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Coping with stress during your law exams

BY EVE DULLABH
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The first thing to note about tackling the stress you feel in law exams is to tackle the stress that precedes them.

Very often, exam nerves don’t pounce on us from thin air, they’ve been lurking throughout the revision period.

So even if you feel you’re bearing up, take a moment to see if you can feel stress in your body. Sometimes, we don’t notice the ill-effects of pressure until we press the pause button. Stress may be taking its toll – and just you haven’t noticed it.

Symptoms of exam stress include:

  • Poor motivation
  • Feeling grumpy
  • Low energy; changes to eating habits
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep
  • Wanting to remain in bed
  • Being aloof with friends
  • Losing interest in hobbies and interests
  • Stomach problems; aches and pains.

  • Before your exams

    Eat well and exercise. Try and avoid sugary processed foods that create temporary energy spikes followed by a “crash”. Aim for a balanced diet instead. This should include:

  • Lean proteins such as chicken, ham, beef, tofu, mycoproteins/imitation meat, eggs, low fat cheese, all types of beans, and pulses such as lentils.
  • Carbohydrates that release their sugars slowly – no instant hits. For example, oats, rice and root vegetables
  • Fruits and salads.

  • Please don’t drink alcohol to excess – it may seem like a great idea at the time, but your concentration when revising the next day may pay the price!

    Schedule rest periods and “sensible” sleep times

    Synchronise your body clock to the examination timetable – don’t do morning exams feeling that you haven’t allowed yourself enough time to wake up properly. At intervals throughout the day, practise deep breathing. There are a host of relaxation and mindfulness apps you can install on your phone. Many students find them helpful.

    Preparation is key

    Read our articles, How to prepare for your law exams – revision techniques for all law students” and “Top tips for performing well in law exams”. If you’re ill-prepared, be prepared for the consequences – use your practice papers so you’re very familiar with the exam formats and what will be required of you. It removes some uncertainty if you know these things. Work out which issues have re-occurred in previous examinations (and hence which cases and law are commonly applied). Once revised, decisively tick revision topics off the list. It may help you feel in charge.

    Other things that may help soothe pre-exam-day stress include:

  • Dancing – there’s little better than moving to music to connect your mind with your body, move you away from pre-occupations and for connecting you with the “here and now”. Choose a song that’s uplifting or about personal strength.
  • Humming loudly is another way of quickly connecting body to mind and “pushing out” negative thoughts
  • Watch a cheery film or programme
  • Take a shower or a bath
  • Meet with friends. Share with them that you’re stressed but don’t just seek the company of those who are reacting similarly. You need perspective
  • Remember: you are more than your exam results. Knowing this get you better results.

  • On the day of the exam
  • Have a shower, have a sing, do some exercises… anything to wake up your mind and body.
  • Munch on filling, healthy food and avoid anything that’s sugary, fatty and potentially stomach upsetting… eat a hearty breakfast. Pack healthy snacks to eat between exams.
  • Make sure you’re hydrated. If not, it may affect your concentration… drink water.
  • Put on clothes that are appropriate for the temperature of the day… dress in a way that makes you feel good.
  • At breakfast, do a crossword puzzle, read a blog… fire up your brain.
  • If you go to an exam centre… allow enough time; don’t arrive in a panic.
  • If, during the exam, nerves get the better of you… breathe deep and grip the sides of the desk… concentrate for a moment on those physical sensations and not what’s inside your head.

  • After the exam

    Avoid endlessly trying to find out how other people felt they did in the exams. They can’t be objective. All you’re doing is trying to measure yourself against what is currently immeasurable; it’s a negative opportunity to sew the needs of further stress and undermine yourself – all in the guise of “exam post-mortem”. Don’t be tempted. Treat yourself instead and exercise.

    Above all…

    If your stress becomes uncomfortable, if at any time you are worried about your mental health, remember you are not alone. Share with a friend, a family member, a tutor or anyone at the Law Training Centre, we are always here to help and help you make the most out of your exam.

    From all of us at the Law Training Centre, good luck for your exams!