Coping with exam stress.

It’s that dreaded time of the year…exam season! If University or college wasn’t stressful enough already, this takes it up a level! 

Because of this added stress it is always good to have some techniques ready to cope with what lies ahead. Luckily…wer are on hand to give you just that! So lets start with ways in which you can be more Productive… 

Getting Productive

Exams mean revision…revision means hours at a desk or computer…so being productive with your time is absolutely essential. I remember the constant battle with distractions, procrastination and in all honesty…laziness 😂. So step one of getting productive…


Work out what "not to do"...

Negative & Self Limiting Behaviours

The first NOT TO DO lies within your former behaviours that you will want to quickly stamp out. One of the main reasons that people do not reach their full potential is the negative self talk they tell themselves every day…”I’m not smart enough to get a first class degree” or “there is just too much work to do, where do I even start”. Your thoughts translate into your behaviours, so the first thing you must not do, is allow your mind to create an environment of self limitation and negative self talk.


Procrastination…the art of putting off tasks until the very last minute and then stressing yourself to death to get the work done that’s always been there from the very first second it got issued. This NOT TO DO seems to have become an accepted part of student life. Something not to worry about because you can just book a month of all nighters in at the end of the year and it will all be fine. But if we told you at the start of the year that if you didn’t procrastinate, you wouldn’t have to do a single all nighter in your life, would you? You would be a fool not to. Procrastination occurs simply because students fear that they are going to fail at the tasks they need to complete most. The fear of failure leads students to either avoid a task as they tell themselves of the various ways in which they will fail or they wont even get started in the first place because the embarrassment of failing would be far too severe to think about putting themselves through the pain. But what if we told you that fear is just an illusion…

  • False
  • Evidence
  • Appearing
  • Real


The next NOT TO DO is another big favourite for students. Those wonderful distractions, that at the time provide us with so much pleasure we just invite them into our student life over and over again. Whether it be social media, Netflix or even finding yourself daydreaming a little too much, distractions are not going to serve you in the long run. All too often now, companies are harnessing the power of our poor focus to distract us more and more, taking us away from the important stuff that is going to take us to a lifestyle of academic success and fulfilment. So, say no to distractions, take back control of your studies and become indistractable.

Next work out "what to do"

Moving on to what to do is about becoming intentional with your time and making sure that all this time doing something you don’t really want to do most of the time is worth it! 


Take some time each day to prime your minset for the big tasks of the day

Building on the creation of a morning routine, something you have TO DO is to take some time each day to prime your mindset to take on the biggest tasks for the day. Your Focused Few so to speak. This can even be a building block to the planning that you have implemented the night before. Re-visit the list of tasks that you have to do for the day ahead and take some time to break them down and create a simple roadmap of how you will achieve your biggest tasks for the day.

Don’t leave your most important tasks to the end of the day, face them head on

In addition to the above…do not leave the Focused Few until the end of the day. You have to face them head on. As Mark Twain says…

If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day

Mark Twain

However, in this instance it wont be the satisfaction of completing the worst thing you will do all day…it will be the satisfaction knowing that you completed the most important thing.  

Remember procrastination and distraction will not serve you and is something not to do. Instead eat that frog and focus on getting your big three for the day completed early in the day and watch it completely transform your day as you begin to take the regular small steps that will take you on the path to reaching your ultimate goals.

Be disciplined and don’t reward yourself until you have really achieved something

Discipline. A dirty word for students. A word more typically associated with conformity and control. People paint discipline as a negative thing as it is perceived to be something that is outside of their control and is instead something being forced upon us by an external force. But this is definitely not what we are talking about. The to do that we want you to harness is the intrinsic discipline that you and only you are responsible for and in control of. Take back control of your days through creating a habit of discipline and self control. Delay the gratification and you will soon find yourself achieving much greater things in a shorter period of time.

And Finally…Use productivity techniques to get more done

One of the key elements to getting more done is harnessing the power of productivity. Linked a little bit to discipline but developing the correct techniques and skills, to do productivity is to do more with less. Whether it be to pass the degree that you never thought you could, or to take your grade from a 2:1 to a first, productivity is going to be your secret sauce in achieving these goals. One of the biggest to do’s on your journey of academic success and fulfilment.

For these productivity techniques/hacks, below are some of our favourite 👇


Eat the Frog

This is where everyone should start. The reason being, your “frog” is probably the one overriding item on your to-do list that creates the most turbulence in your mind that leads to procrastination, distraction and basically…not getting stuff done. Select your most important task for the day and get that done first…no questions asked.


This is an extremely simple one and a good one for anyone looking for a “time-based” productivity technique. The first and most important task is to set yourself a task that you are going to work on while you Pomodoro…without a defined task, any productivity is doomed from the start! So lets get into it, here’s how you Pomodoro…

  1. Select the one task that you will remain focused on during your productivity blast.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and make sure you focus on your single task until the time rings.
  3. When your session ends mark off your first Pomodoro block. And have a little celebration if you like!
  4. Next, take the time to enjoy a 5 minute break. This will allow you to recharge ready for another focused block on your selected task.
  5. Repeat the process with another 25 minute block of focus to 5 minutes of rest.
  6. Repeat this no more than four to five times. Once you have completed this many focused blocks take a longer break to fully recharge your batteries…you deserve it!

And that’s it. As simple as that. Be committed to your time blocks and watch yourself get more done with less effort.

Zen to Done (ZTD)

If Pomodoro doesn’t quite, do it for you, then you can always level up to the Zen to Done productivity hack. Created by Leo Babauta, the Zen to Done habits harnesses simplicity within them and does not actually set any rigid boundaries that you have to adhere to. As students, less rules is normally very welcome.

ZTD focuses on the doing of a task in the here and now instead of planning blocks of time and breaks throughout the day. This allows it to be more flexible allowing everyone to make it work for their personal learning style.

Within ZTD there are 10 “Habits” that are to be followed. Our advice at Semester is to start by picking a few of the habits that you think can be most transformational to your studies. Learn and practice these daily for up to 30 days so that they become integrated within your new and productive lifestyle. If at that point you think that you can take on more of the 10 ZTD habits, slowly begin to introduce them and keep on levelling up your new found productivity power. So, without further a do, here are the 10 habits of ZTD that you can start implementing within your studies right now…

  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Plan
  4. Do
  5. Follow a simply and trusted planning framework (the Semester Student Planner is a great place to start for this one…)
  6. Organize
  7. Review
  8. Simplify
  9. Create Routine
  10. Find your Passion

The Eisenhower Matrix

This is a productivity tool that is used to disseminate the trivial many from the vital few. Much like Greg McKeowons “Essentialism” method, the Eisenhower Matrix focuses on helping you to make sure you are working on the tasks that will provide you with the greatest possible payoff and keep you at your most effective.

It is so common for us to get bogged down in menial tasks or actually doing busy work that is helping others rather than our own cause.

The Einsenhower Matrix is just that…a Matrix. A simple 4 box layout that determines whether a task is any two of the following;

  • Urgent & Important
  • Not Urgent & Important
  • Urgent & Unimportant
  • Not Urgent & Unimportant


Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at option 4 and think why on earth would I complete a task that it not urgent or important. But, lets be honest…we do this all the time! The reason being is that we don’t take that split second to step back before doing something to think “is this really going to help me achieve my long term outcomes, or am I just doing it for a little shot of instant gratification?”.

Now for your wellbeing....

Now something that is just as equally important as productivity during exam season is your wellbeing. Productivity without wellness is pointless! You get this little bit wrong and you will absolutely have an early meeting with burnout! More on how to avoid burnout below 👇

So just like the productivity techniques we have offered you, here are a few equally important techniques to help you maintain a good level of wellbeing during exam season…

Slowing down…to speed up…

It may seem counterintuitive, especially when all we ever try to do for exams is cram (normally because we have left it far too late 😂). However, slowing down and taking a step back at regular intervals during your preparations is just as important as getting down to work. Below is how you can effectively do this…

Slowing Down Step 1…

This is the first key. Once you have completed an assignment or any task that takes a lot of effort, make sure you reward yourself. Enjoy a moment with your friends whether it be in your halls or at your favourite watering hole. Go do something enjoyable or take a day off to recuperate. Take moment to reflect and to slow down a little. This can all be made a whole lot easier by including these breaks and rewards as part of your goal setting at the beginning of the year…

“When I achieve “x” I will allow myself to “y”. Create this space in the way you work and you will instantly feel the benefit.

The inverse to doing this is living in a constant state of urgency and worry to get everything done. I once heard this constant state of urgency referred to as the ‘Hurry Disease’. We often rush from task to task, appointment to appointment, or perhaps assignment to assignment in your case, but this is not just in work but in life. More ‘time’ would not necessarily make us less busy, we would just have more time to be busy…

“Slowing Down is Sometimes the best way to speed up.”

Mike Vance

Stop Over Filling your Bucket…

Do not get me wrong sometimes there is a place for urgency and hard work, but there also needs to be a place for adequate rest and recovery and taking time off to unwind.



Think of it like a bucket of water. Each one of your tasks or assignments fills up the bucket, drop by drop. If you keep on filling your bucket, at some point it is going to reach it’s limit and overflow. When the bucket overflows mess and damage is created. Now here is the truth…This bucket of water is your mind! When you fill yourself up with endless tasks, jumping from one assignment to the next without adequate rest, you are essentially filling up your bucket without letting any water (or stress in our instance) out. Slowing down opens the outlet and lets the contents of your bucket pour out, creating space for you to recharge and build greater capacity for your next task or assignment.

Slowing down can boost creativity and you may just have some of your most thought provoking moments. You will likely come back refocused and more motivated.

Next up is mindfulness. This can be one of your best weapons during exam season as it allows you to stay level headed and have a strong and unshakeable mindset. If this is something that you do want to employ for this exam season, check out our previous blog that goes into depth about how to employ mindfulness within your studies. 


So there it is, some productivity and wellbeing techniques that you can quickly and easily employ this exam season so that you don’t become overstressed and therefore can perform to your highest potential. 

If you found this helpful, be sure to share it with your friends who are no doubt going through many of the same stresses! Were are in this together so #LetsGrowTogether. 

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