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How to Reduce Exam Stress


Exam stress refers to the emotional and psychological stress experienced by students before and during exams who are preparing for, or taking, exams. It is a common experience, and can be caused by a range of factors, including:

  1. Pressure to succeed: Teenagers may feel pressure from themselves, their parents or their teachers to perform well on exams. This pressure can be overwhelming and can lead to anxiety and stress.
  2. Fear of failure: The fear of failing an exam can cause significant stress for teenagers. They may worry about what their parents, teachers, or peers will think of them if they fail, or about the impact that failure could have on their future.
  3. Time pressure: Preparing for exams can be time-consuming, and teenagers may feel like they don’t have enough time to study everything they need to. This can lead to feelings of stress and overwhelm.
  4. Lack of control: Exams can feel like a high-stakes situation that is out of the teenager’s control. They may worry about what questions will be on the exam, or feel like they don’t have control over their performance.

How can therapy help with exam stress?

Counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and mindfulness techniques can be helpful in managing exam stress in students by addressing the underlying emotional, cognitive and behavioural factors that contribute to the stress. 

Here are some ways in which these therapies can be helpful:

Identifying the root cause of exam stress: Counselling can help students identify the underlying causes of their exam stress, such as academic pressure, fear of failure or perfectionism. By understanding the root cause, students can develop strategies to address it.

Changing negative thought patterns: CBT can help students identify negative thought patterns, such as catastrophising or all-or-nothing thinking, that contribute to exam stress. CBT teaches students how to challenge and replace these negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones.

Learning relaxation techniques: Mindfulness techniques can help students learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, that can help reduce exam stress. Mindfulness also teaches students how to stay focused and calm in the moment.

Building resilience: Counselling, CBT and mindfulness can all help students build resilience by teaching them coping skills that can be useful not just during exams, but also in other areas of their lives. For example, students can learn how to manage their time more effectively, practice self-care and set realistic goals.

Why is it important to be calm when taking exams

Being calm during exams is important for several reasons:

  1. Improved performance: When you are calm, your mind is clear and focused, allowing you to recall information more effectively and perform better on exams.
  2. Reduced stress: Being calm reduces stress and anxiety, which can interfere with your ability to recall information and perform at your best.
  3. Better recall: Being calm helps you remember information more easily, making it easier to recall the information you need to answer exam questions.
  4. Increased confidence: Being calm increases your confidence and reduces your stress levels, making you feel better prepared and more in control of the exam situation.

How effective is therapy for exam stress

Therapy can be very effective for students with exam stress, as it provides them with the tools and support they need to manage their anxiety and improve their academic performance. The effectiveness of therapy will depend on various factors, such as the severity of the student’s exam stress, the type of therapy used, and the student’s willingness to participate in the therapy process.

Research has shown that cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective form of therapy for exam stress. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to anxiety and stress. Through CBT, students can learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts, practice relaxation techniques, and develop coping strategies to manage their anxiety.

The use of mindfulness-based therapy, solution-focused therapy and NLP are also effective in reducing exam stress and improving academic performance.

What happens if teenagers are not able to manage exam stress?

If teenagers are not able to manage exam stress, it can lead to several negative consequences, both short-term and long-term. Here are some possible outcomes of not managing exam stress:

  1. Poor academic performance

Exam stress can impair a teenager’s ability to concentrate, recall information, and perform well on exams. If a teenager is unable to manage their stress, it may result in poor academic performance, which can be a source of further stress and anxiety.

  1. Mental health problems

Exam stress can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. If teenagers are unable to manage their stress, it can exacerbate existing mental health problems or trigger new ones.

  1. Physical health problems

Exam stress can also have physical health consequences, such as headaches, fatigue, and stomach problems. If left unmanaged, exam stress can lead to chronic health problems in the long term.

  1. Negative coping mechanisms

If teenagers are unable to manage their stress, they may resort to negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, binge eating, or self-harm. These coping mechanisms can lead to further problems and should be addressed as soon as possible.

  1. Future implications

The inability to manage exam stress can have long-term implications for teenagers’ future careers and personal lives. Future-proofing involves setting oneself up for success by effectively managing tasks, rather than relying on working late due to poor time management.Poor academic performance can limit their opportunities for further education and employment, while mental health problems can affect their ability to form relationships and achieve their goals.

Can I reduce my fear of exams? 


It is possible to overcome your fear of exams. Here are some tips for exam stress: 

  1. Practice self-care: This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in physical activity to reduce stress and anxiety levels. This may seem obvious and one might assume one is going this you would be surprised how poor a students diet and drinking While it may seem like common sense to take care of oneself by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, it is surprising to learn that a significant number of people do not adhere to these basic practices of self-care. 
  2. Prepare adequately: Make sure you understand the material and have a study plan in place. Preparation can help reduce anxiety and increase your confidence.
  3. Challenge negative thoughts: Identify and challenge negative thoughts related to exams, such as “I’m going to fail” or “I’m not good enough.” Replace these thoughts with positive, realistic ones.
  4. Practice relaxation techniques: Use techniques such as deep breathing, visualisation, and progressive muscle relaxation to help reduce stress and anxiety during exams.
  5. Seek support: Talk to someone you trust about your fears and seek support from friends, family, or a counsellor.

It may take time to overcome your fear of exams, but with dedication and patience, it is possible. Remember, everyone experiences stress and anxiety to some extent, and it’s normal to feel nervous before exams. The key is to find ways to manage your anxiety and perform at your best.

Are there scientific results for the academic improvement of students’ results from well-managed exam stress?


There is scientific evidence to suggest that managing exam stress can lead to improved academic performance in students. Here are some examples:

There is scientific research to suggest that well-managed exam stress can lead to improved academic performance in students. A moderate level of stress can help students focus and perform better, whereas excessive stress can impair performance.

Research has shown that interventions such as CBT, mindfulness and stress management training can improve exam performance and reduce anxiety in students. 

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 studies found that CBT-based interventions were effective in reducing exam anxiety and improving academic performance in university students (Liao et al., 2020).

In terms of UK-specific data, a study conducted by the University of Surrey found that students who participated in a stress management training program showed significant improvements in their exam scores compared to a control group (Dudley et al., 2018).

Another UK-based study by the University of Exeter found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in reducing anxiety and improving academic performance in secondary school students (Bennett et al., 2019).

Overall, the evidence suggests that well-managed exam stress can lead to improved academic performance in students and interventions such as CBT and mindfulness can be effective in achieving this outcome. 

  1. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who reported lower levels of test anxiety performed better academically than those who reported higher levels of test anxiety. The study concluded that test anxiety can have a negative impact on academic performance and that interventions aimed at reducing test anxiety can lead to improved academic outcomes.
  2. Another study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found that cognitive-behavioural interventions, including stress management techniques, led to improved academic performance and reduced test anxiety in high school students.
  3. A review of several studies published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that interventions aimed at reducing test anxiety, such as relaxation training and cognitive restructuring, were effective in improving academic performance in students.
  4. A study published in the Journal of Adolescence found that students who participated in a stress-management program showed significant improvements in academic performance compared to a control group.

How does therapy for exam stress help my teenager future-proof for further mental well-being?

Therapy for exam stress can help your teenager develop important skills and coping mechanisms that can serve them well throughout their life, helping to future-proof their mental well-being. Here are a few ways that therapy can help:

  1. Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Through therapy, your teenager can learn healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and positive self-talk. These skills can help them manage future stressors and maintain their mental well-being.
  2. Improve self-esteem: Exam stress can be overwhelming, and it’s common for teenagers to feel like they’re not good enough. Therapy can help your teenager build self-esteem and confidence, which can be useful in all areas of life.
  3. Address underlying issues: Sometimes exam stress is a symptom of underlying issues, such as anxiety or depression. Therapy can help identify these issues and provide treatment, which can improve overall mental well-being.
  4. Foster resilience: Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, and it’s an essential skill for all of us to have. Through therapy, your teenager can learn to develop resilience, which can help them navigate future challenges with greater ease.

Overall, therapy for exam stress can help your teenager develop essential skills and strategies that can serve them well throughout their life, and help future-proof their mental well-being.

As a highly, experienced Children and Young People Therapist (CYPT) with a focus on helping students manage exam stress. Donna Morgan has a proven track record of effectiveness in helping students overcome anxiety and perform at their best. 
Donna Morgan uses evidence-based techniques such as NLP, CBT, Mindfulness and EMDR to help students develop effective coping strategies and improve their problem-solving skills. Donna Morgan creates a safe and supportive environment where students can express their feelings and fears without judgement and receive the emotional support they need. Through her compassionate and personalised approach, Donna Morgan has helped many students overcome exam stress and achieve academic success.