Exam season has fallen upon us and everywhere I look there are panicked, stressed out students trying to cram two years worth of information into a disinterested brain. Why do they do this to themselves, one might ask? Teens… We never learn, but hopefully, I am here to change that. When I was doing exams last year, I was constantly regarded with a look of fear as I explained how I wasn’t stressed or anxious; despite a lack of revision or an impossible imminent exam. This is because unknowingly, I had coaxed myself into following three rules: Dedication, Preparation, and Relaxation.
Don’t get me wrong, by dedication I do not mean working on a single subject for five hours without rest until it is all completely memorised. What I mean is spending the time when revising to remove all possible distractions – yes, that means your phone – and giving yourself a chunk of time to focus. Easier said than done, right? Wrong. If you are struggling to focus, don’t beat yourself up, just take a break and come back afterwards, even if you can only work for ten minute periods, at least you are working. These little snip-its of time spent revising will begin to add up without you even noticing, as long as you stick at it (one ten minute session will not result in an A*).
When taking a break don’t waste your time or allow your brain to switch off. Flicking onto Netflix is not the way to go here, you will fall into the trap of the ‘next episode’ button far too easily. We all know no-one is strong enough to resist ‘just one more’. Instead, take a short walk, make a drink or have something to snack on. Your aim is to keep your brain stimulated but not working too hard.
Step 1 in ways to stress yourself out: making revision notes/cards in April when your exam is in May.
Step 2: realising that you have gotten some information in your notes/cards wrong the day before the exam.
We all do it – we go through the year thinking our exams are months and months away, but before we know it they are only weeks away. Even if you spend time beautifully making those biology revision cards, you’re only creating revision MATERIALS and not actually revising. Yes, some of that information will stick in your head but not all of it, so make your notes and flashcards etc. as you work through the syllabus, for example, if you learn about World War II in Year 10, make your revision notes in Year 10.
This type of preparation will seem boring and pointless when exams are a year or more off, but trust me, an extra ten minutes after your lesson making proper notes will save you a lot of grief later on.
For me this was THE most important part of my revision, taking time to plan a period when you purposely didn’t work. This meant planning to watch a movie one night, taking a day off in the holidays to go shopping, and always getting enough sleep. A motto I repeated countless times during my GCSEs was “If you don’t know it by 10 pm you won’t know it by 3 am.” Some of you might scoff at this, and I am sure for some of you working late into the night is when you are working at your best, however, the point I was trying to make was that trying to force information into a tired head won’t be helpful. The best way to be calm and ready for the exam the next day is to be feeling refreshed. This was my biggest secret: whether I had revised or not, I would make sure I had time to get enough sleep.
Obviously, I don’t speak for everyone, some people will work in a completely different way. My advice is to make use of the TIME you have: try out different techniques and see what works for you. If revising the day before an exam stresses you out, try not doing it then and do it a few days prior instead. If you are struggling to retain information, try a different revision method (there are loads out there). And if you can, try to remember that the stress you feel before an exam is not necessarily a bad thing – it is your body preparing you for the challenge to come.