How to survive exams

Andrew Gillespie has some practical tips for the big day
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The Independent Online
Preparation for the big day should start with a good sleep the night before. Try to resist the temptation to work all night. Studying like this is rarely effective and is bound to take its toll when you are in the exam room.

You need to give all the information you've been taking in over the past few weeks some time to settle, and the best thing for you is to get a proper amount of rest. So, accept the fact that no one knows everything, put your books down and go to sleep!

The next morning, some people like to get up early and quickly read through their revision notes one more time before the exam. If you think this will help and reassure you, then all well and good. If you see something you don't know, don't panic. Think about how much you do know, rather than get stressed about what you don't. The thing you're worrying about is usually some obscure fact or equation that really doesn't matter very much.

Once you are in the exam room and you have been given the paper, you should do absolutely nothing except take a couple of deep breaths. Naturally you are desperate to get on with it, but be careful of rushing in and starting to write without thinking about how you are going to allocate your time and which questions you are going to answer. It's easy to start writing only to realise halfway through a question that you can't answer it properly or that there is another one you could have done better.

Read the front cover of the exam to make absolutely sure of the time available for the exam and the format of the paper. Then read the exam questions very carefully. Every moment not writing may feel like hours, and you may be terrified that you'll never finish, but it is vital to read through the paper at least a couple of times before answering anything. Don't just start because everyone around you has.

Before you walk into the exam room, you should have a clear idea of how long to spend on each question (if not, work it out there and then). You should write these times down and have them clearly displayed in front of you throughout the exam. Whatever happens, it is essential for you to finish the paper, so you need to move on when you've spent the appropriate amount of time on one answer. It's all too easy to get carried away on a topic you like and spend far too long on it. If you leave questions unanswered, you obviously can't get any marks at all for them.

Finally, make sure you read the question you are answering several times so that you are sure of what you are being asked to do. Nobody has received any marks for answering a question nobody asked - no matter how good the answer!

Be positive, go in there, think about what you are doing and do your best.

Repeat this process for all of your exams and then take a well-earned rest!

The author is director of studies at d'Overbroeck's, an independent sixth-form college in Oxford.