How To Survive Exam Stress

How To Survive Exam Stress

As thousands of students across the country begin the push through to the dark core of a series of examinations loosely grouped under the term ‘Cert’, panic will reach levels of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-esque heights.

Even at that, plenty of third level students and beyond will be battening down the hatches in preparation for what’s to come. Education experts will infest national radio stations and argue the overall value of the exams against the stress they directly cause, breaking it down into pretty XY-graphs and reasoning one way or another that this-has-to-change-but-we-shouldn’t-change-it-now in an unprecedented display of fence-sitting.

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This guide isn’t here to help miraculously change the system overnight, no. Nor is it a study advice guide – there are plenty of those kicking about. Whether you get 162,579 A1s or you just want to flunk with minimal effort, this is here simply to help you grit your teeth and get through it without sawing through your leg with the sharpened end of a toothbrush in a desperate bid to get the doctor to write you a sympathy sick note.

Pre Exam

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This is the hardest part of any student’s life. It hasn’t happened yet. It’s not happening at the moment, but it’s going to happen. That kind of anticipation and anxiety can be a killer. You’ve had all the time in the world to prepare for these tests and whenever you’re not building shrines of yourself just to throw rotten vegetables at them, cursing your lazy soul for not trying to memorise all there is to know about ox-bow lakes sooner, you’re attempting to shove the sum total of human knowledge inside your ever-widening cranium six hours before pen fights paper.

The best thing to do here is to not even bother trying to relax. The strain is actually healthy. It keeps you alive, alert and awake, cramming like Kim Peek on a coke binge. Heck, you won’t even have time to fret. You will coast through these weeks on adrenaline alone and come out the other side as an enlightened, broken, stinky mess.

It should be pointed out here that otherwise important things like hygiene or dialysis will involuntarily become secondary to your studying for a while. Do remember to keep your nails trim, though. You always become conscious of the little things during a test. Speaking of which:


Retaining control of your faculties for those 2-3 hours is much easier than you think. The key is to remain slightly distracted at all times. There are several ways to do this, but by far the most effective method is to think of a rhythm and click your teeth to it ten minutes or so before you enter the exam hall. After a few brief moments, a popular song with that beat will ram-raid your head without warning, and you physically won’t be able to evict it until the test is over.

Your teeth will click as if controlled by The Architect from The Matrix and your writing hand will begin to wander and scribble legibly. It’s even better if you don’t remember who the artist is, because your mind will remain thoroughly and aggressively unsatisfied throughout, your body reacting by stabbing yourself in the eye, just trying to get it to stop.

The miraculous result of this is that you’ll likely plough through the paper in front of you in a desperate bid to write as much as possible and get out, so you can get on the internet and check who actually let the dogs out. If you want some personal examples, my Junior Cert brain was riddled with Coldplay’s Shiver.

For the Leaving Cert it was The Real Slim Shady. College included Santana’s Smooth ft. Rob Thomas, Alexandra Burke’s Bad Boys and Pink’s Just Like A Pill, among others.

Incidentally, none of these are (or ever were) in my iTunes collection, but they still got me through with minimal incident.Other ‘during’ tips:I would advise laughing at every audible fart, or anything that remotely sounds like one, especially if it’s a particularly echo-y room, then trying to replicate it.

Hopefully the other students/victims will join in a one-upping contest. Best case scenario: the exam hall will have to be evacuated for ten minutes to allow the noxious gases to diffuse to safe levels.

Worst case: you have something to laugh at. Humour is a precious commodity at exam time.Remember to eat lots of nuts and seeds for the test, as they improve brainpower and keep any lingering wasps at bay, sending them off to sting the unlucky sod on your right hand side, meaning you do more swotting and less swatting (see what I d- oh, right).Bring a piece of string, five spare pens and make a pentagram. If the exam isn’t going well, you can always worship Mammon and sell him various parts of your anatomy for a better result.


You’re almost there. The pens are down and relief starts to gush through your veins like a greased pig on a polished steel helter-skelter. Previously you may have heard about the dreaded post-mortem, but temporarily forgotten about it. Everything everyone says about it is absolutely true – it’s a surefire way to turn yourself into one of the Goths from South Park.

The situation will go something like this: you’ve stepped out of Paper 2 and you weren’t 100% sure of your answer for 4b, but you’re reasonably optimistic. I mean you were on an ass-kicking roll in there, right? You stride out of the gym doors, silently flicking-off the smarmy invigilator with the bad cologne, and turn to walk the quickest route home with the intention of gearing up for tomorrow’s trials when you see your slightly-smarter-than-you mate looking dour. He has his colon-backslash face on and a much-graffitied version of the paper in his hands.

“Hey, did you-“ he will begin. This is the most important point in your entire life. This is what all the experts were alluding to, but were too terrified to specify, as suffering and recalling an experience like this is about as easy as getting a helpful course of treatment for your Gulf War Syndrome from a chainsaw-wielding birthday clown.You cannot listen.

You must not be drawn into his spell. You must reach into your bag and stuff your ears with erasers, protractors, roughwork paper, calculators, chewing gum, set squares or anything else you can find, no matter how uncomfortable or non-ergonomic. Then you take out that 1.25 litre bottle of Coca-Cola or Lucozade you packed away that morning and you chug. You chug until every last drop is gone.

You chug without stopping, and if you even think about it, then you reach down and squeeze your testicles until your face turns blue and your gullet is a most vacuous drink-consuming cavity. If you’re a girl, kick him in the balls and imagine his pain, then keep drinking. If no hanging genitals are present, run around shrieking like Regan MacNeil before chugging commences.

With any luck, this will give you immediate and explosive diarrhoea. Your race to the bathroom will be as quick, hazardous and achievable as the final level of Battletoads and any potential encounter with the post-mortem will have been avoided. When you start your shameful walk home hours later, let your tears of trauma and delight flow, as you realise you substituted a potentially life-destroying situation for merely a socially humiliating one.

That, dear reader, is how best to avoid exam stress.

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