Exam Life: Performing Under Pressure

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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.

After weeks of revision, there’s often a lot riding on your exams, and you might be feeling the pressure. Here’s our advice for staying focused and keeping your cool during the exam, so you do yourself justice. 

Tips for Exam Success and Focus

1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before 

Do not underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep the night before an exam! Being well rested will help you stay focused and calm. Staying up until the early hours to cram will leave you feeling cranky, anxious and tired.

In order to aid a good sleep, don’t consume sugary food or caffeine after 6pm the night before an exam. Also, put down the revision notes and turn off your phone by 9pm at the very latest.  Taking a bath, or reading a book (something not related to the exam), just before you go to bed can also help you switch off and relax.

Aim for lights out by 10 or 10:30pm, so you can get a solid eight to nine hours’ sleep and feel super well-rested before your exam then next day.

When you wake up, don’t forget to eat a good breakfast!

2. Take a bottle of water into the exam with you 

Taking water into an exam is really important, so you can stay hydrated throughout. The last thing you want is an incoming headache; or to get too hot on a warm day and have no way of quenching your thirst. Things like this could distract you, and affect your performance on the day.

A bottle of water is therefore really important – just remember to take the label off!

3. Focus on the task at hand

Sometimes thinking about your end goal can help motivate you; but when it comes to the actual exam, take this context out of your head and just focus on the task at hand.

The bigger picture – such as entry requirements or career aspirations — might only freak you out, so block all this noise out when you sit your exam. Stay focused and concentrate on doing what you’ve practiced.

4. Don’t waffle

Examiners are looking for depth and understanding in your answers, so show them that you know what you’re talking about.

Sometimes, when the clock is ticking, it’s tempting to just put down as much information as you possibly can because something you’ve written might hit the jackpot. But don’t be afraid to take a minute, have a think, plan your answer and choose the information you want to write down carefully.

You are also free to ask the invigilators to provide additional paper for notes, should you need more space for planning.

A considered answer will look far more impressive than a panicked one. Don’t let the pressure of the exam stop you from doing yourself justice!

5. Work methodically

When you sit down for an exam the adrenaline starts pumping, which often makes it tempting to speed up. Speed is helpful but you don’t want to rush through the questions; stick to your timings and be methodical about your work.

Being systematic and staying relaxed will ensure you’re thinking clearly about what you’re writing, so you’ll make less mistakes. Working steadily will also keep you calm, and stop you from panicking should you encounter a difficult question. Stick to the game plan!


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6. Make sure you’re well practiced

You wouldn’t perform in a musical in the West End without rehearsing first, so you shouldn’t perform an exam without regular practice either.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: past papers are crucial when it comes to preparing yourself for exams. They’ll help you get your timings right and render the question style and paper format totally familiar, so you’ll feel less daunted by the real exam.

Finally, practicing lots of answers and marking them yourself helps you commit things to memory and get your head around the mark scheme, so that you know what to do to get top marks.

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