Exam Day Tips

May 7, 2019

With the first GCSEs starting next week, many students will be facing many potentially stressful exams – often with more than one exam each day for a period of several weeks. Having some strategies for what to do on the day of exams is very important to give students the best chance of performing at their best.  Here are my top tips for exam day:

  1. The Night Before - Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before each exam. It’s pointless spending time cramming till the early hours as the brain will be under extra stress and the information simply won’t be effectively absorbed. It is far more beneficial to spend time early on in the evening going over revision resources, notes and past papers briefly and then spending the rest of the time relaxing and de-stressing. Try to establish an effective routine to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of getting to sleep quickly and easily. This could be taking a bath, listening to a relaxing playlist, doing a guided visualisation or meditation exercise, watching a favourite TV programme or spending time talking with friends or family. Avoid activities (and people!) that will add to your stress and anxiety.
  2. The Morning of Exams - Create a helpful morning routine including eating a healthy breakfast that will keep you full and able to focus. Make sure you have all your equipment to hand such as pens (including at least one spare), calculator, ruler etc all in the correct type of pencil case if necessary. Make sure you have a bottle of water too to make sure that your brain can stay hydrated which will boost your ability to focus and concentrate. If you have time you could go over some flashcards or mind maps of topics you may need to work on a bit more, but you shouldn’t spend a long time cramming before each exam as this is likely to increase your stress levels.
  3. At School - Once at school, make sure that you are around positive people. Try really hard not to allow yourself to be influenced by other students’ stress. Many people will tell you how anxious they are feeling before an exam. Practice saying positive phrases to yourself to stay calm. Phrases such as “I’ve spent lots of time revising. I know this subject well” or “This is just a way of showing how much I know about this subject” or “It will all be over in 90 minutes then I can relax” can be very helpful.
  4. In the Exam Room – Establish a routine you do at the start of every exam. Try to do everything in a set order so you train your brain that it’s time to start working. Get out your pens, water bottle etc and then do an exercise to get you in the right zone for exams. Breathing exercises work really well.  Try ‘Square Breathing’ which involves tracing the outline of a square with your finger (or using your eyes to move around the shape of a square you can see eg a window, table or whiteboard). Start in the bottom left hand corner. Breathe in as you trace the shape of the square up to the top left corner, then hold your breath as you trace along the top line of the square, breathe out and trace the line of the square down to the bottom right corner and then hold with empty lungs along the bottom of the square and back to the start position. A few square breaths can really help to calm your brain down and give it enough of an oxygen boost to get the thinking part of the brain working. The other exercise you could try is called ‘The 3 Zones’. Spend 30 seconds looking round the room and count as many colours as you can, then spend 30 seconds counting as many sounds as you can.  Finally spend 30 seconds focusing on how your breathing feels when you breathe in and out. This exercise acts as a quick brain reset and also helps to make you feel more grounded and able to concentrate.
  5. Exam Strategy – Once you open the exam paper rather than jumping straight in take a look through the questions and see which ones you can do easily. Often it’s a good idea to answer these ones first. It gets them out of the way and enables you to get a confidence boost early on rather than getting bogged down with a more challenging question straight away which could knock your confidence. Once you know the kinds of questions on the paper you can prioritise your time accordingly. Make sure you split your time effectively for the marks available. For example it is better to spend longer on a question if it is worth more marks and less time on a question if it is only worth a couple of marks. During the exam make a conscious effort not to get distracted by what other students are doing. Do everything you can to focus on your own performance rather than on speculating how everyone else is doing.
  6. Immediately after the Exam – There is always the routine ‘exam post-mortem’ following each exam. Be very careful not to get influenced by lots of discussion after the exam and how everyone else answered the questions. The exam is over and you can’t do anything about it now. Your focus needs to be on your next exam and what you need to do to perform at your best. Make sure you take a break before getting down to more revision and perhaps reward yourself after each exam with something you really enjoy.
  7. When all your Exams are Over – RELAX AND ENJOY THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS!!

I hope you have found this article interesting and have some ideas to share with your children. If you need extra help with GCSE revision strategy then take a look at my HeadsUp! Revision Strategy programme. Designed specifically for year 10 and 11 students to take the stress out of revision and make it more enjoyable! Available as a half day workshop, 4 part webinar series or a 1-2-1 tailored programme.


Practical and interactive workshops to improve the effectiveness of GCSE revision and boost motivation.

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The HeadsUp! Webinar Programme is a series of 4 live and interactive webinars covering all aspects of GCSE revision.

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For students who prefer a more personalised approach, over 4 one hour 1-2-1 sessions we will cover a variety of techniques an strategies to improve GCSE revision strategy – either in person or via Skype

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for 7-11 year olds full of strategies to boost confidence, reduce worries, deal with anger and improve friendship skills.
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Calm Tookit for Parents stackEasy, useful and highly effective strategies to keep you in control even when your kids are pushing your buttons!
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Parent PowersA 4 week programme to take the stress out of being a parent and make family life more enjoyable.
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This post was written by Beth Parmar