What I Wish I Knew Before Exam Season

As we get older, we fondly look back on certain periods of our life. Now, I will not claim I'm entering a quarter-life crisis as I am not pedantic, contrary to popular belief among my friends. However, being in and around the education industry for a good period of time, dealing with students and teachers on a daily basis, I have been reflecting on what I wish I knew before heading into my GCSE exams in 2014.

There have been a fair few changes since then like the removal of letter grades (still don't understand that one) but the overall feel of the exams is identical so I feel like I am well placed to share my thoughts on the matter.

So I am going to share some tips and tricks I have learnt over the last few years that I wish I had known before going into exams to achieve those higher grades and come out of GCSEs with greater confidence in my capabilities.

Take Breaks (I beg you)

This one is especially for those of you sitting exams soon and hunched over a desk every waking hour of the day. As tempting as it may be, do not sit for hours on end without taking a break. It's not only bad for your brain but can also lead to making careless mistakes, trust me I have made a few and it is not enjoyable.

The best way to avoid this is to set yourself time intervals where you will take a break. For example, after an hour of being sat at my desk whether it was through university or even now at Sherpa, I will take a five-minute break to get up and walk around, drink some water, make a coffee or even stretch. I promise this will help refresh your mind and make you more alert when you return.

Another thing to note is that if you are feeling overwhelmed during the exam, it is perfectly okay to take a break. Do not feel guilty about it, you are more likely to do worse if you continue trying to answer questions when you are not in the correct frame of mind. Take 30 seconds to look around, up from your paper and take some deep breaths

TLDR: Take a break every hour for a min. of 5 minutes.

Meditate and Destress

Now, I am not a monk and I don't have any skills in meditation but I know for a fact that it works. If you can find even five minutes to yourself during the day, take it and use that time to clear your head and meditate.

There are plenty of guided meditation videos on YouTube or apps like Headspace which can help you to focus on your breath and clear your mind. This is especially helpful if you are feeling stressed about the exam as it allows you to take a step back and approach the situation more logically.

In addition to meditation, I would also recommend doing some yoga or stretching. Again, this will help to release any tension you are carrying around and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

TLDR: Find 15 mins to meditate, do yoga or stretch each day.

Invest in a Tutor

Now, I know what you're thinking: "I am not going to spend my money on a tutor when I can just revise by myself" and trust me, I have been there. However, if you are feeling particularly stuck or struggling with a topic then it may be worth investing in a tutor for a few sessions.

A tutor can help you to focus on the areas you are struggling with and give you the extra support you need. They can also help to build your confidence for the exam and give you some practice exams to work through.

If you do decide to go down this route, be sure to do your research and find a reputable tutor who has experience in teaching your subject. Sherpa Online provides a wide range of qualified UK teachers and tutors who can help boost both grades and confidence. I know from personal experience that I prefer being guided instead of fed information and teachers have mastered this art.

TLDR: If struggling, invest in a tutor.

Practice Reading and Listening

One of the main reasons I wish I had known these tips before my GCSEs was because it would have saved me a lot of time. When you are reading a question, be sure to read it TWICE. Once to get an understanding of what is being asked and secondly to look for keywords that will help you answer the question.

It is also important to read the question properly as this will help you to understand what is being asked. For example, if a question asks for two examples of something, don't give four.

In addition to reading, it is also important to practice your listening skills. This can be done by listening to audiotapes of lectures or even audiobooks.

Ever since starting university, I have become a massive fan of listening to audiobooks, having Stephen Fry whisper about the magical world of Harry Potter and Andy Serkis read through the Lord of the Rings. I have seen my information retention grow and it has expanded my vocabulary as I am exposed to new words.

TLDR: Read and listen to the material to practice.

Don't take them TOO seriously (sounds odd, but stick with me...)

This is not me telling you not to try. Do not use this as an excuse because it won't wash.

When I say 'don't take them too seriously' it actually eludes to your reaction as you come out of the exam hall and that exam is done. We are all culpable of overthinking and panicking, no more so than when we have just done something so profound and important that could affect our lives going forward.

Well, it may come as a shock and you will have heard it before but a grade, whether it is a letter or a number does not define you or who you will/can become.

I distinctly remember walking out of each of my exams and being terrified. I couldn't eat, sleep and was frankly miserable to be around. Realistically, that was a stupid way to feel because I could do absolutely nothing about it from that point on.

So once you are out of that hall and the exams are behind you, put them as far out of your mind as possible and move on to the next thing that can propel you forward.

TLDR: Don't take them seriously when you have no effect on the outcome.

Author's profile picture

James Gurnett

8th March

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