The Science Behind Exam Stress

Being a student currently studying A levels, I have first hand experience of stressing about exams, and I am sure many of you reading this blog have experience also. This form of stress is known as exam anxiety and is a common form of stress for people undertaking exams, although some people suffer with it more than others.


So, lets start off by talking about stress in general. Stress is the body’s way of coping with any demand and is a natural response to protect the body in times of danger. Hormones are released from the body causing the heart to beat faster and blood pressure / body perspiration to increase. These hormones can also give the body more strength and energy in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Psychologist Martyn Denscombe found via social research that exam stress is caused due to four reasons…

  • Educational consequences associated with the outcome of the exam – Usually, 3 A grades are required at A level to get into medical school for example
  • Self esteem regarding the outcome of the exam – people tend to feel more confident about themselves if they can receive high grades in exams
  • Judgements from friends and parents – people might think their friends will laugh at the if they don’t do well or their parents will be disappointed
  • Fear of disappointing teachers – if you don’t do well in exams after doing well in class all year, teachers may be disappointed

Too much stress can actually make it almost impossible to focus on exams and recall the information studied. When the body is stressed, a stress hormone called cortisol is released that is able to reduce the speed of memory retrieval in humans. Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott researched about cortisol found that even sleep can increase levels of cortisol – if an individual has 6 hours of sleep instead of the recommended 8 hours, there will be 50% more cortisol in the bloodstream.

So, the question that you are all probably wondering, HOW DO YOU REDUCE EXAM STRESS?

  1. START REVISION EARLY as this will reduce the chance of chronic stress building up over a period of time. Starting revision that little bit earlier will give you the time to go over the content you need more times, thus increasing the chance of you remembering it in the actual exam.
  2. PLAN REVISION – the amount of time spent by people actually deciding what subject to revise could definitely have been used to fit in that extra exam paper.
  3. DO NOT CRAM THE NIGHT BEFORE – this may seem like a good technique but it will actually just make you even more stressed and more likely to forget the content in the exam hall. Instead, spend that evening calming yourself down by going on a walk or having a relaxing bath.
  4. TAKE DEEP BREATHS – if you feel yourself getting stressed try to calm yourself down by drinking plenty of water and breathing in and out – this will make you feel much more comfortable and ready to start the exam.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, if you found it interesting and useful feel free to give it a rating and comment down below!



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