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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May 2005, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Top tips for exam success
By George Turnbull
Student 'exams doctor', Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

George Turnbull
George Turnbull advises staying calm
Exams have a habit of creeping up on us and there never seems to be enough time to cover everything.

Most of us wish we had started revision sooner and that we had more time.

But there are ways of using the days and weeks available more wisely.

So what can you do to ensure that you are in peak condition and that you perform to your best in that exam room - every time?

It's not too late to learn, so read on

- swots too.

Building up

Texting friends or playing with the cat in your room for three hours - with good intentions to revise - won't help.

But 10 minutes will - if you work in that time and do nothing else. Have a 10-minute break and then start again, gradually building up to 20 or 40-minute periods, while keeping breaks to 10 minutes.

It works - try it and see. If your concentration holds, then work for longer before that break.

Adopt this technique whenever your mind wanders and you will make progress. When you work, work, and when you play, play. The two don't mix.

Get smart and grab extra time during the day by getting up earlier or shortening your lunch break.

Thirty minutes each school day would give an extra two-and-a-half hours a week, which may allow you to have a night off. Think now what an extra hour a day could do, and work from there.

Recreation should be built into your schedule. Make sure you get some but don't let it take over. Use the time between exams wisely and keep your revision on track.

Look ahead

Forget the exams that you have just taken. There is nothing you can do to influence them now and you are in the worst position to judge how well you performed - but there is a lot you can do to improve your performance in the ones yet to be taken.

That is where your efforts should lie.

Vary the subjects you revise in an evening, starting with the one you hate and finishing with the one you like best. You may even get to like that hated subject as you get to grips with it.

Exam halls can be distracting places

Now give yourself a treat. You deserve it, and you will feel pleased anyway in having achieved something.

A leisurely breakfast and a walk to school is a good start on any exam morning. Don't rush and don't be late.

Avoid friends: they can be off-putting and may confuse your thoughts.

Don't cram new information in the night before an exam. Relax if you can by lightly reading over your notes for the next day.

Don't worry if you can't, most of us can't either, so you are no different - but stick to the no-cramming rule. A little anxiety is generally to be expected and will help keep you on your toes.

Disqualifications and mobile phones go hand in hand in the exam room and almost 300 students were disqualified last year for having one. Know the rules on phones. Best leave them at home.

Deep breaths

But do have a glucose sweet to help energy get to your brain. Take six deep breaths to relax and ignore those around you in those agonising moments before the exam starts.

Read through the questions, jotting down formulae and points to remember on the question paper. Time is allowed for this.

Choose your questions, starting with the ones you know you can do, to build confidence. Don't spend too long on any one question and try to do the number required.

Use the number of marks for each question as a guide and make sure you do the compulsory questions, if any. Be familiar with what you have to do by checking the instructions on the front of the exam paper.

Insufficient time with only 10 minutes left for a 30-minute question at the end of the exam needs a special approach. Do the question in outline only and let the examiner know. State the main points, facts and arguments, if an essay - and by jotting down formulae and how you would use them to reach a solution, if science or maths.

More marks can be gained that way with limited time available.

And don't worry now if spelling is a problem. Generally, there is only 5% of the marks allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar - so that you can still get 95% and an A*.

Squeaky shoes

Similarly with handwriting. It may be untidy, but if your teacher can read it, then so can the examiner. But then if no one can read it, it can't be marked. So be careful.

And if you feel unwell during an exam, make sure your teacher knows. You could get special consideration, if a valid case and you under-perform.

Don't be afraid to speak up either if the invigilators' squeaky shoes are disturbing your concentration, as they pace up and down the exam room in a regular and consistent fashion.

And those whispers between invigilators when they change watch during exams can be just as annoying. That shouldn't happen, so don't be afraid to say if it disturbs you.

It's your exam after all and you want to be able to sit it under exam conditions. Don't suffer in silence. I didn't when your age, and asked the invigilator to stop pacing up and down. He did. The regular pattern of squeaking stopped and I was then able to concentrate.

Good luck, whatever your state of readiness. And remember that you can always improve - where there is a need - by adopting the tips here which work for you.


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