Top tips for managing arthritis during exam and revision periods

13 August 2021

Natasha was diagnosed with juvenile polyarticular idiopathic arthritis when she was one, so has managed her condition through school and university. Last year, she graduated with a degree in Marine Biology and is currently studying for her Master of Science (MSc). Read her top tips on exam preparation and check out some of our advice for teachers.

What are your experiences of revision for school exams?

When I became a teenager, my arthritis got worse suddenly so I missed a lot of school. I did a lot of independent learning when revising because I was in hospital a lot with my arthritis.

You have to accept that you’re going to need to put aside more time than your classmates to keep up. It’s hard if you don’t like school but I was always nerdy so didn’t mind.

The effect on maths was most apparent for me. Learning works as building blocks, so you need to build up your knowledge over time.

Most teachers would send me work but one teacher didn’t, so when I had the worst parts of a flare and wasn’t in school I’d get a D, but when I was feeling better my grades went up.

What about study breaks?

I play games as a break from revision. A walk could be good but could make you a bit exhausted. Watching something, playing a game or reading a book could help you switch off, or even getting something to eat.

When I commit to studying, I study for a few hours and then go for a break, but a lot of people prefer to have more breaks than that.

What support did your school provide during exams?

In high school, I was in a different room for exams. I was put with other children who had different challenges. When there was a chicken pox outbreak during exam time, the school were really good and slipped me into a side room as a precaution.

I’d sometimes get a computer and always would get extra time. You need to make sure you have this because your hands could start to hurt and you need more breaks.

How did your university experience differ?

I am currently studying an MSc in Marine Biology. I’d already done a lot of independent revision during school so was used to this before university.

In uni, I’ve had a lot more struggles when it came to arthritis, but I have used a computer throughout. A computer changes your life for exams! It’s easier to type than it is to write.

How did you deal with difficult circumstances?

Some teachers didn't really understand and thought I was ‘playing’ on my arthritis. This was fed back to my mentors and helpers each time, and they weren't very supportive.

More education about conditions like arthritis for both teachers and universities more widely would help others understand.

On a positive note, having a mentor was extremely helpful. She got me through most of uni. I had a lot of trouble with extenuating circumstances as I got ill every winter with a mixture of colds and arthritis flares. My immune system was activated a lot, so I'd get inflammation of my joints when I caught colds.

Any other tips?

  • Make sure you’re caught up on the work - I make a timetable to set a work schedule.
  • Make sure you have a computer for exams. You’ll get things done a lot quicker with a lot less stress.
  • Start your coursework early. With arthritis, you never know how well you’re going to be and you might feel worse as you get nearer a deadline.
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible, otherwise information will go in one ear and out of the other! You really need to understand what you’re doing and reading and if you’re in pain you find it harder to remember things and focus.
  • Practice pacing – this means knowing and respecting your limits, spacing out events in your schedule, doing things you enjoy each day and giving yourself enough time to complete tasks.

Five tips for teachers from our Young People and Families Team

  1. Keep students up to date with work needed or that they have missed.
  2. Provide students with a buddy - someone they choose who can help them with what they have missed.
  3. Make sure students are given extra time in exams.
  4. During exams, provide a separate room with computer aids to enable them to be as comfortable as possible and have the best chance of success.
  5. Make sure aids and adaptations are available for students.
  6. If you’re thinking of changing or stopping your medication, always talk to healthcare professionals first.

Read more information for parents and teachers.

If you want to discuss your exam results, you can contact the National Careers Service Helpline on 0800 100 900. If you’re feeling worried about exam season or your results, Childline have helpful advice and support available.

Our services

If you or a family member under the age of 25 has arthritis, we run a Young People and Families service that provides information and support and puts on a range of events across the country.

Our service helps young people and children offers advice on how to live well with arthritis, medication and potential treatments, as well as creating a safe space to ask questions, receive information and develop support networks.

Find out more about our Young People and Families service. 

We’re here whenever you need us