Our guide to taking the stress out of exams

Before the exam

Don't panic!

Exam nerves are normal but panicking will only make things worse and you may not be able to think clearly.

Stay positive

Believe in yourself. If you prepare for your exams properly you should do fine. Your teachers have worked hard to make sure you have studied everything you need for the exam. They believe you can do it and so should you.

Don't bottle things up

If the exams are making you feel worried or depressed, talk to your friends, your parents/guardians or your teachers. Don't bottle things up. You're not the only one to feel worried about exams - we've all been there. Remember, everyone reacts in different ways to exams.

Keep things in perspective

Exams might seem like the most important thing you have to focus on right now, but they are only a small part of your life. There are thousands of successful people who didn't do as well as they wanted in their exams. It's great to do well but remember that you can only do your best and that is what your teachers and your parents/guardians ask of you.

Plan

Timetables and study plans are important. You should know when your exams will be, so work out a plan or timetable for your study. If you don't know when the exams are, speak to your teachers or your examinations officer.

Make sure you leave plenty of time to revise so that you don't have to cram at the last minute. If you plan you will become more confident and will be better prepared for your exams so you should also be more relaxed. Include some flexibility in your plan in case something happens and you fall behind your timetable/schedule.

Use your plan or timetable to monitor your progress. If you fall behind on your plan or timetable, work out how to get back on track. Avoid falling behind further as you may become more stressed and anxious. Set yourself some realistic goals at each study period e.g. to cover a particular topic.

Study approach

Plan your approach to studying. There are many different ways to study. Some people prefer to study in silence, some like to work in the library; others prefer to work at home. Some people like to make short notes, others prefer to mix up the topics and subjects (e.g. divide them into difficult and easy topics). Many students find that using key words, memory aids and practising exam questions helps them prepare. Wherever you choose to study make sure you have plenty of room to set out your notes and books so you are organised.

Pick the approach that best suits you. Your teachers can help advise you on how you should study for their subjects. Test yourself on what you have learnt as you study.

Rest and relaxation

Make sure you allow yourself time for fun and relaxation away from where you are studying so that you avoid exhaustion. Include regular breaks into your study plan or timetable and make sure you get enough exercise and sleep to keep yourself relaxed and refreshed. If you exercise you will be able to sleep better and you will wake up refreshed in the morning.

If you feel you are starting to lose concentration, take a short break. Your mind is probably tired and you will waste time trying to study. The break will mean that you will come back refreshed. Research shows that taking breaks (e.g. 10 minutes for every hour of studying) will help your brain to learn and remember things and also lengthen your concentration. Don't overload your brain in a study session.

You are not wasting time by taking some time out to relax from your studies but are helping yourself to work more effectively.

Ask for help

If you don't understand something ask your friends, parents/guardians or your teacher for help. You may find that you can help a classmate in something they don't understand - you may be able to help each other. Don't stress yourself but take action to find out answers to problems.

Use revision papers

You can use revision papers to prepare mock exam answers which will help you focus your revision. They will also help you get used to the way questions are asked and how they should be answered. The more you practice, the more confident you will become.

You can also make up your own questions. There are also a number of study guides available that you might find useful and these can be purchased at most good bookstores.

Eat and drink well

Fizzy drinks, tea and coffee contain caffeine and this can mean that you're not able to think as clearly. You can keep your mind active by eating healthily and regularly. If you don't drink enough you could dehydrate and you may suffer from headaches, tiredness and poor concentration.

On the morning of an exam, make sure you eat breakfast. Go for something like wholegrain cereals e.g. bran or an egg, toast, bananas, all of which are slow energy burners.

Study away from distractions

Make sure you have a quiet area to study with no distractions. Turn the television and radio off. It has been proven that you cannot concentrate on your work as well with these distractions.

Don't fall into the trap of watching one programme and then starting your study. You'll quickly find that it is time to go to bed when you're about to turn off the television. This will only knock your studying back and cause you stress and anxiety. Take short rests during your study time for relaxation away from where you are studying. If your mind gets too tired you will have difficulty remembering what you have been studying.

If you prefer to study in the evening, don't go straight to bed afterwards because your mind will still be thinking over what you have learnt. Take some exercise, read a book, watch half an hour of TV,  or do something else that will help relax you from your study time.

Prepare everything you need for the exam

The night before the exam, make sure you have your calculator, your pens and pencils, your admission card and a watch so you can monitor your time during the exam. Your teacher or your examinations officer can advise you on what you are allowed to take into each examination.

Exam day rush

Instead of trying to learn new topics on the day of the exam, test yourself on your lists of key points. If you have prepared well, this will boost your confidence as you go into the exam.

Don't leave yourself short of time on the day of an exam. Work out how you are getting to the exam and make sure you have plenty of time to get there so that you are not rushed. If you have time, you may want to find a quiet place to relax rather than wait outside the examination centre with the accompanying noise and tension from your classmates.

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