power over my exam performance, so I focused on that.

There are support systems in place to help students if something really bad happens, but for most situations you will have to deal with it yourself. The world isn’t going to change its plans just for you.

Other Persistent Thoughts

Sometimes your mind will become occupied with something, but it doesn’t exactly feel like stress or pressure. These persistent thoughts could include:

Thoughts like this are easily prompted by interruptions, such as receiving a message or seeing a picture on social media. Other times, they can creep into the front of your mind if you aren’t fully engaged with your work. This is another reason why it's so important to find an engaging way to study.

Pushing these thoughts aside and getting back into the Zone can be difficult, especially when some of them are the result of powerful chemical reactions occurring in our brains (e.g. infatuation).

An Easy Way to Reduce Stress

A surprisingly effective technique I found (which I still do) was to write down a list of reasons why I was occupied with a particularly strong thought, or feeling stressed. I would write down potential solutions to each problem. Then I could decide for each problem if it was something I could immediately fix or not.

If it could be quickly fixed, I would fix it. If not, I would accept that it was currently out of my control and move on, knowing that the problem had been recorded and could be addressed later. In any case, transferring your worries and persistent thoughts onto a piece of paper is a great way to visualise unburdening yourself of them.