15 Tips on How to Survive Exams | LibroLiv

Last year, I was scouring the internet for pages giving advice on exam season, and how to knuckle down and get the grades you want without going crazy. I didn’t find very many helpful ones, so I decided to make one of my own. I hope this helps someone out there!

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  • This is such an important step in the journey to passing your exams: starting your revision. (You must know by now that not revising is equivalent to purchasing a one-way ticket to failure. Sorry.)
  • It’s important to make your revision notes during the school year. Spend time making them colourful so important notes stand out. Spend time making flashcards. Spend time making quizzes. These will all be very useful to you when your exams get closer. If you wait until the run up to your exams to make these notes, they will be of poor quality, and won’t aid your revision half as much as starting them early would. Trust me.
  • This doesn’t mean to say you should do tonnes of revision at the beginning of the year. This is definitely a no-no; you’ll tire yourself out, and the idea of revision when it really matters (the few weeks before you exam) will be enough to sicken you. Make the notes, but don’t cram revision.
  • Starting early also means you can spot your weaknesses, and rectify them before it’s too late.
  • Relying on the night before your exam to revise is just plain stupid. Build up your revision weeks – even months – in advance for your exams.
  • Pace yourself. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you quiz yourself one day, and don’t get 100%, don’t be disheartened – just try again the next day, and the day after that, until you do get 100%.

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  • Honestly, revision guides are invaluable when studying.
  • At the beginning of the year,  ask your teacher which exam board you use, and then buy the corresponding revision guide. Make sure you ask each of your subject teachers, though, as – in the majority of cases – different subjects take different exam boards. My GCSE exams were done on AQA, OCR, Edexcel, and WJEC.
  • Unfortunately, you cannot rely on your teacher to have taught you everything, nor can you fully rely on your past self to have made flawless notes – you may have missed a lesson, you may have been daydreaming when something important was said, your teacher may have even skipped something because you were running out of time. There are so many factors, it’s impossible to rely on lesson time alone. You can, however, rely on a revision guide.
  • When buying a revision guide, ensure it’s from a reputable company. At GCSE, CPG is a great option. On many occasions, revision guides are written by examiners themselves – I know my PE revision guide was written by an examiner.
  • Ensure the revision guide you’re buying lists the specification. This makes it much easier to slip your revision up into manageable chunks, and helps you identify weaknesses.
  • When studying from a revision guide, highlight things, make notes in the margins, use sticky notes on pages – ensure everything is bold and colourful so you can distinguish things from one another. Also ensure you reproduce the notes in the revision guide into your own words. This will make it much easier to revise from.
  • The best place to buy revision guides is Amazon, as they are discounted. Also, don’t be afraid of getting one in poor condition – this likely means the previous owner made notes in the revision guide, which you could benefit from.

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  • Never do anything revision related only once. Never.
  • My teachers taught me that you have to do something several times for it to really sink in. That means repeat your notes multiple times, answer quizzes multiple times, read your revision guide multiple times.
  • Never think that you’ve finished your revision – do repeats!

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  • I’m a creature of habit, so making a timetable was perfect for me.
  • My best advice for making one would be to work backwards: Find out when your exams are, and then organise your revision around it.
  • Be sensible with your plan: Do not revise English the night before your maths exam, for example.
  • Click here to download a blank calendar on a Word document. This is the calendar I used. I never printed it out, but kept updating it on my laptop, as it was always with me when revising. It’s easily printable if you prefer that, though.

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  • Never ever think “I’m good at that subject, I won’t revise for it.” Ever.
  • Remember: There’s always something you could be revising – if you want the grades, you’ve got to work for them.
  • That’s not to say that you have to revise your strong points as much as you revise your weak points – just ensure you don’t completely abandon a subject because you’re good at it. Make sure you stay good at it.

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  • This is possibly the most important thing to remember.
  • If you don’t reward yourself for your progress and revision, you will never do it. Really. It will just feel like hell.
  • Do not revise for hours on end, and then just go to bed.
  • Personally, I found it best to revise in 40 minute chunks, and then have a 20 minute break.
  • Quiz yourself, and if you do well, treat yourself to a chocolate bar, or some crisps, or a cookie. Ensure you enjoy your reward, because revision will be hellish if you don’t.
  • Have a skittle for every correct answer you give. This is both delicious, and improves your memory. (Relating facts to colours is a known and recognised method of memorising things.)

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  • If your parents asked you to put the washing out, do that – you should still help around the house even if you’re revising.
  • Revision is not 24/7, and is not an excuse to become lazy – laziness will spread from your lifestyle to your school work: One day, you don’t put the washing out because you’re ‘revising,’ the next you won’t revise that bit of physics because it’s ‘boring.’
  • Read a book – this is especially effective if a) you need to write essays, as reading is known to develop your writing skills, and b) you enjoy reading, because you’re then rewarding yourself as well as making yourself smarter.
  • Complete other tasks, like going to the Post Office, during your break.

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  • Revision is pointless if you never apply it to the style of questions the test is likely to give.
  • You can find past papers on your exam board’s website, or – failing that – I’m sure your teacher would be able to get hold of some for you. They may even mark it for you once you’ve completed it. Otherwise, mark schemes are usually provided in the same place as the past paper.
  • For maths and science, study mark schemes, and try to pick up on the little things that are common – e.g. the mark scheme uses the words “biological catalyst” to describe an enzyme, and it’s those words that get the mark. It’s not uncommon to find trends like this in mark schemes.
  • Adapt your language to suit the exam. My previous point about “biological catalyst” to describe an enzyme is a real trend I found in biology mark schemes, so I began using it in my revision notes, mock papers, past papers, and quizzes so it would stick in my mind.
  • Mark your papers honestly – don’t think in your head “well, I would have put that,” or “I pretty much put that” – the examiner won’t know what you “would have put,” nor will the mark it correct if it’s “pretty much” there – these people are harsh, remember!
  • Remember: Both you and your teacher want you to do well. You will be naturally generous markers. The examiner doesn’t know you, and doesn’t particularly want you to do well. Prepare yourself for the harshest marking possible.

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  • I know, easier said than done.
  • Remember: It’s only an exam. You will be fine. Exam results do not define your life, though it may feel that way.
  • The more you panic, the worse it’s going to be – try to clear your head, listen to voice notes of you talking about what will be on the test whilst you wait to go into the exam hall.
  • Don’t feel inclined to talk to people before your exams. Yes, it may appear antisocial, but your best bet is to spend that time getting your head into the correct mindset. The likelihood of being even more nervous because you’re talking to other people is very high.

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  • I know, I sound like your teacher.
  • If you do this, you’re only harming yourself – if anything, individual revision is the most effective form, because you are able to focus on your own weaknesses, and study periods are the perfect opportunity to do this.

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  • Sometimes asking for help is really difficult. I get that. But this is such an important time of your life, I implore you to do so.
  • Your teachers will support you – email them with questions, ask them questions at the end of the lesson. Trust me, they will not mind.
  • Your family will support you – ask them to quiz you, or even ask them to help you with your revision if you think they’d be good at it.
  • Your friends will support you – if you’re struggling, ask them questions, especially if they appear to understand it. This is mutually beneficial, as you’re getting it explained to you from another perspective, and they are re-capping the revision for themselves.
  • Never feel as though you’re burdening people. You’re not.

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  • I know, I sound like your parents.
  • Even if you feel uneasy, your brain will not function as effectively without fuel, without breakfast. This is so important if you have a morning exam.
  • If you have an exam in the afternoon, make sure you have a snack beforehand – fuel your brain!
  • They don’t say it’s the most important meal of the day for no reason!

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  • Allow yourself plenty of time to get to school – you don’t want to be stressed out about running late before your exam, as this will only increase your nerves and anxiety.
  • This will give you time to ensure you’re in the right place – my school has 3 exam halls, so this was always a worry for me. It will also give you time to check your seat number and candidate number so you don’t forget them.
  • I don’t mean to scare you, but I believe exam boards are within their rights to refuse your paper if you arrived late to your exam. I don’t know which exam boards, nor do I know how often, but I do know this: It’s better to not risk it.

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  • Find out what you’re best at, and push it aside – attack your weaknesses first, and make them your strengths.
  • This ties into my first tip: Start your revision early. If you start early, and attack your weakness, they won’t have been weaknesses for a long time by the time your exam rolls around.
  • Then again, don’t push your strengths aside forever. This ties into my fifth tip: Don’t get Complacent. Ensure you go over everything multiple times. Even if you think you know a topic back to front, there’s always something, no matter how small, that you could have missed or forgotten.

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  • No matter what grades you want, your mental health and happiness is the most important thing.
  • Don’t drive yourself crazy with worry – it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the grades you want.
  • Don’t let your parents or peers or teachers put pressure on you, either. These are your exams. These are your grades. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
  • Try not to be too upset if you don’t get the grades you wanted. If you worked your hardest, it will be painful, but you’ll know you did your best, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.
  • There’s always another option. Whether that’s resitting a year, resitting one exam, going to a different college, or even going to a different university, you always have other options.

Thank you for reading! If you are reading this prior to you exams, I wish you all the luck in the world, and I really hope this post helped.

It’s GCSE results day, so if you’re interested in what I got at GCSE, feel free to ask me in the comments – I would be happy to share them with you!

Also, if you have any other questions about GCSEs (or other exams) that you think I could answer, I would be very happy to do so – just let me know in the comments!

Until next time, and to keep up with my reading as it happens, find me on Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Olivia x


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