Planning for E-Day: taking the stress out of exam time
Like a thundercloud looming over the horizon, exam season is creeping slowly but surely towards us. If you’ve ever sat an exam - and let’s face it, most of us have at some time in our lives – you’ll know what a nightmare the run-up to E-Day can be.
If, at this point, you are shaking your head in bewilderment, thrown into confusion over what the problem could possibly be, stop reading now. You are clearly one of those well-organised people who are able to plan their revision time and sail, calmly, through the whole exam period without turning a hair.
If, on the other hand, you have broken into a cold sweat merely thinking about swotting up…
DON’T PANIC!! Help is at hand.
However well we understand the theory behind managing revision, the reality for many of us is very different. When you find yourself setting the alarm for 3am in the hopes of cramming in a few facts before the exam starts at 10am, you obviously care enough to try to pass it but you could probably do with formulating a plan. And escalating stress levels aren’t just confined to students; parents too find themselves getting worked up as the tension at home rises.
So what can you do to make life easier for yourself and those around you in the run-up to the exams?
As far as revising goes, start by making a list of all subjects, and topics within those subjects, that need to be revised. If you are still at school your teachers will help you draw up the list. They will also highlight areas of weakness that need extra attention. And they will know the grades a student is aiming for, which dictates how deeply a subject has to be revised. A student aiming for a C grade at GCSE needs to know less than a student aiming for an A grade.
Count the number of revision topics. Allot 15 minutes to each and then look at your daily routine to decide when and where you want to revise.
Now you can start making your revision timetable, filling in your revision slots with topics until you have a master timetable, which details everything you have to do.
Start with a little revision time and build it up as your concentration levels improve. At the end of each week, allow a few minutes in your timetable to review topics.
Always start revision with topics you dislike most and finish with those that you like best.
Getting started at all is often the hardest thing. But once you’re off, proceed with caution. Keep the swotting initially to bite-sized chunks. Start with 10 minutes at a time and then take a 10 minute break. Then another 10 minutes work. No phoning friends, texting, looking out the window or playing with the dog in that time.
So now you've started and doubled the amount of work you normally do in the evening, all within 30 minutes of starting. But don't stop there. Build up the working periods to 30 minutes or so at a time - and keep the breaks at 10 minutes.
Preparing for the exam itself
Know where and when your exams are.
For each exam, make sure you know what you will have to do and what you will need to take with you. Mobile phones are banned from exam rooms so check where you can leave your phone while you take your exam.
For each exam, make sure you understand the appropriate number of questions from the right sections and which compulsory questions you will have to answer. Visualise yourself reading instructions carefully, planning your time, answering questions and reviewing what you've written.
This is not the time to embark upon a diet, take a new job or start staying up very late at night. Maintain a balanced lifestyle. Eight hours' sleep at night, regular exercise and a diet rich in fruit and vegetables all help performance during exams.
The night before your exam, avoid cramming; relaxing and having a good night's sleep will be much more beneficial. On the day, start with a leisurely breakfast, walk to school or college if possible and arrive in plenty of time.
Sitting the exam
Staying calm will reduce the nightmare and increase your chances of success. But if your mind still goes blank, don’t panic. If you worry and panic, as well as being more likely to misunderstand instructions, you have less chance of remembering information.
Focus on some deep breathing for a few minutes. Massage the temples and behind your ears to increase blood flow to the brain. If allowed, suck a glucose sweet and take sips of water.
To keep working, the brain needs both. As for your mind going blank, the information is there, you just have to get to it. Calming yourself relaxes the brain, information starts to flow and then you remember the things you knew all along. If after relaxing for a few minutes, you still can’t remember the answer, move onto the next question and come back to this one later.
Don’t try to be perfect. We all want the best possible grades that we can get, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that. If you think that ‘anything less than an A means I’ve failed’, then you are just creating unnecessary mountains of stress for yourself. Try to do your best, but remember that we can’t be perfect all the time.
Anxiety can be hardest to control if you find yourself running out of time. George Turnbull at the Qualification and Curriculum Association advises students to answer in outline if they are short of time. 'More marks can be gained by writing what you would do, outlining an argument or jotting down formulae without working through the actual calculations,' says Mr Turnbull.
Better something than nothing.