What is your study programme?

Dealing with exam stress

Last modified on 21-07-2022
Feeling stressed during an exam is normal. But if the stress becomes too much, it will adversely affect your performance. You can find tips on how to reduce exam stress below.
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What is your study programme?

Recognising stress

How do you distinguish between healthy and unhealthy stress? There are a number of symptoms that you might experience if you are stressed: tiredness, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, concentration problems, mental blocks and physical complaints such as headaches and stomach pain. Not a pretty list! Fortunately, most of these problems can be prevented. 

Before the exam 

It’s important to be fully aware of the requirements that you must meet. These can usually be found in the syllabus.  Ask your lecturer, mentor or study adviser for clarification if you’re not sure about something.

Prepare yourself well for the exam. It’s important to prepare gradually over the course of the study period, so make sure you draw up an effective, realistic study plan in Week 1 and keep to it as much as possible.  If you find this difficult, check out the page on how to draw up a plan. Give yourself enough time to learn. Nobody can absorb the material after just one reading, you need to read it repeatedly. Don't be too much of a perfectionist, you don’t need to know everything to pass the exam. Good preparation also includes setting aside enough time for relaxation. You will retain the material better afterwards as a result.

Sometimes students can’t get started with studying because they are convinced that they will fail. If this is an issue for you, it may help to check out the page on preventing procrastination.

Just before the exam

  • Make sure you register in good time and that you know what you need to bring with you.  
  • Don’t study through the night and turn up to the exam exhausted as a result. You need all the energy you can get. 
  • Do something enjoyable the night before to make you feel relaxed. This will help you perform better. 
  • Make sure you know where you have to be and that you leave home in good time. 
  • Avoid contact with other students who are nervous.

During the exam

  • Organise your desk in such a way that it provides a sense of calm.  
  • Take a few deep breaths and start the exam. 
  • First, take the opportunity to read all the questions, then decide roughly how much time you think you need for each question. 
  • Start with the questions that you feel most confident about. Leave time at the end to check your answers. 
  • Take a break now and again, and relax for a moment. 
  • Pay as little attention as possible to obstructive thoughts like 'I can’t do it' or 'I’m going to fail'. Don’t focus on yourself, focus on the exam. 

Mental block

When you have a mental block, you are temporarily unable to access your knowledge. You’ve forgotten a name, for example, but however hard you try to remember it, it won’t come to you. Then, when you’re no longer thinking about it, it suddenly comes to you. The best thing to do in the event of a mental block is this: leave this question and go on to another one. Go back to the question again later and think first about what you know rather than focusing on what you don’t. Give your thought process time.

After the exam

Give yourself time to rest after your efforts. Marathon runners don’t run a marathon the day after the race. Learn from the experience. If you failed, analyse what went wrong. Go to the post-exam discussion and ask questions. Work out what you could do better or differently next time.

Training courses and workshops

The UvA provides additional support for various topics through information meetings, workshops, training courses and groups. You can learn more about these by clicking on training courses and workshops.

Questions?

If you have a query about exam stress, please contact the student psychologists.

Contact

UvA's psychologists

You can turn to the UvA’s student psychologists for help with study-related problems or personal issues that are interfering with your studies. You do not need a referral from your GP. Register for a workshop or group module on UvA CorsizioExternal link.

Contact details