Top tips for handling exam stress and acing your online exams

1st June 2022
Image of a woman using a laptop

Exam season can be a nerve-racking time, and although we can’t help out with the actual exam-taking part, we have a host of great advice to help you best prepare and most effectively revise for your exams to help keep stress levels low.

Compared to traditional written exams, online exams tend to have longer timeframes and often allow you to have study materials and notes while you complete the paper – which may mean you revise in a way you haven’t before. The rules and allowances can differ, depending on your uni and course, so look to them for everything you need to specifically know about your exams.

And in terms of handling the stress that naturally comes along with this important period of education, find our top tips below to have an effective and productive exam season.

1. Revise in the way that works best for you

Yes, we know this one might seem obvious! But how and when you revise can make a huge difference in how well you absorb your new learnings. That said, before any exam, we recommend creating a revision timetable – and sticking to it! The beauty of setting your own timetable is that it allows you to be flexible and work around other commitments, like a part-time job, society or sports club. But, of course, revision must remain a priority so you’re as best prepared for your exams as can be.

2. Plan ahead with part-time jobs

As students, it’s likely that you’ll be working part-time alongside being in full-time study, which means you’ll already have a pretty busy schedule – and that can be nothing compared to exam season. But, no need to panic! Thinking ahead will give you time to get organised and see what you can do to adjust your work schedule to suit your needs.

If you know you’ll need more time for revision, speak to your manager and see if they’re willing to offer you less shifts. Or maybe they’ll let you work reduced hours over the exam period to help you find that work-life-revision balance.

Two men talking

3. Dedicate time to taking breaks

We all know how important it is to get stuck into revision, but you’ll be far more productive throughout exam season if you take frequent breaks.

Take a break from work when needed, and give yourself time limits to work within so you can stay as motivated and productive as possible. For example, stop working at 7pm every night. If you allow yourself free time to relax, socialise, make dinner, enjoy a long shower or do your favourite hobbies in the evening, by setting personal boundaries, you’ll find that you’ll feel much better mentally about the work you’re doing.

4. Get plenty of sleep

Getting enough sleep is always essential to having your most productive day. Making sure your brain is well-rested, and therefore ready to focus, absorb and learn, is even more important when you’re working hard for so many hours.

If you’ve had a particularly stressful day, have an early night! Allow yourself those extra few hours of Zs and rest your head – allowing yourself to reenergise and get prepared to refocus the next morning.

Image of a bed and bedside table.

5. Remind yourself what outside looks like

It’s easy to let ourselves get bogged down with work and forget all about the big wide world outside our windows, which is why it’s so important to leave your workspace and get outside every now and then! Whether you’re revising at the library, at a friend’s house or in your bedroom or living room, find a change of scenery for an instant refresh.

Going for a quick walk around the block or to the local shop will stimulate your brain in ways that revision can’t, helping you to feel more relaxed and therefore more productive when you get back into the revision zone. If you’re still fairly new to your university city or looking for new places to visit, check out our city guides for recommendations on the best spots to visit for students!

6. Cook homemade when you can

While we’re on the topic of food, it’s worth keeping an eye on what you’re eating throughout exam season. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to your favourite foods, or maybe the occasional extra takeaway or two. It’s completely up to you and what your body needs – and also completely deserved with all the effort and energy put in!

That said, it’s definitely easy to let revision and exams take precedent over your meals, so our advice is to cook at home whenever you feel happy to! Cooking your favourite meal a few times a week will not only occupy your mind with something other than revision, but it can also be a fun social activity with flatmates – plus you’re getting some delicious food, too!

If you need some inspiration for some easy and simple meals, check out our Sanctuary Students’ recipe book!

Two people in a kitchen, cooking.

7. Enjoy self-care every day

Looking for small, simple ways to help yourself relax? Practise self-care! Self-care can come in many forms – including taking a mental break, getting exercise and drinking plenty of water – but this time, we’re talking more specifically about being mindful of your skin, muscles and bones.

Why not invest in a nice face mask or hair treatment? Maybe you could buy yourself that new aftershave or perfume you’ve been eyeing up, or book yourself in for a facial or massage. You can be as luxurious as you wish with your self-care treats, and enjoy taking the time to pamper yourself!

8. Get moving and grooving

If you’re someone who’s really into sports and exercise, make sure you don’t forget or neglect this passion while in the midst of your studies! Even taking time out of your day to go for a quick run or walk, or dedicating one afternoon a week to playing your chosen sport with your friends or team mates, offers you fresh air, time with your pals and a stimulating break away from your screens!

A person walking along a road

Take care of your mind

At stressful times, it’s sometimes too easy to let your mental health fall by the wayside. Exam season can also be a lonely time due to long periods of self-isolation spent revising. Though we wish your university experience is always a happy and healthy one, we know that isn’t always the reality.

If you or someone you know is struggling, talk to someone you trust – whether that’s a teacher, parent or friend – or call Sanctuary Students’ free helpline on 0800 030 5182 to find someone to chat to – wherever and whenever you need it.