Education: Passing exams: here are the answers: Revise, prepare, eat chocolate and don't panic . . . George Turnbull offers some expert guidance at a testing time

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Six million students will soon be sitting their GCSEs and A-levels. Revision time is at hand. How best can you prepare for these crucial exams and turn in your top performance?

Getting started is the first, and perhaps most difficult, hurdle to overcome. The sooner you start, the better prepared you will be. If you use your study time wisely, you will have ample time for other things. A balance between recreation and work is important. Remember, exam performance can be improved, even up to the last minute. Here are some do's and don'ts:


Do not pretend that everything can be done in a rush the night before an exam.

Work out how long you have to revise before exams and plan how to use that time.


Make sure you know what will be examined in each subject, and the way in which the questions will be asked. Have a look at the syllabus for this year's exams and at past examination papers.

Make sure you know what equipment you will need for each exam (such as pens, calculator, spare batteries), what is provided for you, and what you must provide yourself.

Make sure you know where and when your exams are to be held. Every year students fail because they go to the wrong place, or the right place at the wrong time.

Make sure you don't have two exams at the same time. Alternative arrangements need to be made. Check this now.

Make sure you know the rules for each exam. Never be tempted to break them. If you do, you could be disqualified from all of your exams - or even arrested.

Don't try to learn anything new the night before an exam. Try to relax. Check your equipment and the details of where the exam is to be held, and when it starts.

Have a leisurely breakfast and walk to school, if possible. Be there in good time. Get an earlier bus or train, if necessary.

Avoid friends outside the exam room. They could confuse you. Keep your thoughts to yourself and concentrate on the exam.

Make sure you are comfortable before going into an exam - go to the lavatory, wear comfortable clothes if your school allows this.


Take six deep breaths, ignore the other students around you, and concentrate solely on what you have to do.

Have a piece of chocolate, or some other sweet, to boost your energy - but don't crunch or eat sweets with wrappers, which might disturb other students.

Read the instructions on the exam papers carefully - do the appropriate number of questions from the right sections, and answer compulsory questions.

Make sure you know how many marks each question carries - don't spend too long on any one. Use the number of marks as a guide. A question with 20 per cent of the marks for a particular paper deserves only 20 per cent of the time available.

If you run out of time, complete your remaining answers in outline only. In mathematics, for example, you could indicate how you would solve the problem by stating the formulae you would use, and indicating where and how you would calculate missing values.

Those who start working straight away, without reading the exam papers carefully, are either very stupid or very bright. Not so many of us are that bright.

Read questions carefully before you write anything - not halfway through your answer. The examiners allow time for you to read the paper when they plan the exam, so don't think you are wasting time. Use that time to choose the questions you are going to do, and write notes on the question paper.

Answer the questions set, not the ones you hoped for. However good your work, you will get no marks if you don't answer the examiners' questions.

Make sure your answers are carefully presented - write clearly and label diagrams, for example, if this helps.

Let the supervisor know if anything is disturbing you - other people tapping nervously with a pencil, noise outside the exam room, or even the supervisor's squeaky shoes.


Don't worry about the one you have just taken; you can't do anything about it now. Concentrate instead on the next one. You can do something about that.

Tell your school straight away about illness or other circumstances that might have affected your performance.


Exams are not designed to catch you out.

Being calm and thoughtful will help you to get the most out of your preparation.

And if all else fails, remember that there are more millionaires without GCSE and A-level qualifications than there are with. Good luck.

The author is a senior member of staff at the Associated Examining Board and co-author, with David Elsom, of 'How to Do Better in Exams'. For your free copy, write to: Department XDC, Barclays Bank, CRSD, Marefair, Northampton NN1 1SG.

(Photograph omitted)