“I failed my exams in some subjects; but my friend passed now he’s an engineer in Microsoft… and I am the owner” -Bill Gates

“Childline delivered 3,135 counselling sessions on exam stress in 2016/17 – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.1 in 5 of these took place in May as pupils faced upcoming exams with many telling counsellors they were struggling with subjects, excessive workloads and feeling unprepared.
12-15 year olds were most likely to be counselled about exam stress but this year saw the biggest rise – up 21% on 2015/16 – amongst 16-18 year olds, many of whom will have been preparing for A-levels to determine university places.”

Childline Spokesperson

“I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them. My parents don’t allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument.”

-Childline Caller 2018


  • Be prepared: Make sure you know what you are supposed to have learned and that you have all your notes, books and essays to hand. Do you know what format the exam takes and how the marks are allocated? If not, ask your teacher and/or study the marking scheme, which is often on the exam board’s website. This can be particularly important with A-level stress and GCSE stress, when there are so many exams, all structured in different ways.
  • Make a Plan: Working out how much time you have to revise and planning how you can use it best by making a timetable is a key factor in how to deal with exam stress. Another technique recommended by all time management experts is taking what feels like an overwhelming task and breaking it down into manageable chunks. Perhaps you need to spend more time on some subjects than others? Vary the timetable so you don’t get bored. You can always update the plan, if necessary, as you go along.
  • Work when you are at your best: Work when you are most alert. We all have slightly different body clocks – are you a night owl or a dawn lark? Everyone has different revision styles – maybe you like to sit at a tidy library desk or under the duvet with your laptop. Wherever you feel calm and in control is the best place for dealing with exam stress.
  • Take Breaks: Psychologists suggest that we can only concentrate properly for about 45 minutes at one stretch, while neuroscientists tell us that the longer we try and focus on one thing, the less our brains are able to deal with it effectively. Take breaks to stay refreshed. Instead of cramming in more revision or, indeed, stressing over how to deal with exam stress, the best thing might simply be to do something completely different.
  • Relaxation: If you are really anxious, find a calm, quiet space and try breathing deeply in and out for a few minutes, focusing your mind on something pleasant, like a beautiful place with happy memories – anything that helps you wind down. This article explains more on breathing techniques.
  • Talk about it with someone: Almost everyone finds exams stressful – so you are not alone. Expressing your problems, family member, your school tutor or a student counsellor will help get them out of your system.
  • Reward yourself: Build in treats to your timetable – anything you can look forward to as a reward for sticking to it. Plan something exciting to celebrate the end of the exams.
  • Keep it in perspective: If you feel you have really messed up an exam, there’s nothing you can do until you get the results. Worrying about it won’t help – and may reduce your chances of doing well in other exams you are taking. Think about what you could do about a disappointing result – that will help you feel in control.

Many people, famous and otherwise, who did badly at exams went on to do well in adult life – and vice-versa.

Yes, it’s great to do well in exams. But whether you are suffering GCSE stress, A-level stress or taking university exams, remember that exams aren’t the only thing that will help you succeed in life. Employers will be equally interested in other things, like your attitude, work-rate or ability to get on with others.