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Debamita Banerjee


Exam Stress: Causes and Coping Strategies

Our lives are filled with tests and tribulations. Getting past hurdles to prove yourself is a common act everybody has to pull off numerous times in their life if they want to achieve something substantial. Hence, we're prepared for what is to come through school exams, college exams, and various entrance tests right from our childhood.  

Exam season is a mighty stressful time for most people. You're under pressure to perform well due to personal and social expectations. A little stress is good for you in this case as it keeps you pushing harder due to the fear of failure. But, excessive exam anxiety and stress can hamper your results. People sometimes are driven to even take drastic measures such as self-harm.  

Thus, you need to assess if your stress is going overboard and find ways to manage it properly.

Causes of Exam Stress

Being stressed about exams is seen as standard behavior, especially in Asian societies. Although a bit of anticipation and nerves are not surprising, most of the exam stress students face is due to a variety of deep-rooted sociological, psychological, and preparatory shortcomings.  

Here are some factors that could be causing your exam stress.  

Standing up to Parents' Expectations  

Our parents love and care about our futures and hence, they want to see us succeed, but more often than not, they project their expectations on us. Parents often fail to understand that one can perform only as per one's capabilities, what's important is they try their best. When you're pressurized by people whose opinion you hold so highly, it can cause immense anxiety. 

Societal Pressure  

Growing up in a competitive environment surely drives us to perform better, but it can also be detrimental to our growth at times. Extended families, neighbors, teachers, and peers can knowingly or unknowingly coerce you into placing your worth in the marks you get. We often don't want to let down the people we respect and gain everyone's approval, making scoring well on a test seem so much more significant than it actually is.

Lack of Preparation 

At the end of the day, somebody who is well-prepared is going to be confident about their capabilities. If you've wasted time that should've spent studying so much that now you can't cover your backlogs, you're certainly going to be stressed. The best way to get rid of stress in life is to prepare yourself to battle it proficiently. 

Impact of COVID - 19

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown life have had a huge effect on the educational sector. Online classes haven't proven to be the optimal mode of learning for most people. As a result, students are having a hard time grasping concepts and focusing on their subject material. This is causing widespread anxiety regarding the deterioration of results.   

Inadequate Sleep and Rest  

Research shows that last-minute mugging up the night before an exam does no good. The highest scorers usually are the most well-rested. This is because sleep helps people shake off stress and anxiety. Inadequate rest tires you out and causes a frenzy.  


If you're all too familiar with delaying studying while simultaneously stressing about not doing it, then procrastination is going to prompt exam stress for you. It causes you to not only worry about things out of your control but also lose valuable time that you could've spent preparing yourself better for an upcoming test. It's a cycle that can get very hard to break out of.

Internal Pressure  

People want to be the best at what they do quite often because it helps them win social approval and achieve career goals. As a result, they tend to push themselves too hard to do well and constantly overthink the outcome of a bad grade. This can cause panic and stress. The fear of failure can even drive people to subject themselves to physically and mentally painful circumstances.

Ways to Cope with Exam Stress  

Looming tests and exams that seem like they can impact your whole life are bound to cause stress. A knot in your stomach or a dry throat are some common symptoms experienced by students worldwide when they're anxious about an upcoming exam. When under stress, the brain tends to release high levels of cortisol which can cloud one's thoughts and hinder rationality. Thus, too much stress can be fatal for your performance.  

Here are some steps you can take to limit your stress and optimize your execution.

Make a Timetable

Having a regular schedule to go by while preparing for an exam can turn out to be a boon. By staying organized, you could have a road map to how you're going to finish studying all necessary topics and this will replace your panic with methodical calmness. This way you'd not only be able to complete your syllabus but also schedule regular breaks to keep yourself grounded.

Stop Comparing Yourself with Others  

Everybody has different learning patterns, methodology, and grasping power. It is important to assess where you stand while preparing for competitive examinations to decide your course of action. But, constantly comparing your level of preparation with others is going to make you panic and lose your self-confidence. Additionally, people often tend to rub off their own doubts on others.  

Discuss important information if you need to with your peers, but place greater focus on personal progress while preparing.  

Attempt Mock Tests  

Just knowing your study material by heart doesn't guarantee that you will be able to produce it accurately on paper. You need to simulate a high-pressure exam environment using set time constraints. Solving mock papers can help you increase your familiarity with the kind of questions that commonly appear in the test you're going to be attempting. It also helps you detect your shortfalls and fix them.  

As you get accustomed to the testing pattern, you're less likely to be nervous or anxious on the final day. Read our article here  Anxiety-Symptoms-And-Treatments to learn additional solutions to fight your anxiety.

To-Do Lists for Greater Productivity 

To-Do lists are a foolproof method to avoid procrastination, leading to stress. They work so well because of 3 simple reasons: they help us make sense of chaotic piles of work, reduce anxiety by giving us an easy-to-follow structure and make us feel accomplished at the end of the day by ticking tasks off.

You can see your progress bit by bit in real-time through to-do lists. This can help you feel more assertive.

Take a Break from Social Media  

If you're trying to focus your attention on doing well in an exam, you need to commit yourself to it. Social media is counterproductive in this case and scatters your thoughts onto irrelevant things.   

Considering the shift in the mode of education in recent times, you might still need to avidly use the internet. Just try to log off your social media accounts for a while before your exams. The length of your sabbatical would depend on how capable you are of balancing your social media usage time with your study time but 7-10 days before an exam should be a must for all.

Organize your Study Space

A cluttered work area obstructs productivity and optimism. Clean and organize your study area and only keep things that are essential for you to study. This will help you work faster because you'd know where all of your required study material is and create a positive work environment for you.

Avoid Cramming Information  

If you're trying to cover your entire syllabus for the first time the night before your exam, it isn't a realistic goal. Even if somehow you pull off this impossible feat, the quality of the information you reproduce on the test paper is going to be very poor.   

The best-case scenario would be to meticulously prepare for your exam early on and divide the information to be learned in sizable portions so that your brain can retain it. If it's already too late for that, set realistic goals. Learn a few important chapters very well to score decent marks rather than shoving everything down your memory in a night or two.  

Eat and Sleep Well  

Taking care of your physical health is extremely essential before an exam because getting sick can cause all your efforts so far to go down the drain.  

Eat nutritious and filling food so that you have the energy to stay focused for long hours. Get 7-9 hours of sleep each day to wake up fully energized. Numerous studies suggest that sleep helps in information retention and drastically improves your memory. Hence, do not use studying as an excuse to not sleep. Emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to learning.

Just Start  

If you spend all your time procrastinating, you're never going to get anything done and you're going to do much worse on your tests if you've not studied for it at all.   

It might feel difficult to begin when your brain is clouded with negative thoughts and no amount of time seems enough to be fully prepared, but pick up your book and start studying. Eventually, your brain is going to have to comply and focus. You'll be much more motivated to study once you've crossed the initial barrier and gotten some of your assignments done.


Exam stress is often looked at as an inextricable constituent of student life, but you need to logically evaluate your limits. Too much of it can distort your self-image, confidence, and self-worth. Any type of failure may become intolerable for you. Such behavioral issues require systematic solutions. Visit iAmEars to relieve yourself of this unbearable anxiety. You can seek online counseling from experienced psychiatrists and counselors that could diagnose your condition and help you work through your problems. You could also vent out your fears and feelings on the forum discreetly to lighten your mind and heart. You can read through the entries of other people going through similar difficulties and realize that you're not alone in your struggle. iAmEars will stand by you to ensure your mental well-being.   


Exams can indeed be influential when it comes to your career, but remember that they're not decisive. Work hard and try your best to perform well. Even if your results aren't at par with your expectations, it's not the end of the world. If you're capable and dedicated, you will come out as a winner in life. Your goal for learning should be to gain knowledge because, a test grade might not matter a couple of years later, but no knowledge ever goes in vain. When you change your perspective towards your education process, your stress will start diminishing immediately.  

Also, try not paying much heed to what society has to say about your accomplishments. At the end of the day, you're the only one living with the consequences of your actions. So get up and give it your best shot!


  1. To Study or to Sleep: How Seeing the Effect of Sleep Deprivation Changed Students’ Choices - https://aapt.scitation.org/doi/10.1119/1.5145469