Heading into your first exams at university and feeling overwhelmed? Or perhaps you’ve almost finished your degree and still feeling overwhelmed? Here are some helpful tips and tricks to keep the stress at bay. (If you are in need of support, please check our list of on campus contact numbers at the end of the article.)

Don’t panic!

Exam anxiety is real. While most students feel nervous about what to expect in the exam hall, for a percentage of students the thought of exams bring on fear, a rapid heart rate, damp hands, shortness of breath, and believing they will fail before even getting to the exam. If you find yourself in such a situation you should try to engage in self-care strategies like sleeping through the night, nutrition, exercise and relaxation routines. It would be best to speak to a professional and tailor a plan to best help with your particular anxiety.

Find support services

All universities have services in place to help students, including student counselling, mental health and careers centres. Joining a peer-mentoring group will also be a big help: These are run by senior students who can give first hand tips and insights in how to tackle your assignments and exams. Forming a study group with those in your class will also make things easier. You will find a list of counselling and support contact details for most universities at the end of this article.

Manage your time well

One of the best ways to manage your study workload is to draw up a semester plan. This can be a timeline or calendar. Enter in all assignments and exams on your semester plan and then work backwards to allocate time for researching, draft planning, proofreading and checking references. You should add in time for work, socialising, sport and exercise.

Do old exams and explain your answers to others

Going through old exams will get you used to the format of questions and help you manage time on each section. It will also focus your attention and avoid adding unnecessary details. Visual aids will make formulae and facts easier to remember. Explaining your answers to others in your study group can also make understanding and remembering the subject easier.

Don’t cram the night before

Cramming is the worst thing you can do before an exam. Most likely you’re going to forget what you’ve learned AND miss out on sleep which is essential before writing an exam. The part of our brains that deals with memory is more active when we sleep, so even if you spent all night cramming information into your head, chances are you won’t remember any of it. Insufficient sleep also messes with concentration and your ability to make decisions, meaning you won’t be focused for that exam. Get plenty of rest instead.

On the day of the actual exam

Wake up with enough time to eat a proper breakfast and take time to calm your mind. You should check that you have everything you need with you (pens, pencils, calculators etc.). Read through the whole exam carefully before starting on your answers and try to leave time to go over your answers at the end.

Enjoy university life

University is not just about studying hard in order to achieve career goals. It’s also about friendships and connections. Pursue your talents and interests by getting involved in clubs and societies. Figure out when you are most productive: if you work best during the morning or late evening, use your afternoons to have fun, hang out with friends, read or do things that energise or calm you down.

If you feel overwhelmed or anxious, you can reach out to the services available on your campus or contact The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 to speak to a trained counselor. SADAG Suicide Crisis Line 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393

Cape Peninsula University of Technology: Student Counselling. CT campus 021 460 3237 – use link for other campus contacts.
Central University of Technology: Student Counselling. 051 507 3154
Durban University of Technology: Support services. 031 373 2266
Nelson Mandela University: Health Services. 041 504 2174/1149/1374
North-West University: Student Counselling. Mafikeng 018 389 2592/ Potch 018 299 1777/ Vaal triangle 24-hour crisis help line: 082 815 9781
Rhodes University: Student Wellness. Counselor (046) 603 7070
Sol Plaatje University: Student Wellness. Student Advisor 053 491 0213
Tshwane University of Technology: Student Wellness. PTA 012 382 6612. Use link for other campuses.
Stellenbosch University: Support Services. Counselor 021-808-4994/ 24 hour Crisis service 082 557 0880
University of the Free State: Student Services. 051 401 3258
University of Cape Town: Student Wellness. 021 650 1017
University of Fort Hare: Student Counselling Unit. Alice Campus: 040 602 2279/ East London campus: 040 704 7009/ 7314.
University of Johannesburg: Student Counselling. 011 559 1318/ 3324
University of KwaZulu-Natal: Student Counselling  Edgewood 031 260 3653/3532/ Howard College 031 260 2668. Use link for other campuses.
University of Limpopo: Student Councelling  015 268 2437/2552. Emergency contact 015 268 2849/ 2498
University of Pretoria: Student Counselling Unit. Counselor 012 420 2333/ 24 hour Careline 0800 747 747
University of the Western Cape: Student Counselling. Helpline 0800 222 333
University of the Witwatersrand: Student Counselling. 24 hour LifeLine 011 728 1347 or 0861 322 322. Crisis Line 0800 111 331
University of Venda: Student Counselling. 015 962 8540
University of Zululand: Student Services. 035 902 6346
Vaal University of Technology: Student Services 016 950 9665
Walter Sisulu University: Student Services 047 502 1918