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Exam Stress: Understanding what it is and how to deal with it

Do exams really affect students’ mental health?

School can be a regular part of someone’s lives, something that requires as little energy or thought as breathing, however for others it can be the complete opposite. Getting up to go in every day, five days a week, can be exhausting, leaving students stress and drained by the end. Exams, specifically GCSEs, do not help this.


KS4 have the constant knowledge and pressure that those exams are in their near future. It can be a drastic change, as now every lesson counts and dealing with this extra workload can be difficult. Teachers advise students to at least begin making revision materials in Year 10 to save time in the weeks leading up to an exam. This can cause a lot of anxiety and stress which most won’t know how to manage.


Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. Over a prolonged period of time, stress can lead to burnout and be damaging for physical mental and emotional health.


82% of UK teachers believe exam pressure has the biggest impact on pupil’s mental health and 79% UK school leaders have noticed an increase in stress, anxiety and panic amongst their pupils. In an educational study conducted by Putwain and Daly, it was revealed that 16.4% of all GCSE students fall into the category of highly anxious, which is the equivalent of around 5 people in a class of 30. No-one should be forced to undergo anything that will potentially harm them (physically or mentally), yet school exams seem to be left unmentioned. Is there a way to make them more manageable or will students just have to learn to cope?


Anxiety and stress can affect people in many different ways and recognising this can prevent burnout and bad mental health. Common effects can include: feeling overwhelmed, being easily irritable, having difficulty focusing, a lack of motivation, and social withdrawal. Familiarising yourself with a least a few of these signs is important as you can potentially help yourself and others.


There are many ways to deal with exam stress:

  • set realistic goals

  • take frequent breaks

  • remember to eat

  • get enough sleep

  • stay hydrated

  • spend some time doing things you love in a balance with your revision

It's important to know that everyone gets stressed out sometimes. If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, whether school related or not, there is always someone you can talk to: friends, family or teachers.


By Ella W, Year 10

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