Study & Exam Stress

Particularly in the higher year levels, study stress is a major thing for young people impacting on your ability to cope.  This section provides information about stress with strategies to support you.


You will be interested to know that stress is not always a negative thing!  

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from demanding circumstances. We have all felt that sense of being overwhelmed or overloaded, perhaps with lots of competing demands. For senior school students, the demands of study, exams and coping with the changes of adolescence at the same time makes it a particularly stressful time.


Yerkes and Dodson (1908) proposed that we have an optimum (best) performance level when we experience a moderate level of stress. Not too low where we would be unmotivated and get bored, and not too high that we would experience excessive anxiety.  Some people, though, such as sports competitors perform at their best under high levels of pressure. Recent studies are also showing that we can all benefit from stress if we adjust our thinking.

Our thoughts are so important in their impact on our feelings and that’s why it’s important to look at them when we’re thinking about anxiety and stress.


In the cognitive behavioural therapy model something happens (the situation), and in response to that we have a thought. Our thoughts can be realistic in nature or they can be unrealistic, or ineffective ways of thinking.


If thoughts are unrealistic, they will more likely lead to negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, apprehension, depression, and frustration.


If thoughts are more rational, or sensible, they will lead to more positive emotions, and better ability to cope with the situation.


For example, a teacher hands out another piece of homework for next week when you already have many assignments due and an exam the following week. If the thought is- “ I can’t do this, it’s too much, I’m never going to get all that done”, you will likely feel, overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. This will impact on your behaviour such as procrastination, being disorganised and ineffective.


If on the other hand if you think, “It’s a lot of work but I can handle it, I’ll just focus on one thing at a time, I can do it”, you'll likely feel in control, and will be more focused and able to cope.

Here are some of the types of ineffective or irrational thinking styles:


Perfectionistic- ‘I have to be perfect in everything I do.’

All or nothing- ‘I have to do well in everything or I’m a complete failure

Catastrophising- ‘My life is over if I don’t get this score

Over-generalising- ‘I failed the last exam so I will do badly at this one

Extremely pessimistic -‘It’s not going to work out, nothing ever works out for me'

If you are going through VCE, you might like to download and fill out this worksheet on My Plan for a Stress Free VCE.  It will help you plan out how to cope during the year.