Exam season. An anxiety-ridden time for most, full of stress, last minute cramming and little time for yourself.
My personal experience of the GCSE/A-level exam panic cycle
At school and sixth form, I wanted to do myself and my teachers proud, so I probably panicked far too much and placed so many expectations on myself to ace my GCSEs and my A-Levels. It’s fair to say I did reasonably well; I didn’t get all A* grades, but I certainly didn’t fail.
The most important thing to remember here is that whatever your grades turn out to be in August if you don’t get the results you’d hoped for – you’ll always find another way. I loved my school, but let’s be honest – schools and sixth forms can be too focused on grades and getting everyone to university to boost their statistics. I know far too well that you’re not always made aware of alternative routes into various careers, but remember there is always another way.
Now I’m at university; it’s so surprising that no two people on my course followed the same route to get there, despite what school’s and colleges might want you to think.
1) Time spent planning is not time wasted
You don’t have to jump straight into a textbook. One of the best ways to start revising is to make a plan.
Through my GCSEs and A-Levels, before I even started trying to nail those facts, I created a simple word document to plan my revision. This contained every day until my last exam, and I highlighted my exam dates in bold so I could enjoy ticking off each date as it passed, knowing I was one step closer to being free from revision.
If you are going to create a plan, be realistic. I had friends who would sit in the same spot all day and spend hours revising one topic. This doesn’t work very well – at least ,not for me. It’s better to set out an outline of what you would like to revise on each day and divide your time up into thirty-minute intervals, with plenty of breaks in-between – you’ll retain far much more this way – I promise!
Be sensible – there’s no point starting your revision straight after you get home from school or college, give yourself a break first so you can be more productive later.
2) Hide your distractions – and app blockers can help
Your phone, your internet browser, your tablet and your smartwatch – these are the biggest distractions likely to be hindering your focus during exam season. We’ve all experienced the temptation of wanting to check Instagram and Snapchat when we’re meant to be revising, so don’t do it.
I’d like to bring your attention to two fantastic apps for smartphones and Macs which are SO useful; I wish they had been available when I took my GCSEs and A-levels.
- The first is called Flippd – it locks out all your installed apps or any specific apps you choose for a particular amount of time. Just set how long you’re planning on revising for, and it will block everything for the duration you want. Don’t worry, your phone will ping and everything will unblock itself after you’ve done.
- The next is for Mac. It’s called SelfControl, and the principle is the same -it allows you to block out certain websites while you’re revising.
We’re all human and easily distracted, so if you want to be more productive and hit those top grades, download one of these awesome apps, and you’ll be flying towards that happy ‘passed my exam’ feeling before you know it.
3) Find the right study space for you
I know that I can’t work from the same spot and remain productive for long periods of time. If you’re the same, then after each break on your revision plan, move to a different spot. Whether that’s the dining room, the garden or a local coffee shop or library – it doesn’t matter. In fact, I enjoy working from a coffee shop. I find the background noise and different environment relaxing, and I know that I’ve made an effort to leave the house and go elsewhere specifically to revise, and this helps me to keep on-task. The sooner you’ve done everything on your to-do list, the sooner you can go home.
Changing your workspace does work, trust me.
4) Essay plans are the best!
In any exams where you’re presented with a huge essay question, I found that something which really helped me to boost my grades was essay plans. As soon as the invigilator said “go,” I would be scribbling down an essay plan after looking through the questions on the paper and noting down anything and everything I could remember from my revision about that topic. It’s one of the best things you can do.
When you’ve got a short amount of time to write a huge fifty mark response to the question presented, it’s likely you’ll be full of panic and be rushing to get all of the facts down. Having some notes and a plan to refer to really helped me to stay focused and ensure I was hitting those key points.
It’s a huge relief too when you think you’ve forgotten something and look up to the top of your page and see it included in those notes you made earlier.
Moreover, remember the person marking your exam doesn’t know anything about you – so an essay plan will help them to see that you’re organised, and your essay will be easy to follow – they’ll love you for it.
5) It’s all about you
You’re the most important thing here, aside from everything you need to remember. Your own mental health and well-being are important. Give yourself some time off, because you WILL need it, and don’t ever compare your revision plan to what you’re friends are doing, because everyone works differently.
I found that taking some time to go to the cinema or spend some time with my family and friends helped me to remain focused and motivated during exam season. Plan your days off and fill them with your favoruite things. If you are struggling, make sure you talk to someone, whether that’s a teacher, your parents, a friend or your school/college support system. We all need a helping hand sometimes, and there’s lots of support around if you need it.
I hope that these tips will prove to be useful for you. Whatever exam you’re sitting, remember all you can do is try your best. And, if you do just that – you can enjoy the summer knowing you couldn’t have done any more. Good luck!