Exams are like bike seats – hard, often uncomfortable and sometimes a real pain in the arse. But, like bike seats, they’re essential if you’re going to get anywhere. Whether you’re facing GCSEs, A-levels or university finals, follow these simple exam tips and get ahead of the game…
If I could give you one single piece of exam advice it would be this: exams are there to test what you know, not catch you out on what you don’t.
No exam is designed to trip you up, break your spirit or show up the gaps in your knowledge. This is simply your opportunity to show someone who isn’t your tutor what you’ve learned.
Walk in with that attitude and you will be 100% better off.
Of course, revision is to exams what varnishing fences was to Karate Kid: pretty hecking important. Luckily, the lovely Rachel Segal Hamilton has already written you a guide for that.
Instead, let’s concentrate on that more immediate preparation. Exams are usually held either in the morning or after lunch. Either way, make sure you’ve eaten something – preferably something that will give you a slow release of energy without making you need the loo every five minutes (your nerves will have turned your bladder against you anyway). Bananas, brown bread, nuts, pasta – all the good ’uns.
Also, if you’re going into a humanities exam – one that involves essay-like answers – then maybe walk to the exam on your own. You’ll want a few minutes of quiet to settle your thoughts.
Finally, in the words of student Katie Brown via Twitter, "Avoid other people who are panicking. Have faith in yourself – don’t let others’ stress get to you". So, if your friends tend to verbalise their anxiety, just politely excuse yourself and go off on your own to psyche up.
Get in the zone
Whether it’s visualising how you’re going to celebrate afterwards, listening to a rousing song (I, of course, would recommend Eye of the Tiger), going for a short walk or just sorting through your pens, build yourself a little calming ritual to do before each exam.
Don’t look through your notes outside the examination hall – this is not the time for cramming. It is much more useful to feel exam-ready than it is to be frantically reading through stray bits of revision.
Once you’re in the room
Okay. Breathe. If other people easily distract you – especially their sniffing – then put in some earplugs. Take a minute to collect yourself.
Read through your exam paper or exam brief carefully. The whole thing. It’s good to know what’s coming up, so you have time to prepare and don’t repeat yourself.
Also – and this might not work for everyone – I would recommend starting with the easiest question first, to ease yourself in.
Argue the living shit out of that exam
Arts and humanities subjects, in particular, are your chance to show what you know through a really good argument. Show your reading, address the wording of the question directly (seriously – quoting words from the question is an old trick, but it works), show your awareness of other arguments but make your own as clearly and cleverly as you can. As IdeasTap member Sophie Petzal says, “Imagine you're in a court room, being really awesome and interesting and your essay is your closing statement. Convince yourself what you're writing is interesting, chances are it will be, and chances are the marker will agree!”
What to do if you get stuck
Mind blanks happen to the best of us. Try not to panic, give yourself a minute to reapproach the problem, think laterally and, if you still can’t think of anything, then simply try to find a best fit with something you do know. Most exam questions are open enough for you to turn them round to suit you.
The come down
After an exam you will be on a huge adrenaline high. Don’t turn that adrenaline into anxiety by raking back through what you’ve done with everyone else. This is a comedown – not a postmortem. What’s done is done. You’ve finished it now: just let it go.
Some other useful sources of exam tips:
BBC's exam doctor
Edexcel tips from students
Cambridge students’ revision tips
To everyone doing exams this summer, on behalf of everyone at IdeasTap, I wish you the very best of luck. Exams are not the be all and end all – they’re just your time to shine. Bonne chance!
Read more How to articles.
ZeLIG Admission Exam 2010 by zeligfilm via Flickr under a (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.
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