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How to Manage Your Time During Exams: Strategies to Help You Stay Focused

How to Deal with Exam Stress

Exam time is a stressful time for students. With all the studying and preparation, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and put off studying until the last minute.

The key to succeeding in exams is to develop a systematic approach that will help you manage your time effectively from start until finish. This includes creating a study plan, establishing brief but achievable goals for each unit, and sticking to the schedule.

Here are some ways to manage your time during exams that will help you keep calm and focused on what’s important.

Create a study plan

The best way to become more focused is to have a plan for studying and exams.

Figure out what you want to accomplish, make a list of what resources you will need for this goal, and determine how long it will take you to reach that goal. Also, write down key deadlines so that you won’t be stressed by not having enough time left.

For example, study material will only be available for a limited time, so you need to make sure you don’t leave it until the last minute.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision during exam time.

However, we often overestimate our own abilities. Don’t be so focused on your individual goals that you allow yourself to stop taking in the information. Think about how your entire group of study partners will work together to reach your goal.

Related Blog: How To Prepare For Board Exams

How to study effectively

  1. Analyze and plan for each unit before starting the course.
  2. Always use a working schedule to track your work.
  3. Limit yourself to a few tests at a time.
  4. Create a plan for tackling exams.
  5. Budget your time wisely and make it fun.
  6. Limit distractions to allow you to study productively.
  7. Put the phone away.
  8. Learn from your mistakes and build upon your successes.
  9. Choose your study environment wisely.
  10. Create a study schedule, and stick to it.
  11. Minimize your exposure to bad news, and focus on your accomplishments.

It’s normal to feel stressed, especially during exam season. No matter how prepared you are, there will be stress—and we all feel it. The good news is that you don’t have to manage your stress by limiting yourself or turning to unhealthy habits.

Tips for managing stress

When you’re studying hard, it’s easy to get lost in a fog of fatigue, and forget why you’re studying. Before you know it, you’re all caught up in the emotional ride of exam stress.

There’s nothing like a migraine and a panic attack to push you to the wall. The best thing to do to survive exams is to establish a daily routine and get plenty of rest to help your brain reset itself.

And if you have a stressful exam ahead, taking an afternoon or weekend break might help to recover your focus. If your study routine is already strong and you’re feeling good, you’re less likely to take breaks from studying, and that’s when your focus starts to flag.

Make sure you’re using all the strategies listed below to help you stay focused during the exam period.

Tips for staying motivated

Students who stick with their study plan and spend their time efficiently tend to get the most out of their time. They keep their level of stress at a low level, which ensures they can give their best when they need to.

The easiest way to develop a systematic approach to studying is to create a study plan. It’s important that the plan contains goals for each unit, so you know what you need to learn and how to best apply it to each exam.

The plan should include a variety of strategies that you can use to stay motivated, so you don’t get bored or discouraged when you don’t see rapid results right away.

Establish achievable goals

One of the most important skills to developing an effective study plan is setting achievable goals that will allow you to track your progress throughout the semester and develop a sense of accomplishment.

Start by writing down the goals you want to accomplish for each unit you’re taking. These goals can range from creating a new computer program to maintaining a healthy weight to volunteering in your community.

With each goal you write down, add a deadline and a way to track your progress towards that deadline.

Be realistic with your time

You’re studying to get a job, right?

And so don’t think that you need to study for everything you have at your disposal. It’s okay to cut back on one or two courses that are useless to your career.

In fact, going through all your requirements should be one of your biggest goals in school. If you haven’t updated them in the past year or so, you should take the initiative and take care of that before you even consider starting to cram for exams.

Find out where your weakness is and focus on those aspects. You don’t want to cram all knowledge into your head at once. You have to be selective.

It might take a little longer to grasp each concept or level of knowledge, but your brain is more likely to retain the information if you spread it out over the course of a few days.

Remain focused on the end goal

A study plan is your way to ensure you use your study time to get the most out of it. Rather than simply trying to remember and recite the information being tested, you need to prepare to understand it.

Whether it’s by working on flashcards, learning the vocabulary in class or asking professors questions, prepare to be able to comprehend and respond to the question.

This strategy will help you resist procrastination, focus on the exam and stay calm.

Use a time management strategy. Instead of trying to cram the material at the last minute, dedicate a block of study time to preparing for each exam.

A study block is the best time to cram and review and the ideal time to review is first thing in the morning, right before going to sleep.

Stay accountable to yourself or someone else you trust

Set goals that are achievable and realistic. Take responsibility for your work and ensure that it is actually completed. If you procrastinate, study for shorter time periods throughout the day.

Try to complete all required assignments within one week of the exam and avoid cramming. Try to make study time as quiet as possible. The last thing you need during exam time is noise or distractions. Keep studying away from distractions like family, friends, or pets.

Turn on the TV, check your Facebook page, or open a browser to an online newspaper so that you can quickly distract yourself if you need to. Avoid distractions, particularly time-wasting ones. Do not browse the Internet during exam time unless it’s required for your final grade. Remember that your time is valuable.

Timeboxing your tasks

According to the Study Goal Institute, each minute that you waste procrastinating or getting distracted is time that you have lost to your ultimate goal of studying.

The easiest way to break this cycle is to timebox the tasks that you must complete before the exam. Most students have goals that are focused on the midterms and finals.

If you’re planning to take an exam in the spring or summer, your goals might be “study for x amount of time for y amount of time.” This time box will provide a great foundation from which you can assess your situation, target your goal, and stick to it.

If you’re a senior, it might be easier to set timeboxes for the last semester in your undergraduate program and a few years down the road as you transition into graduate school.

Learn how to say no

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment during the exams and forget that you’re studying to prepare for a job after school.

The constant partying or clubbing could end up costing you a year of your life if you decide to apply for a job after graduation with your body and mind not in the right condition.

Learn how to say no when friends and family ask you to hang out, to join their night out, or have a sleepover. Saying no won’t make them like you less, but it will stop you from committing the wrong career decision.

Trust me – it’s better to be sad about the lack of spending time with your friends than be sad that you won’t be going to the top law firm after you graduate.

Keep a healthy sleep cycle

Every student’s body is different, and so is their sleep cycle. If you can set a consistent wake-up time, the chances of you catching up on sleep are high.

Make sure you go to bed at the same time each night, and ideally, the latest you can possibly sleep (say, at midnight).

Studying is important, but sometimes all that studying can be unhealthy. Start doing some exercise regularly.

Don’t cram

You might be tempted to cram on the morning of the exam, but not doing so can actually hinder your chances of completing the exam in time. The structure of an exam means that you might be asked questions that you’ve already seen, and having to move through the exam trying to recall an entire textbook for a particular topic can lead to you going into your actual exam feeling unconfident and having to start over in the revision.

Studying for exams is all about prioritizing your time. You might have an entire list of things you have to get done, but there are some tasks that will inevitably be more important for you to get done than others. Set priorities for the week and stick to them.

Set achievable goals for each unit

Make the time you spend on studying count. Set realistic goals for each unit and make sure you’re able to complete each and every one.

Be disciplined with your time management. Be disciplined with the time you spend on each unit. Get all of the important materials in one place and spread them out. Don’t check the same thing over and over again!

Do all of the revision work for each unit at once. Read the entire book, answer the entire exam question and then write your exam answers in one go. It will take up to 2-3 hours but this is a great way to complete all of the revision work at once and maximise your study time.

Find your friends and ask them to help you. They might be willing to lend you some study material or take you out for coffee to help you.

Stick to the schedule

Exams are very similar to going to the gym; you don’t want to come in late or leave early. However, many people still come late or leave early to check their email or social media.

You don’t want to be like that. Once you know the plan for the day, stick to it and don’t deviate from it, even if you feel a little hungry.

Don’t be tempted to eat at the last minute; your test is already looming and all the time you invest is vital. The goal is to ensure you do not get behind.

Know how to pace yourself during exams

Know how much time you should spend studying every day. Try to stick to a pattern and use the time blocks well to get the best results.

Reach deadlines by answering all relevant questions

Trying to keep up with all the required questions right after a topic is released can be a hassle and you might not be able to solve all of them before time is up. Try to prioritise the most important questions and try to find the quickest answer.

Organise your study materials

Don’t over-pack your backpack, put less pressure on yourself by organizing everything in advance. Try to pick out some really important materials first.

Familiarize yourself with the exam system

If you’re just starting your study journey, it might be a good idea to check out the exam system that’s used in your country.

Take breaks and reward yourself at the end of a section or exam

Most people find it easier to study in small chunks over a long period of time. This is good for managing your time.

However, if you find your mind wandering or you get overwhelmed, then take a short break and reward yourself. It might just take a few seconds of calming music or some time alone to help you think more clearly.

If you’re feeling really stressed and feel that your head is swimming, try taking a few deep breaths and telling yourself that you can do this. In a quiet, comfortable place, think about the subject matter and focus.

After 10 or 20 minutes of focusing on your breathing and your brainwaves, you may feel more relaxed and will be ready to work on your assignment again.

Know when to start

You have to find time to study but it’s also important to know when is the best time to start, not to sound like a broken record but you’re gonna need to know these things!

You should know when your energy and focus is at their highest but you also need to make sure you’re not hurting your body and getting sick.

Ideally you should aim to do 1 hour’s study in the morning and 1 hour’s in the afternoon. If you’re an early bird, get up and do your hour study around 7am.

This way you can wake up refreshed, get a quick workout in and have some healthy, nutritious breakfast before getting stuck into studying. Your brain will not function properly if it hasn’t had enough time to wake up and get fully into the day.

Be organized and prioritize to make the most of your time

  • Focus on the tasks that matter
  • Don’t worry about working too hard or overworking yourself
  • Stay ahead of your workload
  • Make an impressive start by setting up a study schedule
  • Allocate time to check Facebook, Twitter, Skype and news outlets
  • Do this: As soon as you arrive home Before you start studying
  • When you have a few minutes between classes
  • Make use of the time to work on projects and assignments
  • Do this: Maintain a journal Sit at the table in the lecture hall
  • Stay focused on the task at hand
  • Don’t waste time worrying about other things that you could be doing
  • Boredom is a natural distraction, so enjoy it while it lasts
  • Make the most of your time during finals week
  • Learn how to study
  • At the end of the semester you want to have a well organized mind.

Join a study group and find a tutor

This is a very quick and easy solution to your study time dilemma.

Although, be warned that a study group can sometimes be a bit crowded or all focus on each other, so try to avoid this. Also, unless you are highly confident in your subject, don’t bother joining a study group.

Unless you are really desperate to write a good exam result, stay away from study groups. A good tutor will be able to provide you with a wide range of resources, check how prepared you are, provide you with advice and motivate you to do well in the exam.

Some tutors may also provide you with academic facilities (e.g. photocopying of paper, access to their library and online resources). Most students make the mistake of choosing a study tutor that is too intimidating.

Practice using free time efficiently

You may not have as much free time as you may think when you start studying. Don’t waste it, but do use it efficiently by arranging your time around your own needs.

When you’re studying and watching television, try and watch less than you do during the rest of the year. If you don’t have time to read on the plane, maybe watch an episode of the new TV show you’re enjoying.

Follow the exam day routine

Most students have one that is different from the rest of the days. But you should stick to it. When it comes to exams, sticking to your routine is extremely important.

For instance, most students who write at 8 AM like to wake up and make breakfast and prepare their books and notes. But with so much going on at this time of the morning, your energy levels are often too low to actually get up.

So for the best results, sleep in. Make sure to set your alarm clock at least 10 minutes earlier than you usually would. The time will go by much more slowly if you can get to bed early.

Exam Day Routine – Day Before

Trying to cram all your studying in a day before an exam is not only extremely challenging, it also has the opposite effect. By not managing your time properly, you’ll never be able to actually learn something.

Give yourself adequate time to prepare. The number of hours you can spend studying and preparing is really dependent on a number of factors. The most important factor is how much time you want to dedicate to studying and how much you need to.

However, having a fixed amount of time that you need to study and prepare for an exam also gives you something to aim for. To get the most out of your studying and prepare for the exams, it is best to: Know what the exam consists of, especially if it’s not your first time taking the exam. Choose the most efficient way of studying.

Exam Day Routine – Morning of

  • Plan your day beforehand
  • List all subjects you have to do the following day
  • Commit the time to studying each subject
  • Use the time wisely
  • Use a timetable to schedule in your study time
  • Use group study session to go over old notes and concepts
  • Pay attention to time as a guide
  • Do not waste your time by procrastinating
  • Don’t forget to leave time for other aspects of your life
  • Start studying early
  • Close all distractions
  • Check the agenda of your next exam to make sure you are not going to miss any sections
  • If you are taking a multi-subject exam, prioritize the most important subjects.

Exam Day Routine – Evening of

Exam time comes early and early also means long. Plan for it and don’t make it worse by being unprepared. Be sure to set your alarm for the night and get up early. Make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared.

Everyone has different body clocks but all of us are creatures of habit. If you practice getting up early enough to get a good amount of sleep, it will be harder to fall back asleep at night.

Make sure you get enough rest. Go to bed early and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. A cup of herbal tea can also be very helpful. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants two days before a big exam.

Alcohol will only get you through the first few hours of exam time, you’ll be better off not drinking any alcohol for at least four hours before you start.

Exam day tips

  1. Spend time prior to exam day with your friends and family. Reassure them that you are doing okay and that you love them.
  2. Arrange time with friends or family, even if it’s for a cup of tea and a short conversation.
  3. Research exam time or choose a particular exam center or subject to study.
  4. Be patient. You may find that you need to spend more time than you originally planned on studying.
  5. Take time to listen to calming music or have a bath.
  6. Take a break if your head is spinning. Try spending time in nature or walking with friends.
  7. Get yourself some ‘chill out’ food, like herbal tea, biscuits, a milkshake, cheese and crackers, or fruit.
  8. Get yourself a good night’s sleep. Try to get a good night’s sleep and eat well the night before the exam.

Setting up your workspace

Don’t start studying until you have organized your study space. I know, I know! I sound like the homework police, but take a look around you.

If you have a desk, a study table, or even a quiet corner, set it up to suit you and use it to your advantage. You’ll be able to find what you need to study and focus easily.

Tip: Draw a grid in a corner of your desk or table with the following colors: pink for your notes, blue for the tests, red for the housework, and green for the compost bin.

Related Blog: Common Mistakes That Students Make While Studying


It’s almost time to be sitting for your exams! Preparing for them can be a bit overwhelming and, depending on your university and course, there may be quite a few things to remember.

However, knowing how to manage your time is what will be of most use to you, no matter what your exam is for. These tips should get you on the right track! Have you got a tip for managing your time during exams?



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