This is it. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for.
It may feel like everything rests on your performance on exam day, but really it’s just the tip of the iceberg; the culmination of all your hard work and revision over the previous months. And it’s not something to be afraid of: in fact, it’s almost exciting to finally get the chance to show off your hard-won wisdom.
However, there are certain things that you should be doing before, during and after the exam to set yourself up for test success. Read on for our 10 Top Exam Day Tips...
1) Get a good night’s sleep
Good-quality sleep is a vital part of the revision process and is of even greater importance before the day of the exam. Don’t stay up late cramming information you’re unlikely to remember the next day – get eight hours of sleep to properly rest your body and mind so you’re firing on all cylinders when you sit down to that exam.
2) Pack your bag
Each exam requires different equipment. Carefully check you have the right things for the specific exam you’re sitting the next day and pack them into your bag the night before so you’re not rushing around in the morning trying to remember where you put your calculator.
Make sure you have at least three pens to hand (normally exam boards want black – but you should always double check) and a pencil as well.
If you have multiple exams on the same day, make sure you also pack food and snacks to re-fuel in between.
3) Plan your route
You need to be 100% sure of exactly when and where your exam will be and plan a route accordingly that will get your there in plenty of time. You should turn up at least 40 minutes before an exam is scheduled to start so that you’re ready to begin your test on time, with no last minute panics.
4) Eat a good breakfast
Now is not the time to skip breakfast, even if you feel like a bag of nerves. Your brain and body need fuel to perform their best and a good breakfast is vital for exam success. Eat slow-release, wholegrain carbohydrates (like porridge or wholemeal toast) and avoid overly sugary foods that will simply make you crash later on. And, if you fancy a pre-exam nibble, some studies show that eating a square of dark chocolate or a mint right before going into your exam can help boost brain performance!
5) Revision summary notecards
Taking a one-page revision summary sheet or a couple of notecards with you on the day of your exam can be great idea; reading these over beforehand will help calm your nerves and focus on the task in hand, rather than fretting with friends about possible questions. This is not about learning new information minutes before the exam but reminding you that, yes, you do know your stuff and it will all be ok. But don't forget to leave them outside the exam hall before you go in!
6) Take deep breaths
It can be easy to start panicking about what each exam ‘means’ in terms of grades and college or university places, but that’s a sure-fire way to stop yourself achieving your full potential. All you can do is your best and then handle the outcome later. Take some deep breaths to slow down your breathing and clear your head of these intrusive thoughts before you
7) Read every question 2-3 times
You’ve probably heard this advice over and over but it is crucial: read each question 2-3 times to make sure you really understand what it’s asking you. Underlining key words can help to focus your mind and let you know what type of question it is. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to misread a question and you don’t want to waste time or marks setting off on the wrong track.
Re-reading questions also takes away the fear factor. On first glance, a question may seem impossible, but a simple second look will reveal it’s actually one you’ve seen in the past papers many times before!
Bonus tip: Make sure when you’re going through your exam, you don’t miss any pages. It’s surprisingly easy to turn over two at once and miss something! Similarly, never forget to check the back page of the exam booklet, in case there's a final question on there too.
8) Keep track of time
Time doesn’t seem to work the same way in an exam – it feels like it’s going at double or even triple speed – but good time management means you can get everything done. Be strategic: jotting down the amount of time you have for each section in the margins can help you 'minute-budget' to keep you on track.
And if you feel you’re spending too long on one question that’s proving difficult, don’t be afraid to move on. You can answer the other questions first and then circle back to finish it.
Remember that, for many exams, the highest scoring questions appear at the end so you want to make sure you’re getting to those with enough time to spare.
9) No exam post-mortems
After the exam, it may be tempting to discuss questions with your friends and cross-check answers, but this is never a wise move. Sooner or later you’ll find you wrote something different for a question and that will only make you panic, for no reason, about something you can’t change. You need to be conserving your mental energy so you can focus on your other subjects and exams. It’s not anti-social to leave the exam hall and not talk about what just happened – it’s vital!
However, that’s not to say that each exam can’t be used as a personal learning experience. Maybe it showed you need to improve your time management or a certain revision technique helped you remember something better. These are all useful lessons that you can take on board to help you perform even better in your later tests.
10) Treat yourself!
Even if you have an exam later in the day, make sure to give yourself a little break to celebrate finishing your exam! Even if it’s just going for a walk or getting lunch somewhere. You’ve just done an exam and you should be proud of yourself. The end is that bit closer in sight: you’re getting there.