Managing exam stress

Gold medal winner in the December 2017 exams and joint highest scoring P3 student in June 2017... To say that Kayleigh Milne's achievements demanded real dedication would be an understatement. She reveals her pre-exam coping strategies.


Kayleigh Milne works full time as a business advisory assistant at Johnston Carmichael, Scotland’s largest independent firm of chartered accountants, where her role includes preparing accounts and VAT returns, tagging financial statements and ‘generally assisting’ across the department. As a result, time management has been a real challenge in the lead-up to exams.

‘I put a lot of pressure on myself and, as a result, I did get quite stressed,’ says Kayleigh. ‘Having to balance work, study, household tasks and seeing friends and family could sometimes become overwhelming.’

Kayleigh also knows that ‘life can get in the way’ of carefully laid plans: ‘In 2015 I injured my right shoulder during a yoga session a month before taking two ACCA exams in one sitting. I was in a lot of pain, which affected my sleep and, as I’m right-handed, it also affected my studies. Yoga is one of my strategies to de-stress and I had to stop this as well, which made me realise that before an exam I had to prioritise study over everything else.

‘This was difficult for me – I did try to cram too much into my day, but at the risk of burning out. I had to accept that the pre-exam period is really very short and dedicating a few months to study is not that much to ask.’

Don’t forget to relax

But Kayleigh also discovered that relaxation is a vital part of exam preparation, especially if you are prone to stress: ‘It can be hard to take time off without feeling guilty, but you can’t study for long periods without taking breaks. I still use yoga as a relaxation tool and also meditation to “quieten the mind”.’

Kayleigh recommends building relaxation into a study routine: ‘I’m lucky as my employer operates a flexi-time policy, which means I could start work at 7am, leave at 4pm and then practise yoga straight after work. This helped me wind down and allowed time for some exercise before eating and going on to study. It could be difficult to keep to the same routine closer to an exam, but it’s important to take a break and do something you enjoy – for me, I tried to get some fresh air and go for a walk, but it could just be watching an episode of your favourite TV show.’

Employer understanding is also crucial for ACCA students who work full time: ‘You spend a huge part of your life in the office and sometimes the stress can show. My employer has a great support system in place and it has also been helpful to work in an accountancy practice, surrounded by people who understand the pressures of professional exams.’

Tips to help you get exam ready

Kayleigh’s approach has clearly worked, given her outstanding exam success, so what are her essential tips to combat pre-exam stress?

‘Good preparation puts you in the best position to pass and naturally helps to decrease stress levels,’ says Kayleigh. ‘I advise starting your studies at least three months before the exam and to draft a timetable linked to targets such as completing specific chapters. Aim to complete the syllabus a month before the exam to give yourself plenty of time for revision and question practice.’

Don’t forget to look after yourself, adds Kayleigh: ‘Get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise – it may sound bizarre, but the busier I am the more I feel I can achieve. And think how happy you’ll be when you pass and use that feeling to keep you motivated!’

"I did try to cram too much into my day, but at the risk of burning out. I had to accept that the pre-exam period is really very short and dedicating a few months to study is not that much to ask"