How to support and help students cope with stress during exam period

A teenage girl smiling and studying at a laptop

Nicola Dowse

Posted October 20, 2022

End-of-year school exams might be a rite of passage for many young adults, but exams can cause significant stress. We spoke to the experts to find out how to help students manage.

Students can feel like their entire future depends on the outcome of a test, which puts an enormous amount of pressure on a developing mind. 

Tess Reddell, Lead Practice Facilitator at Lifeline, says that everyone reacts to exams differently, but that it’s perfectly normal to feel stressed. 

“We are all unique and individual so the way one person reacts or responds will be different to another,” Reddell says. “If you are feeling worried, concerned or uncertain about exams and what will happen during or after them – that’s okay!”

“Many people feel like this and there is support available to you.”

What is stress?

When faced with a situation our brains perceive as threatening, our bodies respond to help us cope and this is what we feel as stress. 

When stressed, the body sends out hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones help by temporarily increasing the amount of energy available to you, making your heart and lungs work faster, increasing your alertness and decreasing your ability to feel pain. 

The release of these hormones is sometimes called the ‘fight-or-flight' response, as they’re designed to prepare your body to either fight back against a threat or run from it.  

Of course, threatening situations can look a bit different in modern society. These days, it’s normal for stress to be triggered by events like school or university exams, as well as by work pressures, relationship and financial difficulties, and illness. 

Physical symptoms of stress to look out for 

Experiencing occasional stress is normal and can even be helpful. But ongoing, constant stress can be harmful to your health. 

Unhealthy levels of stress can manifest as physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, headaches, muscle tension, fatigue and stomach upset. 

Other symptoms can also include feeling irritable, overwhelmed, anxious or hyperalert. You might also have trouble concentrating, sleeping, notice yourself withdrawing from friends and family, have thoughts of self-harm or use substances as a coping mechanism.


A teenage girl studying at a desk. She has her head in her hands in frustration

Too much stress can cause a number of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Photo: Getty. 

How to reduce stress during exams

“Just as each person’s reaction or experience is unique, so too is the way that they will cope,” Reddell says.  

“If you are feeling worried or distressed due to exams, the way you manage these difficult feelings will depend on who you are and what works for you.”

If you are feeling stressed, Reddell recommends asking yourself the following questions and act accordingly: 

  • What’s helped in the past when I’ve been stressed? 

  • What did I do last year at exam time that helped me?  

  • When do I feel most supported or at ease? 

  • Who can I turn to for help when times are tough?  

  • Where are some places I can go that help me feel grounded and calm? 

  • What are some activities that help me take my mind off things or help me feel good? 

There is no right or wrong way to cope with exam stress, but Reddell suggests that eating a balanced diet, getting out in nature, getting adequate sleep and downtime may help. Talking to a trusted friend or family member can also help and it doesn’t have to be face-to-face either – calling or texting works too.

Moving your body helps some people cope with stress as well. Do whatever exercise makes you happy – dancing, swimming in the ocean, going for a walk etc.  

“If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do with some of these difficult feelings, getting some additional help and support may be something to consider,” Reddell says. 


A teenage girl studying at a bench using a laptop and a notebook

Providing a quiet space to study can help alleviate stress during exam periods. Photo: Getty.

How parents and carers can help reduce stress 

Parents and carers can also help young people manage their stress and anxiety during exams.  

It’s important to be positive and constructive when talking about exams, and not to put unreasonable expectations on your child. Encouraging healthy study habits like taking breaks, eating well and getting enough sleep can also help exam stress, as can listening to any concerns they might have.  

Providing a quiet space to study and reliable transport to the exam are tangible ways to reduce stress as well. Depending on your child’s stress levels, it might be a worthwhile assessing their other commitments, such as work or chores, and seeing if they can be temporarily reduced.  


Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, texting 0477 131 114, or chatting with Lifeline online.

Kids Helpline is also available on 1800 55 1800 at any time. More online resources and help can be found at Headspace and ReachOut