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COPING

WITH
EXAMS
A LAMBETH ACADEMY GUIDE

HOW TO GET GOING WITH YOUR REVISION


Getting started can be the hardest part. Be aware that it will take some organisation and some planning.
Here are some tips for both.
ORGANISATION
Know what you need to know:
Get a summary of the syllabus or the units and topics you have studied and make a list. You can
tick these off as you feel confident with them.
Find out which resources can help you; revision classes, websites, one good revision guide per
subject... etc.
Ask your subject teacher about any of the above.
Keep all the equipment you will need at hand; its not a great idea to be looking around for things
when you want to get down to revision.
File your notes in some way at the end of each session so that the information is easy to find.
Have a place to revise that doesnt contain distractions, and that you can walk away from for your
breaks.
PLANNING
Plan your revision with your examination
timetable in mind, so that you have plenty of
time to revise each subject. Use your exam
preparation planner if it helps.
Dont try to study for more than 45 minutes or
an hour; humans dont absorb things well after
this time. We learn best in 20-25 minute slots.
Make sure you timetable in time for relaxation
or other commitments you may have.
Plan breaks!
Good ways to break up your revision include: Exercise. Meeting/chatting with friends. A favourite
television programme. Something creative
Know what you need to know; consider testing yourself first to see which areas require most
attention. There are plenty of tests on the internet, or your teachers/ friends can help you.
Plan opportunities to test yourself/ be tested by others.
Finally, if you dont manage everything on your timetable, dont worry and dont abandon the plan.
Leave space to make up for anything that you missed. Re-plan if necessary.
If youre struggling to motivate yourself, remember why you want to do well.
Set aside 2 x 20 minute sessions at the end of each week to review what you have learned. This
should really just be checking over it briefly to see if it is still in your memory. This keeps it fresh in
your mind. Flashcards might be helpful for this.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING


Caffeine and energy drinks etc. can raise your
level of stress. Getting enough sleep is much
better for you.
Make sure the room temperature is comfortabletoo much heat can make you sleepy.
Eat healthily- make sure youre getting everything
you need. Complex carbohydrates are better for
concentration than sugary ones.
GENERAL TIPS FOR THE EXAM ITSELF
Remember the time and marks that are available for each question. If you are going over time, leave
space so that you can return to it if there is the opportunity when you have finished other questions.
If a question is difficult, write down any keywords you can think of, and leave space and time to
come back to it later.
You will gain more marks in the first 5 minutes of a new question than the last 5 minutes of one
you have written a lot for already.
You can get marks for rough work; if examiners feel you deserve them they are allowed to look
at your rough work to see if they can find them. Therefore, dont scribble over it; draw a neat .line
through it so that it is still legible... just in case.
On this note, show all your working; you may get marks for it even if the final answer is wrong. You
can be marked down for not showing it.
Write legibly. Take your time if you need it; if the examiner cant read it you cant get any marks.
Be organised. Examiners find it easier to find marks in clear, planned answers. Only use bullet
points when you have been told its ok by a teacher.
MANAGING EXAM STRESS- BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Remember, its common! Youre not alone.
Start early and focus on what you have achieved, not how much you have to do.
Avoid caffeine, it can raise your heart rate and cause agitation. Try instead to get enough sleep.
Do something completely different in your breaks and before bed- dont go to bed with it on your
mind.
Remember, each exam is only for a short time, then it will be over. Reward yourself when it is.
Try to be calm when revising as well as in the exam. The part of your brain that controls panic can
overwrite the thinking part of your brain, leading to ineffective revision. Make sure youre prepared
and calm before beginning.
If you make a mistake when revising, it is not bad news, it is how we learn.
Remember that youll be unlikely to make the same one again if you pay that area of study some
attention.
FINAL EXAM
Review what you have learned and look at how much progress you have made. Recognise how
well youre doing:
When you have revised well, even if you think you dont know it, youll find you do when you start
to write.
Remember: the examiners are on your side. They are instructed to mark positively,
which means that they want to give you marks for everything you get right rather than taking them
away for things you miss.

MANAGING EXAM STRESS ON THE DAY


Leave plenty of time on the day of the exam.
Prepare: check you have everything you need for
the paper night before. Shower, eat well, leave
for school early. Make sure you have used the
facilities and left your phone outside the exam
hall.
Take the time to look over a very brief version of
your notes before starting the exam. Dont read
the whole lot, just glance over a few prompt cards.
This will remind you of all the things you learned.
Take in water if you can- hydration helps you
concentrate.
Listen to and read all instructions at the start.
There is nothing wrong with writing down all the formulae/ keywords you think you might forget at
the start. It wont take much time (dont spend too long doing it!) and can really help. Make sure
you draw a line through any rough work though.
Be aware of the time and marks available for each question.
If a question is difficult, write down any keywords you can think of, and leave space and time to
come back to it later. Usually another question will trigger a memory which would help you answer
it.
Dont worry about leaving a question unfinished; its better to start a new one if time is short. You
will gain more marks in the first 5 minutes of a new question than the last 5 minutes of one you
have written a lot for already.
TRICKS FOR STAYING CALM
Ask for help if you feel you need it.
Sometimes, it doesnt help to listen to how much/ little friends have revised.
Spend some time working out what works for you, and stick to it. Everyone has different styles of
learning and you know yourself best.
Talk to someone sympathetic about any stress youre feeling- not someone wholl make you worry
about the exams!
A lot of research has been carried out into ways help people who are about to sit exams to stay calm
(notably at Stanford and Oxford!). Some of their simple recommendations are listed below.



Breathing techniques- slow your breathing down and breathe deeply and calmly with one hand on
your stomach. This can counteract panic.
Calming thoughts- many people find it helpful to sit for a while and listen to the thoughts that
are going through their head. It can slow the thoughts down and make them easier to manage.
The trick is just to observe the thoughts you are having instead of trying to keep up with them all.
Really focussing on a good piece of music can take your mind of other things. Make sure its a fairly
calm track though! If stress creeps into your head while youre listening, just try to switch your
mind back to the music.
Physical activity/ exercise can take your mind off worry and leave you feeling a lot better than when
you started.

Concentrate on relaxing all of your muscles


from the head down- take your time and think of
warmth and heaviness as you do. When finished,
take a few deep breaths and slowly stretch. This
one is particularly good to do before bed if youre
struggling to sleep.
Remember that you do need to switch off exam
mode every so often, so make sure youre actively
doing something different, especially before going to bed. Reading a good book, chatting with
friends, gentle exercise, a hot bath... anything that is not too stimulating and will leave you relaxed
is a good idea.
Try to avoid screens before sleeping- computers and televisions can stimulate your mind and keep
you awake.

ANSWERING THE QUESTION


One of the biggest areas for students to make mistakes is in not answering the question accurately (or
at all in some cases!). Often, intelligent young people like yourselves know a lot and write about what
they know /are interested in, rather than what the question requires. There are a few things you must do
to make sure you dont fall into this trap:
1. Read and listen to all instructions clearly at the beginning of the exam.
2. Read each question clearly and be sure of what it wants you to do. Consider highlighting the
instruction word(s) of the question (see below).
3. Plan your answers if you can, even if its only listing key words/ formulae etc.
4. In written answers, refer back to the wording of the question whenever possible to keep yourself
on track. This also makes it really obvious to the examiner. They like this; it makes it easier to give
you more marks.
WHAT DOES THE QUESTION MEAN?
Account for - Explain the causes of.
Compare - Are the things very alike (similar) or are
there important differences? Which do you think is
best? Why?
Concise - Short and brief.
Contrast - look for differences.
Criticise - Use evidence to support your opinion on
the value or merit of theories, facts or views of others.
Define - Give the meaning of.
Describe - Write in detail. Differentiate- Explain the
difference.
Discuss - Write about the important aspects of the
topic; are there two sides to the question? Consider
the arguments for and against. Then give your opinion with justification.
Distinguish - Explain the difference.
Evaluate -Judge the importance or success with reasons.
Explain - Make clear, in detail.

Factors - The facts or circumstances that contribute to a result.


Give an account of - Describe.
Illustrate - Give examples or diagrams which make the point dear and prove your answer is correct.
Indicate - Show and demonstrate.
In relation to - Refer to a specific aspect of something.
Interpret - Explain the meaning in your own words; for example you may be asked to interpret a graph.
In the context of - In a particular setting; referring to.
Justify - Give reasons to support an argument or action.
Outline - Choose the most important aspects of a topic. Ignore the minor detail.
Role - A function of something, which part something plays and how it works.
State - Write briefly the main points.
Summarise - Bring together the main points.
Trace - Show how something has developed from beginning to end.
HOW YOUR BRAIN LIKES TO BE TREATED AT REVISION TIME
A neuroscience student harnesses his knowledge
to advise fellow students about memorising
information.

If youre a student, you rely on one brain function


above all others: memory.
These days, we understand more about the structure
of memory than we ever have before, so we can find
the best techniques for training your brain to hang on to as much information as possible. The process
depends on the brains neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise itself throughout your life by breaking and
forming new connections between its billions of cells.
How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something
new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Its like a pattern of light
bulbs turning on.
Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are
revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it
keeps getting new information;the overworked brain might go wrong. Thats what happens when you
think youve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that its disappeared again.
So whats the best way to revise? Here are seven top tips to get information into your brain and keep
it there.
FORGET ABOUT INITIAL LETTERS
Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics - sentences based on the initial letters of items
youre trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names. The
mnemonic Kings Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach can help you recall the order of taxonomy in
biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) but thats only helpful if youre given the
names of the ranks.
The mnemonic is providing you with a cue but, if you havent memorised the names, the information

you want to recall is not there. Youre just giving your overflowing hippocampus yet another pattern of
activity to store and retrieve.
REPEAT YOURSELF
Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition -practising retrieving a
memory over and over again is the best form of consolidating the pattern.
USE SCIENCE TO HELP YOU RETRIEVE INFO
Science tells us the ideal time to revise what youve learned
is just before youre about to forget it. And because
memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you
should wait exponentially longer each time - after a few
minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This
technique is known as spaced repetition.
This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a
week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential
curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process
reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten
everything.
TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new
(and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.
The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well
entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. Its even worse if the new
one has a few similarities to the old.
Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what youve just learned before moving on to
anything new.
AVOID DISTRACTIONS
Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning
that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little
to do with the brains capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to
the task in hand.
Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds,
even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brains attention capacity.

SLEEP IS VITAL
We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping
and its never as important as during revision time.
Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation- this
is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and
creates long-term memories. The process is believed
to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal
neurons pass the patterns of activity to another pact
of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible
for language and the generation of motor commands.
Recent research in Nature Neuroscience has shed
new light on how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process.
This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition)
becoming easier to access.
CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS
We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the
emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you
can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you
have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.
Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for
processing and encoding new information.