Dealing with pressure during exam season

We know exam season can be really overwhelming, especially when it feels like everyone has sky-high expectations for you – whether that’s getting grade 7-9 and nothing less, acing every subject, or nailing that perfect university application. The pressure is on, but guess what? It’s totally okay to take a deep breath and give yourself a break.

This guide is here to help you navigate all of the pressure that comes with exams and find ways to stay cool, calm, and collected. Whether you’re battling perfectionism or trying to keep your parents and teachers happy, we’ve got tips and advice to keep you grounded.

Managing pressure caused by expectations

There are two places that expectations can come from, the first being yourself. Maybe you expect yourself to reach incredibly difficult goals. Grade 7’s all around, no grade 6’s or below! Or perhaps, you expect to fail miserably in which case you need to work harder on everything. Both attitudes are unhelpful, even self-destructive, so instead create realistic goals to work towards based on what you need, and can do.

If you need a certain amount of UCAS points to apply for a university, find out what grades you should aim for. Compare your predicted grades with the grades required. If they are higher than you expected, don’t be disheartened. Use this as motivation and start focusing on areas where you can improve. If that goal is unrealistic, don’t be afraid to look into different options. There are so many universities and courses out there, it’s not worth stressing yourself out.

Expectations can also come from peers and authoritative figures. Sometimes teachers and parents/guardians will expect you to achieve goals that may just be too out of your reach. Of course, you don’t want to let them down but with all the unnecessarily added pressure, it can feel impossible like an impossible task.

It’s important to focus on your own expectations, not someone else’s. We’re not telling you to ignore your parents, just remember that you have your own goals and plans for the future. The person you need to please is yourself. If it’s all getting too much, consider speaking to a parent/guardian or teacher about it if you feel comfortable enough to. At the end of the day, they just want the best for you and might not realise that it could be upsetting you. Remember you’ve got this, and no matter the outcome, you’re amazing just as you are.

How can perfectionism cause pressure?

When we think of perfectionism, we probably assume that it’s a good thing. You try your best to doing something perfect! And perfect is good, right? It may seem contradictive, but a perfectionist attitude can lead to fear of failure.

The problem is that perfection is almost always impossible to achieve. When we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, self-doubt can start to creep in and it can stall you. During exam season, this can be really tricky to manage as it can affect the way you behave and your attitude towards studying. So, how do we overcome being stuck?

  • Find Support: Whether that’s from a teacher or a group of friends, doing something together is far better than alone. When we are alone, it’s just you and your mind. And your mind isn’t cooperating. So ignore it, with the help of a group!
  • Break it Down: As we have already said, achieve realistic goals. Sometimes seeing a big obstacle as a few bricks can help us prioritise which to work on. Doing enough manageable chunks to get through is sometimes better than trying to take down the whole wall.
  • Resilience: Keep at it! The more you do it, the more thick-skinned you become. Perfectionism can come from not only the fear of failure but also of shame, embarrassment, and criticism. But there is no shame or embarrassment in learning, making mistakes is part of the process. The most important thing is that you’ve tried your best, so be confident in your abilities!

Exams are a big part of our life but in terms of the bigger picture, you will grow out of them. One day, in the future, it won’t matter if that Science exam was a 7 or a 9 because it got you to the same place either way! Instead of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or putting yourself under pressure, be kind to yourself and concentrate on only the things that truly matter.

For more information on this topic

Listen to our ‘C for Coping with Pressure | How to Manage Expectations’ podcast episode.

Z to A of Life Skills Podcast with Mark and Jules Kennedy.

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