11 ways to manage exam stress

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Exam stress
Exam stress
Klaus Vedfelt/ Getty images

Matric exams have kicked off for 2021.

Much like the class of 2020, the class of 2021 have also not only had to deal with preparations but Covid-19 restrictions as well.

This can be a stressful time. The pressure to pass matric can be overwhelming as extra attention is paid on you, be it from government, your family, community or even your peers.

Claudia Swartzberg, CEO of My Top Dog, an Ed-Tech company that specialises in optimising the learning and teaching process through technology interventions, says anxiety and stress levels are likely to be higher during this time and if not managed properly, it might be a recipe for disaster. “Exams aside, the teenage years can be rough. Sleep deprivation, hormones and the dilemma of standing out while trying to fit in are real issues which could have serious implications,” she says.

How to manage exam stress and pressure

Be prepared:

Ensure you know what is expected from you in the exam and that you have all the notes and books, as well as the best technological resources on hand that you’ll need to study. Ask your teacher what you can expect in the exam and what type of questions will be asked.

Exams generally test four levels of thinking:

  • basic (memorising facts),
  • complex (interpreting something from something),
  • routine (for example, a maths times table) and
  • critical thinking (analysing and interpreting).

Knowing what is expected of you will help you know how to prepare and where you should be directing your studying and thinking.

Set up a study space:

A comfortable space to study will not only increase your concentration and motivation levels, but will also help you feel more secure and calmer.

Find a study method that works for you:

Not everyone takes in, understands and remembers information in the same way, so if a friend’s study method doesn’t work for you, don’t stress. You may study best through intense repetition, visualisations or finding real-world examples by making associations or creating drawings of concepts that reflect how your brain understands them. Put in the effort to read up about and try different ways of learning and find the way that works for you.

Divide your studying into smaller chunks:

Study sessions are effective in shorter chunks of about 30 minutes over several weeks rather than crammed into a stretch of several hours without any breaks.


Research has shown that a 30-minute workout session every day not only boosts your health, but your brain too. Exercise has been shown to aid memory, attention and the rate at which we process information.

Eat and drink well:

Keep your blood sugar levels steady to prevent energy dips and avoid quick-release carbohydrates such as sweets, biscuits and chocolate in favour of lean protein, fruit and dairy. Stay hydrated with water and try to limit caffeine drinks to three a day. If you battle to sleep at night, avoid consuming caffeine in the evening.

Take regular breaks:

Try to take a break every 30 minutes for a few minutes to have a snack, go for a quick walk or chat to a friend. This helps the mind and body to relax and regroup away from the studying.

Create a study plan:

By creating a study timetable, you’ll not only feel more productive when you tick items off your list, but you’ll also feel more in control of your studies, rather than the other way round.

Get enough sleep:

Sleep helps you absorb new knowledge into your memory so that you can remember it on the day of the exam.

Limit your distractions:

Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are fun to read through, but if you’re doing it every 20 minutes, you’ll be wasting a good portion of time on social media. No one is saying that breaks aren’t useful, but just watch how you spend them and ensure you’re not wasting time.

Share the load:

If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, chat to someone like a family member, friend, school teacher or counsellor. It not only helps to offload and not feel so alone with your feelings, but you might get some good advice too.

Signs of stress responses in teens

  • ¦ Worrying a lot
  • ¦ Feeling tense and getting irritable
  • ¦ Getting stomach pains or headaches
  • ¦ Eating more or not eating at all
  • ¦ Feeling hopeless about the future and being negative
  • ¦ Difficulty in falling asleep and getting up in the mornings
  • ¦ Not enjoying activities like before.

“Whether your child shows signs of stress or not, there are ways to support them as they face some of the most important exams of their school career,” says Claudia.   

She advises parents to be supportive and not to add on too much pressure on their children during this time. “Be patient with your child and be careful about the amount of pressure you put on them as this could exacerbate the stress they are already under,” she adds.

“Don’t forget to reward them for their study efforts and even plan something relaxing or fun to do with them after exam time so that they have something to look forward to.”

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24