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Coping with Examinations

Coping with exams, exam stress

Examinations are an unavoidable part of student life, but there are lots of things you can do to make them manageable.

Thinking about exams

Fear of failure is the perhaps the most common source of examination-related stress.   Some students worry so much about failure they panic and stop working completely.  The same fear drives other students to work too hard; they sit up all night swotting, but quickly become too stressed and tired to concentrate.  Others get ill and a few drop out.   Remember that exams are NOT a way of justifying your existence to yourself, your family, or the world in general.  Nor are they the most important thing you will do in life.  Rather exams provide an opportunity for you to show what you know to the best advantage and for employers to see that you’ve done some work and can demonstrate what you know.  Treat exams as a job to be done; do not ignore them or allow yourself to become overwhelmed by them.  The key to minimising exam stress is good preparation.

The University has advice on exam revision here.

Revision Tips

o Exams look scary from a distance, but are coming anyway, so the earlier you start to plan for them the better.  For Finals this means starting to plan your revision in the Christmas vacation before your exams.

o Start by making a detailed revision plan; this is time well spent.  Go through your files, identify topics you need to revise and allocate periods of time to each one.  Revise for all papers systematically, even those for which you feel better-prepared.

o Be in control of your work as well as your leisure time.  Use a diary to plan revision sessions between now and the examinations. Remember to eat sensibly and to plan relaxation too.

o Be realistic.  You don’t need to revise absolutely everything, so drop those topics about which you know least.  As a general rule, if you need to answer three questions in an examination, you need to have a thorough understanding of six topics.

o Look at the examiners' reports on the university website for hints about what students typically have done well/badly in recent years.

o A few sessions of quality work per day, with breaks, is much more beneficial than very long hours of unfocused reading.

o Optimum time for concentration is 20 – 40 minutes for reading.  Take regular 5 minute breaks to stretch etc.

o Turn revision time from a passive exercise (reading notes) to an active exercise (making notes, practising answering questions from past papers, reading aloud).

o Back-up work regularly, especially when working on Extended Essays etc.   Use CDs or data-sticks and keep paper copies, so if, for example, your hard disc crashes, it is not a major disaster!  Graduate students may also use the OUCS back-up service.

Keeping sane

o Don’t think about what other students are doing; just focus on your own goals

o Be kind to yourself: if you have an unproductive day don’t beat yourself up. If you start revising early enough, there’s time for a few of these

o The College Nurse, Lynn Cross, will discuss anxiety/ sleep problems and possible solutions.

o Do not study in your room until you are so tired you fall into bed.   Always have at least one hour of doing something entirely different and relaxing between finishing studying and going to bed.

o Do not stay up late revising the night before an examination.  Evidence shows that this is unproductive.  It is more important that you get a good night’s rest before an examination.

o The College Doctor will consider prescribing sleeping tablets if sleeping is a problem.   Sleeping tablets should be tried out several weeks before examinations in case the preliminary “hangover” effect causes a problem the next day.

o Only drink alcohol in moderation – it dehydrates you and disrupts sleep.Do not increase use of caffeine (e.g:  coffee, tea, energy-boosting drinks, tablets).

o Eat well and regularly. Meal times are a good opportunity to relax.

o Consider regular exercise - the University Parks are just across the road from the College

Welfare and Support

o The University Counselling Service website offers good advice on how to deal with stress as well as outlining relaxation and revision techniques, with leaflets to download and practical information

o There are many people you can turn to – Tutors, Senior Tutor, Student Administration Manager, Alternative Personal Tutors, Chaplain, Welfare Officer, Senior Dean, College Doctor, College Nurse, Counselling Service, Peer Supporters, Student Welfare representatives and Junior Deans.

o Avoid seeking help from someone in a similar situation.   Be genuine in your support of fellow students.   Consider talking to someone who is relaxed and is not in the middle of taking examinations.

o Junior Deans are available to talk to students at any time.   All contact information is on the notice board in the main entrance.

Nightline Contact Information :   Phone or drop-in from 8.00 pm to 8.00 am any night during University term (0th Week to 9th Week).  
Phone 01865 (2)70270
Oxford Nightline
16 Wellington Square

What to do in an Emergency/Crisis

Contact the Lodge Porter ([2]72727), who will contact the duty Junior Dean and/or your Tutor.  If in office hours, contact the Student Administration  Manager (2) 72711.

If it is a health/medical issue, in office hours contact the College Nurse ([2]82380), or the College Welfare Officer ([2]72700).  At other times, contact the duty College Doctor at the Jericho Health Centre (tel. 01865 429993).

Take action as soon as you are aware of a problem.  There is an experienced support team available who can help, and who can offer the right advice.

General Practicalities

o Contact the College Academic Registrar or Senior Tutor as soon as possible to discuss any special circumstances or incidents which might require action e.g. incorrect examination entry, illness.

o Please ensure that the College Office has your current mobile number.

o Lodge telephone number:   (2)72727

o Student Administration Manager  number : (2)72711

Set your alarm clock the night before a morning examination so that you do not need to worry about oversleeping.

o Remember to take your University card with you to each examination.  This will be used for student identification purposes, so make sure that the card is still legible.  If not, order a new one in advance from the College Office (

o Switch off your mobile phone in the examination room

Useful References

Eileen Tracy, The Student’s Guide to Exam Success, Maidenhead: Open University Press

Andrew Holmes, (2005) Pass your Exams: Study Skills for Success, Oxford: The  Infinite Ideas Company Ltd