Less stress, more success. Twenty tips for surviving and thriving during the exam period

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The exam period can be a time of great stress and anxiety for young people in schools and colleges.

Here are twenty tips to help with revision, taking exams, and surviving the exam period with your emotional wellbeing intact. I hope you'll find that some of the ideas work for you.

Have a tip of your own to share? Submit a comment at the bottom of the post, or respond to us on Twitter or FaceBook.

Revision tips

1. An obvious tip to get you started! Have a day by day revision plan and try your absolute best to stick to it. If you have lots of exams (e.g. GCSE), then make sure that your revision plan matches up to when your exams are actually taking place. Take the time to look at your exam timetable, and work out how to make best use of your revision time to arrive at each one as well-prepared as you can.

2. When you're revising, work in shorter, focussed blocks of time with a clear goal for each session, e.g. "To memorise the main causes of World War I". A suggested pattern is to work intensively for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat this four times to give a 2 hour revision session in total. Then take a longer break. (This technique of dividing your time is based on something called the Pomodoro Technique, if you're interested!).

Bonus tip: don't use the 5 minute breaks to begin any potentially distracting tasks (video games, social networking, watching YouTube) ... that 5 minutes can easily turn into 10, 15, 30 minutes if you do that! Instead, get out of your seat, take a very quick walk around the house, grab a drink of water or a healthy snack, stroke the dog, and then get back to work.

2. Revising does not just mean reading! Make sure that your revision sessions include other activities: condensing what you’ve learned in a list of key points, putting ideas onto flash cards, creating mindmaps, intensive reading of your notes for a short period of time, followed by practising writing down key points. Maybe even record key ideas onto your phone, and listen back to them later. Use memory exercises to help you to remember key facts and ideas. There are lots of websites and videos out there with tips for memorising facts.

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4. Find out what works for you. Does revising in silence work best, or with quiet music? What time of day are you most effective? At the end of each session, think about what went well and what didn't? How can you make it better next time? Be honest with yourself about what is working and what is not. Revision is a process. Try to get better at revision as time goes on.

5. If you can, get family members and friends involved in your revision too. Get them to ask you questions. Ask them to sit and listen while you explain the key ideas of a topic to them. Here's a little known secret about teachers: you'll be surprised how many times they have only thoroughly learned a topic shortly before they taught it to you. Having to teach someone else is a great motivation for learning, so make use of this: give yourself 30 minutes of intensive revision of a topic, and agree with a parent or carer that you’ll then spend 10 minutes explaining what you’ve learned to them.

6. If you have a poor revision session - maybe you're distracted, maybe you got distracted sending WhatsApp messages to a friend - don't beat yourself up too hard about it. Make it better the next time!

7. Speaking of distraction ... be brutally honest with yourself about things which are likely to distract you, and take steps to remove them from your revision environment. Leave your phone with a parent or in another room. If you’re using a laptop or tablet to revise, turn off notifications from the apps that are likely to pull you away from your revision. Mute WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook notifications. Delete the apps, or log out from any services that might distract you, leaving them only on your phone ... then leave that somewhere else in the house.

8. Prioritise your revision. Don't just revise the subjects or topics you find most interesting. It's very tempting to only focus on the subjects that you like the most! Equally, don’t get caught up on one topic that you find to be particularly difficult, especially if it's quite a 'minor' topic that is only likely to contribute a few marks in your final exam. Make a note of the topic somewhere and come back to it later, or take the time to ask your teacher to run through it with you in a lunchtime or for a few minutes after school.

9. Be as familiar as you can with the format of the exam papers you'll be taking. Don't just revise ‘knowledge’, practise answering real exam questions from previous years. Many exam boards publish past papers and the mark schemes onto their websites. If you're not sure, ask your teacher.

Motivating yourself and reducing stress

10. If you're struggling for motivation, think about your goals. Revision is essentially a conflict between the short-term 'unpleasantness' of revision and achieving longer term goals. I know that today, right now, you'd rather be playing Fifa or SnapChatting than revising! No one blames you for that. But in six months time you'd rather have achieved your goals and be taking those A Levels or beginning that apprenticeship, college course or university degree you dreamed of. Write that longer term goal onto a Post-It note, and stick it onto the wall in front of your revision desk .... maybe even turn it into an image and make it the wallpaper on your phone! Keep that goal at the forefront of your mind, and every time you're tempted to cheat yourself on your revision, think about that goal.

11. The greatest cause of exam stress is worrying about the outcome, and the greatest cause of that worry is procrastination, delaying or postponing your revision, or doing it in a half-hearted way because there is 'plenty of time before the exams start'. Delaying your revision, or allowing multiple 'bad' revision sessions to pile up will only build your stress levels. You'll know that things aren't going well, and this will increase your anxiety. Remember: the date of the exam will come around. It might be six weeks away, but it will be here soon! Even if you’ve left your revision late, you’re much better to start now than tomorrow. Your task is to arrive in the exam hall as calm and confident as you can, and the way to do this is to be as prepared as possible.

12. Take care of yourself in the exam period: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and eat healthily. Get some exercise too: maybe a quick walk ... listening as you walk to key points you've recorded previously onto your phone maybe? Plan this exercise into your schedule. Don't be tempted to have a late night of binge-watching of Netflix or online gaming. A late night will likely ruin the following day of revision too. A tired you will be distracted and lacking in focus ... not good when you're trying to revise.

13. On the day / night before the exam, focus on the key points about each of the topics in the exam the following day. Hopefully, you'll have condensed these down onto flash cards or mindmaps, or 'topics on a page' or mindmaps. Review these repeatedly, but make sure you also get a good night’s sleep.

14. Share how you're feeling with friends and family members, and allow them to support you! If you’re feeling really anxious, be honest with them about that. They will want to help.

In the exam itself

15. Think of the exam from the point of view of the examiner who will be marking it. He or she will see your paper as just one among a huge pile of exam papers that they'll be working through. Remember that the examiner will have a mark scheme for marking your paper, and will be looking for answers in your paper that match up to what’s in that mark scheme. Make their life easy: make your language as clear as possible, explaining the key points and using the correct terminology and language for the topic.

16. For longer answer questions, spend a couple of minutes structuring and jotting down the key points you want to make in your answer before you begin writing. You're much more likely to communicate the key points when you've done it this way.

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17. Look at the number of marks that are available for a question. Generally speaking, for written exams, the number of marks is the number of different points you should be making in your answer, sometimes with additional marks for the quality of your spelling, grammar, and communication. Don't 'wax lyrical' about one key point, explaining it repeatedly in different ways. That one point you've made is likely to be worth only one mark, whether you’ve explained it clearly in two sentences, or have rambled for 500 words about it!

18. For subjects where you're showing your working, or are laying out formulas - e.g. Maths or Chemistry - lay out your working as neatly as you can, in the order that you worked through it. In many exams, even if you've got the final answer incorrect, there are marks for showing your working out. Give the examiner the best chance possible to award you those marks.

Try to keep perspective

19. If you take an exam that really doesn't go well - maybe it was just a really hard paper, or maybe the topics you wanted didn't come up - try your best to move on, looking ahead to your next exam, and focussing on what's to come rather than worrying about the previous paper.

20. Exams are important, but so too, and even more so, is your mental health. If you're really struggling with anxiety and stress about your exams, please don't suffer in silence. Speak to adults that you trust, and seek help and support. Remember, even if you don't achieve absolutely everything you wanted in your exams, you still have future options, including re-takes ... but don't use these future options as an excuse to not do your best now!

Finally ...

If you're revising for exams, I hope some of these tips are helpful. Be as prepared as you can, try to arrive in your exams feeling calm and confident, and all the very best for exam success, and managing your stress, from me and HeadStart.


Find more help

Here are some more resources that might help:

Sleep Easy 2018 by Crissy, HeadStart Ambassador

(Posted with permission from Crissy's personal blog - see https://crissyleigh.com/2018/04/02/sleep-easy-2018 for the original post)

So on Friday the 23rd March I took part in the YMCA Sleep Easy challenge. The tag line is “sleeping rough so others don’t have to”. For me taking part in this was something out of my comfort zone. I hate being cold, not having enough sleep and generally being uncomfortable.

It’s took me a week to write this post as I wanted to ensure I wrote what I felt. In the time I spent doing this challenge I reflected a lot on things that I take for granted and also had a change of perspective.

I got there for 7pm and I met everyone, got signed in and was given two boxes to make my little ‘house’ for the night. Other people started arriving and everyone was having a chat. I didn’t actually know anyone so was just talking to a few people. There was a competition for the best decorated box, so we had a bit of a laugh painting the boxes and sticking random stuff on.

We had a bit of food, listened to some stories of how YMCA Sleep Easy will help benefit those in need and also had a couple of buskers play for us.

Around 11, everyone was settling down going to their ‘beds’. By this the time the temperature had considerably dropped and even though I had 4 lots of layers top and bottom I was still freezing.

Throughout various points of the night I wanted to cry. I was cold, uncomfortable and in pain. At around 3am I was ready to throw in the towel, my head was killing as I still hadn’t slept and I just wanted to go home. This was when it really hit me, those who live like this every single night have no choice at all.

The impact it must take on these people physically and mentally is ridiculous. Something needs to be done as this can no longer and should no longer be happening. Every person has the right to somewhere safe to live, to be healthy and to be equal. I hope that this year is the year where change begins to happen and every person who is in that situation will not have to sleep rough again.

This experience changed my perspective on so many things, including how lucky I am, what I can do to help others and how just to be a better version of me.

Below you can see a little snapshot video of my night put together by HeadStart for me.

Bye for now

Crissy xo

A message from our HeadStart Head of Service, Kevin Pace

Dear colleagues, partners, parents and young people,

This will be my final post for HeadStart Wolverhampton as I am leaving the programme on the 31st March.

I have led HeadStart since early in 2014 and it has been quite an adventure! All we had back then was an offer from Big Lottery to apply for funding to be included in the national HeadStart programme, and an awful lot of work to do to pull our thoughts, ideas and proposals together. Of course, this we managed to do, and I am proud to have played my part in securing nearly £11m for Wolverhampton to invest in the resilience and mental wellbeing of our young people aged 10-16.

A programme like HeadStart can never be the work of one person however, and we simply could not have secured the funding, nor made the progress we have without the combined efforts of a lot of people, both within the HeadStart team, within the City of Wolverhampton council as lead partner, and from our partners in the community and other organisations. Plus, very much, the commitment, enthusiasm and determination of hundreds of Wolverhampton’s young people who have guided us, challenged us and ensured that their contribution has steered our direction and decision making.

I am, of course, sad that I won’t be seeing the programme through the remaining three years of Phase 3, but at the same time, I am looking forward to new adventures and the freedom to pick and choose some interesting projects to support. Every leader has to decide when it is the best time to go, and for me, this seemed to be as good as time as any, with the programme at full delivery, led by a strong, energetic leadership team and some very dedicated staff. The programme also has some strong delivery partners, some fabulous young people Ambassadors and HeadStarters who are fully engaged and co-producing with the team, and some very committed parent and community ambassadors all playing their part in helping HeadStart to meet its programme objectives and Big Lottery outcomes.

I have been asked by Big Lottery to stay a friend of HeadStart and I will certainly continue to champion the HeadStart programme and the mental health and mental wellbeing needs of young people. I will continue to be an active observer of the programme and support my colleagues in Wolverhampton or the five other areas as required. There is still so much to do to ensure that young people have a platform to both express their needs and contribute to having their needs met, both across education and health.

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I would like to thank all my colleagues, partners, parents and young people for the support you have given me over the past four years, I absolutely could not have done this without you. I wish you every success in the future. I may slow down a little bit now and make a little bit more time for myself and my family, but I am still going to be involved in this work in new ways so please do say hello when our paths cross. I know our young people will always be very keen to let me know what is going well, and not so well!

Very best wishes,

Kevin