Exam day tips for GCSEs and A levels

12 May 2019 | Focus | Guest Author

Exams are a difficult time for everyone and GCSEs and A levels can be especially stressful. There are a few things you can do to minimise the effects of this and help you to succeed. Once you have all you revision out of the way follow these tips to give yourself the best chance of success.

1. Make sure you know where your exam is going to be

It will most likely be in one of the halls at your school, depending on the size of your year group and school it may be split over multiple different locations. Make sure you check, double check, and triple check which room you will be in. That way you can avoid stress in the morning.

2. Arrive early

You probably won’t be allowed in the exam hall until around 10 minutes before the exam starts but that doesn’t mean you can’t wait outside. Allow yourself plenty of time for travelling and allow an extra 10+ minutes to stand around. Use this time to calm down, go to the toilet, and make sure you are in the right head-space to perform your best. Try to ignore any annoying people talking about how confident they are and focus on yourself.

3. Pack your bag the night before

Okay, this isn’t strictly an exam day tip but it’s important! Make sure your bag is packed and you have your:

  • clear pencil case,
  • spare pens,
  • spare pencils,
  • ruler,
  • calculator (of applicable),
  • book (if applicable),
  • tissues,
  • bottle of water,
  • hair tiers (if you have long hair),
  • and your lucky charm!

You don’t want to be running around in the morning looking for anything (or worse, forget something important!) so make sure you’re prepared the night before.

4. Get a good nights sleep

There is absolutely no point staying up all night trying to cram every last bit of information about quadratic equations into your mind and then falling asleep on your exam paper. You need to be at your best. If you’re nervous and struggling to sleep try having a warm drink, reading a book (but not one you’ll be examined on), or listening to quiet, calming music. Wake up ready to face the day, and have a good breakfast before setting off.

5. Read the questions carefully

This may seem obvious but reading the question is incredibly important to success in an exam. Make sure you know what they are asking you to do. For questions that are worth more marks, underline any relevant sections (ideally in a different colour) and make sure your answer covers all the points mentioned and refers back to the question. When you are reading through your work, pretend you are the marker, where would you tick? It’s generally a good rule of thumb to aim for at least as many tick points as there are marks for the question.

6. Keep an eye on the clock

Or even better bring a watch! Make sure you know how long the paper is and how many questions there are. If you are spending too much time on a question move on and come back to it at the end. Always allow 10 minutes to go back through the paper at the end. You can often pick up marks you’ve missed earlier and this could be the difference between grades.

7. Leave it in the exam room

Once you’ve finished the exam, try your best not to obsess. If it went well, great! Carry that confidence with you, but if you’re worried about how you performed try to move on. Take lessons about exam technique and time management but stressing over where you missed marks could be detrimental to your performance in other exams. If you’re doing your GCSEs you will probably have more exams than you’ve ever had to do before (or will have to do after) so you need to make sure you move forward sensibly.

8. Remember self care

Exams are a stressful time and there is nothing more important than your mental health. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, ask for help! Your family, friends, and teachers want the best for you and may be able to reduce your stress. Make sure you spend some time outside as well, spending time around nature can be very calming, and remember, exams are important, but they’re not everything.


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