Exams are the worst. Worse than your period coming early, worse than a silent fart not being a silent fart, and worse than finishing the biscuits without realising. Which we all know is soul-destroying.
I haven’t done an exam in a few years now but, oh boy, I remember it well and would 0/10 want to do an exam again. Exam season can take over your whole being and feel e x h a u s t i n g, whether you’re good at exams or not. And there is more to surviving exam season than scoring straight A*s – there’s also your health and happiness to think about. Remember them?
So, to push you along gently and calmly through revision and exam season, we’ve put together a big ol’ guide to utterly smashin’ it. YOU GOT THIS.
Rubbish exam myths to stop believing now
OKAY. Firstly, let’s put these in the trash:
‘How well you do in exams will dictate your whole life.’
FALSE. You always have options. Always. You are in control of the path your life takes, not your exam results.
‘Teachers, invigilators, and exam markers want to catch you out.’
NOPE. They want you to do the best you can. Obviously! Sometimes they can get picky because they want you to progress, and that’s ok.
‘You need to know your subject’s syllabus off by heart.’
WRONG. Exams aren’t about memorising (not all the time, anyway), they’re about how you understand things and then relaying that understanding. You can’t just write down the syllabus in your answers. You need to know HOW to answer questions.
‘Exams test how quickly you can answer stuff.’
NU-UH. They want to know your understanding, not how fast you can pick a fact out and write it down.
‘You need a photographic memory to do well.’
NO. Every mind is different and everyone revises differently. It’s not about memorising. Find tips and tricks that work for you.
‘Exams are meant to be horrible and stressful.’
INCORRECT. If you know your goals, get the support you need, and are in control of your revision, exams can be ok. Not beautiful, but ok.
‘REVISE FOREVER. A YEAR BEFORE, IN YOUR SLEEP, DOING A POO.’
NEGATIVE. I mean, if pooing helps, sure, but only so much revision is actually healthy and useful. Don’t let it take over your life.
‘Cramming is a terrible technique.’
QUESTIONABLE. Doing literally no revision until the night before is, um, probably unwise, but some people definitely prefer this technique. Maybe just don’t rely on it…
Your motivational mindset…
Right, with those myths now ripped apart, let’s get down to business. Before you start revising, get your focus in the right place; revising is done much better with your head in the game. Have your own individual goals. Don’t worry about what your teachers, family, friends, or society want from you – only YOU get to decide.
Do you want straight As?
Do you want to just pass everything?
Do you need a certain grade in a certain subject to study it at A level?
Do you want to do A levels at all? Or do you want to do an apprenticeship, diploma, or NVQ?
Do you just want to do your damn best?
Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, you can attack your revision accordingly. If you need an A or B in one subject then there’s no shame in revising that subject more than another. Just remember that these are your exams, and these are your decisions. Sometimes the decisions are hard and you can, of course, ask whoever you like for support and advice, but don’t let others dictate. You do what you gotta do.
And once you’ve had a word with yourself about how awesome you are and what you can, and will, achieve then you’ll walk into that exam hall STRONG AS HELL.
Back-to-basics revision tips
1. Drink enough water. Let’s start simple. Prevent headaches and keep your brain on point!
2. Get a good night’s sleep. You might think snoozing is wasting time, but it’s hella important to keep you healthy and focused. Let yourself rest, pals. Be at one with your bed. If you struggle with sleep, you can watch our video here and read our article here on how to perfect the art of zzz.
3. Eat well. We’re not saying go on a diet or to stop eating certain foods or anything, but having good, balanced meals and not loading up on heaps of sugar will help you sleep better and concentrate more. (But let yourself have fun too. You eat that Easter egg. Eat it hard.)
4. Make a plan, even if it’s only a rough one. Now we’ve got the bodily basics out the way, let’s plan. It might sound boring but it’ll keep you in control and allow you enough time for everything – including sleep and catching up with TV. Open Excel and get your colours out.
5. Take breaks, you’re allowed! Revising every minute of every day isn’t healthy for anyone. The breaks are just as important as the revision. Get outside, see your friends, and distract your brain with fun stuff.
6. Share out your subjects. Even though you might be focusing on one subject more than another, revising one thing CONSTANTLY is going to hurt, both your brain and your other grades. Make sure you do revision in bitesized bits. It’ll make it all a *little* more interesting.
7. Make revision fun. It is possible! Who knew? Your teachers may have shown you weird, fancy, seemingly-pointless techniques for revising but they probably work. Revising doesn’t have to be reading books, making notes, and memorising facts. Create a song, or a game, or just do your revision outside with massive bits of paper and coloured pens. (We like colour, have you noticed?)
8. Try out different ways of revising. Not everyone uses the same techniques. Start revising early to give yourself time to try out different strategies. Do what’s best for you.
9. Revise with friends. This is a tricky one, you have to be disciplined. Lay down some rules. 15 minutes of solo revision, 10 minutes chatting, 20 minutes revising together. Test each other. Encourage one another. SHARE COLOURED PENS.
10. Go to your school’s revision classes. This is revision handed to you on a plate, no matter how sick of school you are by this point. These classes could be worth it, especially if you struggle to revise at home.
Feeling stressed? Here comes the science bit…
We all get stressed for one reason or another throughout our lives, and a little stress is actually healthy for us. It’s a survival instinct. Fight or flight. But sometimes it can go into overdrive, and it’s only healthy stress if you can manage it.
But before we show you how to manage it, let’s get nerdy. WHY, when dealing with exams, do some people suffer with bad stress and anxiety? What’s happening in their bodies?
*rolls up sleeves and points to EXHIBIT A on flipchart*
There are four main reasons students suffer with exam anxiety, according to psychologist Martyn Denscombe:
1. Thinking about the outcome of exams and what it will affect (university, work, etc).
2. Their self-esteem. Those who think highly of themselves are likely to do better, but young people find it hard to think highly of themselves. Damn society! *shakes fist*
3. Being judged by friends and family.
4. Disappointing teachers.
That’s a recipe for disaster. When these fears kick in and the stress descends, your body releases cortisol, the hormone that throws out the fight or flight response. It causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise and palms to sweat. Y’know, to regulate your body temperature when you’re running away from that woolly mammoth… (stress hasn’t quite caught up with 2017 just yet).
Too much cortisol can faff around with your brain and particularly meddle with your memory recall. Ta-daa, welcome to the mind blank! It’s a real thing! It can also weaken your immune system, which is why so many get sick in exam season, and why you should make sure you’re in top shape to beast those papers.
This includes getting enough sleep. Studies show that if you only manage to get six hours of sleep instead of eight, your bloodstream has 50% more cortisol in it. So cramming until the early hours won’t do you any good when your cortisol crashes the party.
So how should I deal with the stress? TELL ME
GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Have we mentioned? A lot of stress-busters are the same as the brain-boosters we talked about earlier. Eat well, drink all that water. And exercise! It’s such a great way to shake out any stress and anxiety. It puts you back in control of your body, can be a great distraction for an hour or two, and can also tire you out so you can get all that sleep.
Speak to your parents, friends, or teachers way before your exams start to lay the ground rules. Discuss any worries you have, what isn’t helpful for you to hear from them, and what your (YOUR) goals are. This will put you in the driver’s seat and help others to know how to support you.
Remember that these exams will not change your life. They are not the be-all and end-all, no matter what people tell you. Don’t let them dictate your life. Just take responsibility for them like you would a puppy. And finally, LOVE YOURSELF. Practise some good ol’ self care and remember that you are awesome, you are capable, and you are enough.
But what if I panic DURING an exam?
Sometimes, no matter how much water you’ve drunk, sleep you’ve had and revision seshes you’ve bossed, the cortisol can take you by surprise. Don’t be ashamed if you panic, just know how to deal with the mid-exam panic should it happen. Like so:
1. Look around you. So many people in the same boat, right? You’re all in this together. People do exams year on year. No big deal. It’s just like a big classroom.
2. Look outside a window, if there is one. Or just imagine what’s happening outside. A whole world full of other stuff happening. Some more important, some less important. This exam is nothing compared to the bigger picture.
3. Now breathe. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply, then exhale. Do this for as long as you need to. Feel that sweet oxygen throughout your body. Wiggle your toes. Sit up straight and feel your back stretch.
4. Have a drink. Not a big gulp, just a lot of little sips. Have a sweet too if you’re allowed to bring those in.
5. Tell your panic to ‘do one’. It doesn’t control you. You have no interest in entertaining it. NOT TODAY, THANK YOU.
6. Think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Mmmmm, spag bol. Just got to finish this exam then it’s all yours.
7. Don’t be ashamed of putting up your hand and asking an invigilator if you can step outside for some fresh air if you need to. The invigilators are there to support you.
8. Remember that dealing with panic for a few minutes or more will do you much more good than adding to the panic because you think you don’t have time to deal with the panic. Panic within panic. Panic-ception. You DO have time, and you’ll fly through the exam once the panic is kicked in the face. Look after yourself first.
Final words of wisdom to remember
Exams can suck. Not all people can tackle them well, and that doesn’t seem fair. But this is a tiny part of your life. Don’t let it get you down. You are AWESOME. YOU’RE GREAT. YOU’VE GOT THIS. You are in control of how this goes. Grab all the support you need and GO FORTH, MY CHILD. You are always stronger than you think. Always.
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Image: Hailey Hamilton