GCSE Exam Day: 10 Things You Should Do

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Amy studied at the University of Bristol and is our revision blog guru. She only graduated recently so understands the pressures of being a student better than most, and is here to share her wisdom so that you revise effectively, smash your exams, succeed at school and write cracking university and job applications.

This is it. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for. It’s exam day!

It may feel like everything is resting on how you perform on the day of your exam, but really this is just the tip of the iceberg – the culmination of all your hard work and revision over the previous months. An exam isn’t something to be afraid of: in fact, you should be excited to finally get the chance to show off your hard-won wisdom!

To give yourself the best chance of success though, you must take steps to prepare yourself the day before so that nothing can break your focus or stress you out on exam day. Check out our GCSE past papers today, and read on for our ten failsafe exam day tips…

The day before the exam:
1. Get a good night’s sleep

Good-quality sleep is a vital part of the revision process and is of even greater importance the night before a GCSE or A-Level 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 take that exam.

2. Pack your bag the day before

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 – as is especially common with GCSEs in particular – make sure you also pack food and snacks to refuel in between.

3. Plan your journey

You need to be 100% sure of when and where your exam will be, and plan a route  that will get your there in plenty of time, even if this means getting a lift or taxi instead of an unreliable bus or train. 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 or meltdowns.


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4. Eat a good breakfast

Exam day is not the day to skip breakfast, even if you feel like a bag of nerves. Your brain and body need fuel to perform at their optimum level, 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 revision summary sheet (or a couple of notecards) with you exam day can be great idea; reading these over beforehand will calm your nerves and help you 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 instead is about reminding you that, yes, you do know your stuff, and it will all be okay! Don’t forget to leave your notes outside the exam hall before you go in.

During the exam:
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 get going.

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. It’s easy to misread a question in the heat of the moment, 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 before in Save My Exams past papers.

Bonus tip: Make sure you don’t miss any pages when you’re working through your exam! 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 can feel 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.

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.

After the exam:
9. Avoid 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 out you wrote something different to your friend, 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 maybe 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 little bit closer in sight – you’re getting there.

Good luck!

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