Our top tips!
- Be prepared
Making a study plan, doing practice tests and keeping a positive mindset will help with overcoming exam anxiety. You can also make studying fun by revising with friends or using charts, diagrams and pictures in your notes.
Ensure you are getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. You should always aim for at least eight hours and ensure you ‘switch off’ at least an hour before going to bed by stopping revising and avoiding screens. This has been proven to improve sleep quality. As tempting as it may be, pulling an all-nighter to cram the night before an exam won’t help!
- Figure out which study environment works best for you
Some people need complete silence to work, so noise cancelling headphones might help. Others prefer light background noise, so a local library may be better. If you like lots of background noise, try working in a coffee shop. Experiment and find what works best for you.
What are exams and why do we have to do them?
Exams are assessments that are used to test your knowledge, aptitude and focus of a particular subject under time pressure. In order to succeed in exams and get the best grades you can, you need to work hard to learn and digest the information you have been taught.
Everyone has to do exams at some point in their lives. Many people start doing so when they are young, with exams in Year 6. However, the important exams usually start with GCSEs in Year 10 and 11. A Levels (or equivalent qualifications) come later, in Year 12 and 13.
Some career pathways require qualifications obtained through examinations. This means overcoming nerves and practising exam technique can be extremely valuable. By preparing well, you will put yourself in the best position to reach your potential and get the grades you need to reach your next steps.
Different people prefer different kinds of assessment. Some people prefer exams to coursework and don’t find them too stressful; other people do not cope well with exams and would rather put the time and effort into coursework. If you don’t cope well with exams, putting the time and effort into preparing yourself will be really helpful.
Additionally, when you have more control over your subjects, it may be worth exploring options that have more coursework. Whatever exams you are doing and whatever your results, do your best and be proud of your achievements.
Our page on thinking ahead has more information on planning your next steps.
How should I prepare for my exams?
Ideally, you would start making revision resources from after the first lesson. However, if you haven’t been doing this, don’t panic! For summer exams, starting to revise from around February or March usually gives you enough time. Whenever you start, remember that doing little bits of revision over an extended period of time is far more effective than cramming content during the week before an exam.
The thought of starting revision can be daunting, so it helps if you know how to prioritise revision topics. It may be useful to make a list of the topics you need to learn for each subject – some teachers provide these, but most textbooks contain topic lists too.
Take some time to look through these topics and make a note of the topics you struggle with the most – you can identify these by practising exam questions and trying to explain the topic to a friend. Colour-coding systems and post-it notes can also be extremely useful during exam season.
Starting as early as possible and going back to topics every so often is always going to be the best strategy. This way, you will be familiar with the content and able to retain it better as a result.
How can I make the most of my study time?
Take regular breaks
Studying for long hours causes you to lose focus; breaks are beneficial because they allow you to re-energise. Research shows that taking a 5- or 10-minute break to get a snack or stretch your legs after around 25 minutes of work leads to improved performance. These times will differ for everyone, so work out what’s best for you!
Turn off your phone
We’ve all sat down to revise only to find ourselves immediately scrolling through social media, then wondering how we lost so much time. By turning off your phone, you remove the temptation to check it and are more likely to pay attention to your revision. Try keeping your phone in another room if you are still tempted by it.
Keep study groups small
If you’re someone who enjoys revising in groups, make sure the group is not bigger than two or three people. As group sizes increase, you’re more likely to lose focus and have off-topic conversations. Avoid going off topic as best as you can, and hold each other accountable to maintaining focus on your work.
Create revision timetables
A revision timetable can be very helpful. Some people benefit from a completely structured day, while others struggle to stick to a full timetable. If this is the case for you, it can be a good idea to write a to-do list, rather than a detailed timetable. Make sure not to overestimate how much you can get done!
How can I get into the best mindset before my exams?
Feeling nervous before an exam is normal, and often these nerves can even be helpful. Some people get ‘test anxiety’, which causes nervousness before an exam.
There are ways you can mitigate anxiety and nerves, which helps to ensure that you are in the best possible headspace before an exam.
The night before an exam
- Stop revising at least an hour before your usual bedtime. Late-night revision won’t be effective, and if you don’t get a good night’s sleep you won’t be able to perform at your best.
- Pack everything you need so it is ready for the morning and you won’t forget anything.
- Take some time to relax – spend ten minutes sitting, breathing and thinking about the next morning. Practising mindfulness can help you feel calm and relaxed.
- Set your alarm and put your phone into ‘do not disturb’ mode so you can get some sleep.
The morning of the exam
- Make sure you eat a good breakfast: this will help you to concentrate during the exam and make sure you’re not hungry – especially if your exam is several hours long!
- Do something relaxing: go for a walk, listen to music or practise mindfulness.
- Allow plenty of time for the journey to your exam to make sure you’re not late.
- Breathe – you’ve got this!
I think I might need some help... what do I do?
Exams are not the be-all and end-all, and everyone has to do them. Try not to get yourself worked up over exams, as it can end up being quite damaging if you do.
If you find yourself feeling stressed or worried, make sure you talk to somebody to see what help they can offer you!
Speak to us
You don’t need to struggle alone. If you are struggling with exams, or are feeling stressed or worried about how you are doing, it might worth talking to someone. Our friendly mentors will always be on hand to talk with you to help you out.
Speak to somebody you trust
It is really important that somebody close to you, who you can trust, knows how you are feeling so that they can be there for you when you need them. Your friends may feel similar to you so could offer advice.
Speak with a teacher
Teachers experience exams every year, and are always working with students who might be struggling with their exams. Teachers know best about these things and will be able to support you.
How can I help myself?
Find revision resources
There are so many revision resources available out there. Your school will have some, but plenty are available online. Some resources include MyMaths, SaveMyExams, PhysicsAndMathsTutorand Quizlet. All of these resources can be found online to help with studying. Find out which work best for you!
Use in school support
Confiding in teachers, school counsellors or tutors about exam anxiety will help. These people have experience with previous students who have suffered from exam anxiety. If your anxiety becomes debilitating, speak to your tutor! They will be able to give you advice or help with exam accommodations.
Past papers are great
All past exams are saved and available for students to look back at questions that were set in previous years. Exam board websites are a great source of past papers, but your teachers may provide them as homework in preparation for the exam. You should definitely have a go at questions that have come up before.
Keeping calm is the best thing you can do. It can be tough to keep calm before an exam, especially if you are someone who suffers with exam anxiety. Finding methods of controlling your anxiety will really help you to keep calm. Sometimes just letting someone know how you are feeling will be enough.