If you're studying for your ACA qualification and you have exams coming up, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed right now. Taking exams can be stressful especially when you have a busy social life and family and work commitments.

You may worry that you're not spending enough time on your studies, or that you'll never be able to remember everything you need to make the grade. Perhaps you feel under pressure because you don't want to let your family, friends and work colleagues – and yourself – down. And if your job depends on you passing your exams, is it any wonder why you feel so stressed out?

The most important thing to remember is that very few people are immune to pre-exam nerves. In fact, a certain level of stress may well help you perform better during your exams. The key is to control your stress levels so that they're not too high. Here are some ideas that may help you do just that:

  • Stay healthy and avoid eating lots of junk food, drinking coffee or alcohol, or studying late into the night. Make sure you get enough exercise too. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five times a week. If you don't have time for a 30-minute work-out, split it into three 10-minute sessions. 
  • Don't leave all your revising until the last minute. Make time to prepare for your exams as well as you can. If possible, draw up a realistic study timetable in advance, and don't forget to schedule in breaks (a 10-minute break every hour will help to keep you focused). 
  • If you're struggling with any aspect of your studies, or if there's anything you don't understand, don't bottle it up or get stressed out about it. Ask your course tutor for help ­- that's what they're there for. 
  • Stay positive. Whenever you experience negative thoughts – such as 'I'm never going to pass', or, 'This is too difficult' – be aware that this type of self-talk is common in stressful situations. Try this tip to change your negative self-talk into more positive statements. If someone told you they were having negative thoughts, think about what you would you say to them to make them feel better and practice giving yourself the same advice.
  • Remember to relax. You may feel you don't have time to wind down, especially in the days leading up to your exam. But just 10 minutes of sitting still with your eyes shut and taking slow, deep breaths will help revitalise you when you're feeling tense. 
  • Get as much sleep as you can the night before your exam so that you're as rested as you can be. Don't revise right up until bed time. Spend at least an hour relaxing before you turn in – listen to music, go for a walk or chat on the phone with someone who makes you laugh. Also avoid alcohol the night before your exams, as it may stop you from having a good night's sleep.
  • Don't panic if your mind goes blank during the exam. This is perfectly normal. Just take a moment to sit back, close your eyes and relax until you feel calm again.
  • After the exam is over, give yourself a pat on the back in recognition of all your hard work. Even better, treat yourself to something that has nothing to do with work or studying – dinner at your favourite restaurant, or coffee with your best friend.
  • Finally, if you're struggling, don't keep it to yourself. If you're in a training agreement and are actively studying for your ACA qualification, CABA counsellors are here to support you.

How CABA can help

CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please:


© CABA 2013