IB Exam Stress (and how to conquer it)

Exams are approaching fast, and with exams comes stress. I don’t think I have ever met someone who is completely chill when it comes to exams. People might appear so on the outside, but on the inside everyone has some anxieties. Stress in small doses is not a bad things: it can motivate you to work. Too much stress, however, is a problem. Any of you who have experienced extreme stress will understand how debilitating it can be- often literally stopping you work. Managing stress throughout exam seasons is, therefore, pretty vital. In this blog, I will try and give you some practical tips to help you manage stress and make it through your final IB exams.

Things to do 2-3 months before exams:

The run-up to exams can be pretty stressful- especially when revision gets difficult and the end feels so far away. When I was a student, a few practical things helped me:

  • Make a structured but realistic revision plan

Having a plan of when and what you are going to revise it very important. It means that you don’t focus all your time on one subject but also means you feel a little bit more in control of everything you have to do. Check out this blog post for some more in depth advice on making a revision plan.

  •  Remember all the hard work you have done!

Faced with mountains of work, it can be difficult to remember all the great work you’ve already done. Sometimes, in moments of panic, I used to think back on all the good bits of work I had completed over the past few years to give myself some more confidence in my ability.


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  • Learn all the basics.

This sounds silly, but knowing what exam you are taking and where and when it is is very helpful! The last things you want in an exam is to be thrown by an unfamiliar layout of an exam paper. Take a look at the most recent exam papers to get a feel of how they look. This is especially important for subjects where the papers have changed recently such as sciences. If you are studying a new syllabus, take a look at the sample paper the IB always produce to again get a sense of how the paper will look.

Also make sure you have your exam timetable written up somewhere. One of the most stressful things that ever happened to me in exam season was getting mixed up between an afternoon and morning exam. I realised the night before- but it definitely stressed me out as I had to re-think how I was going to get to school!

I’d also recommend trying to arrive a little early. It much nicer to have 30 mins before your exam to go to the toilet, make sure you have all the right equipment etc. Running in 1 minute before the start is never a nice feeling (trust me…)

Things to do the week of exams:

  • Get all your equipment together

A few days before your first exam, make sure you have all the equipment you need. Do you have black pens to write with? Does your GDC have enough battery? Do you have a ruler? Finding out if you need to acquire something a few days before (rather than a few hours before!) is a good idea.

  • Turn your device off

I know this is easier said than done, but sometimes tuning out of social media if very helpful.  Memes might be funny, but they also help perpetuate the idea that not working is the norm. Equally, seeing your friend’s beautiful notes on instagram or someone complaining on twitter that they’ve only studied for 10 hours that day can add to your stress! It’s important to remember that only what you do in your exams is going to affect your results. No matter how much or little everyone else seems to be doing, it’s your revision and your work that matters.

I found it much more helpful talking to someone when I was stressed who was a little removed from my situation. My mum or a friend doing another type of qualification. Basically someone who wasn’t going to be telling me about their IB stress!

  • Take care of yourself!

I know sometimes when you are in revision mode, it can be hard to get out of it. It’s surprisingly helpful, however, to make sure you are still doing some fun things! I used to make sure I was still going for runs, taking time off to watch rubbish films and just generally doing something other than work. Ultimately, in life, the most important thing is making sure you are healthy and happy. This should take precedent over any exam or test at any point in your academic career.

Things to do during exams:

No matter how well prepared you are, it is still completely normal to be a little nervous when walking into the exam hall. What’s important is that these nerves don’t turn into full blown panic. There are a couple of really simple things to do which can help you out:

  • Use your reading time!

One of the quirks of the IB is that you have 5 minutes to read the exam paper before you start. If I was feeling panicky, instead of using this time to read I would just use it to breath and calm myself. In my french reading paper, I opened it up and panicked that I couldn’t read anything. It felt like I’d forgotten every word of French I’d ever learnt. I just took those 5 minutes to calm down, reason with myself, and build up my confidence to start.

  • Focus on you

I mentioned this earlier, but this is especially true in exams. If everyone is furiously writing and you are still planning- keep going. If you know what works for you, do that. I actually used to wear earplugs in exams to block everyone else out. This really helped me focus, and made me panic less.

  • Think about everything you do know!

In any exam, there is always going to be stuff you don’t know. You’re not a superhuman, you can’t learn everything. If the questions start to panic you, focus on everything you have learnt. This is ultimately what you are being tested on anyway!

  • Try not to worry about what has past

Sometimes, exams go badly. In my life I have messed up quite a few. I know it’s hard, but if thing don’t go to plan, please try not to stress. You have lots of IB exams, and honestly you don’t have time to dwell on what is past. I was a fan of the ‘done and dump’ method, where you walk out of an exam and just don’t think about it. When they do go badly, I just tried to remember that there were multiple exams for any one subject, and my grade wasn’t determined by one small thing.

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