Tips on surviving exams

Getting through exams can be a challenge, but try not to panic. There are ways to beat exam stress and make sure you get the best possible results.

Revision tips

It sounds obvious, but revision really is the key to exam success. Being well prepared for your exams is the best way to overcome stress and anxiety, and gives you the best chance of getting the best grades you can.

Before you start revising, the amount of work you have to do can seem overwhelming. You may have to study for lots of different subjects at once, and it's easy to feel daunted.

Make a realistic revision schedule. Work out how much you have to do and the time you have to do it in, then break it down into manageable chunks. Aim to do a few hours of revision each day, and mix up your subjects so you don't get bored.

Find a revision style that suits you. Studying alone in a quiet room suits some people, but not everyone likes working in silence. Try playing music quietly in the background, or revising with a friend (but don't let them distract you!).

Customise your notes to make them more personal. Experiment with colour coding, notes on postcards, diagrams or whatever helps you learn your topic.

Make sure you understand everything. If you come across something you don't understand, try to find a new source of information that will help you understand it. Just memorising it won't help you in your exam. Don't be afraid to ask your teacher or a friend for help if you need it.

Look at past exam papers. It means you can familiarise yourself with the layout and type of questions you'll be asked. Practise completing exam papers in the set time limit to improve your exam technique.

Get some rest and relaxation

Revision is an important part of exam success, but it's also important that you don't overdo it. Studying for hours and hours will only make you tired and ruin your concentration, which may make you even more anxious.

Stress is a natural feeling that's designed to help us cope in difficult situations. In small amounts, it's good for you because it pushes you to work hard and do your very best.

But too much stress can cause headaches and other problems. Taking regular short breaks while you're working may help. A break every 45 to 60 minutes is about right.

During your breaks, do something relaxing, such as reading a book or going for a short walk. Taking your mind off your work will help you come back to it feeling refreshed. It can also help if you reward yourself after each revision session. For example, you could take a long bath or watch a good DVD.  

When you're not revising, use your spare time to get away from your books and do something physical. Exercise is good for taking your mind off stress and keeping you positive, and it will help you sleep better.

If you're still feeling stressed, it's important to talk to someone you trust, such as a family member, teacher or a friend. Many people find exams difficult to deal with, so don't be embarrassed to ask for support.

How to handle exam days

It's natural to be nervous on exam days, but don't let your nerves take over. Start the day with a good breakfast, and give yourself plenty of time to get to the exam hall. Remember to take everything you need, including pencils, pens and a calculator. A bottle of water and some tissues are also useful.

Once the exam has started, take a few minutes to read the instructions and questions so you know exactly what's expected of you. Ask an exam supervisor if anything is unclear – they're there to help you.

Plan how much time you'll need for each question. Don't panic if you get stuck on a question, but try to leave yourself enough time at the end to come back to it. Even if you're really stumped, an educated guess is better than leaving it blank.

When the exam is over, don't spend too much time going over it in your head or worrying about it. Resist the temptation to compare your answers with those of your friends. If you have more exams to come, focus on the next one instead.

Coping with exams

Tests and exams, including GCSEs, can be a challenging part of school life. Watch this video to see how teenagers prepared themselves for their GCSEs, overcame stress and built the confidence to sit their exams.

Media last reviewed: 27/05/2015

Next review due: 27/05/2017

Page last reviewed: 17/02/2015

Next review due: 17/02/2017

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