A. Sitting Exams: 20 Tips for Exam Day
B. Top 10 Tips to Stop Panicking in Exams
A. Sitting Exams: 20 Tips for Exam Day
As well as revising for an exam it is important to prepare for an exam with good exam technique.  Below is a list of tips to remember before sitting, during and after an exam.
Tip 1. What do I bring into the exam?
Go into the exam prepared making sure you know exactly what equipment you can take into your exam (pens, pencils, calculators etc.) and be aware of what equipment you are entitled to ask for whilst sitting the exam (e.g. tracing paper).  If you can try to have two of everything (e.g. 2 pens, 2 pencils…).  This way if something breaks or someone forgets their equipment you have a spare.  Be a good friend! 
When I sat my exams (years ago!) a clear pencil case was required and it is worth finding out if this is still true.  That pencil case shaped like a stuffed toy may look cute but it could put your marks at risk.  A clear pencil case means your examiner knows you are not cheating.
In addition, it's worth noting that most calculator GCSE papers now require a scientific calculator.  An ordinary one which is not scientific just will not do.  For example, you may be asked to work a calculation out using sine on your calculator.  Turning up with no calculator could be disastrous but remembering your calculator which is not scientific could be just as bad as it simply does not do what you want it to. 
This being said the exam boards usually now recommend specific scientific calculators and some are even band from being used in the exam.  This is because some calculators have extra memory to store information and calculations which mean some students can cheat (e.g. you could input a formula that is meant to be memorised).  So it is worthwhile finding out which calculator you are meant to have for the exam.  Usually the exam board has a recommendation and your teacher should be able to tell you which one to purchase.  Some schools even sell the calculators.  If you have the wrong calculator you could be disqualified.
It is also worthwhile spending some time before your exam getting used to using your scientific calculator.  Nowadays most come with a set of instructions and reading these through and making sure you know how to operate it is really important.  Turning up to the exam and not knowing, for instance, how to calculate an angle using cosine could affect your result but knowing could be a grade difference.
Tip 2. No Space!  What do I do?
The other thing to note is where do you write if you run out of space for your working out?  Usually most papers leave space at the back of the paper.  Simply write at the bottom of the question 'please turn to back of paper'.  When you write your working out at the back clearly number it with the question number.  There is nothing worse for an examiner marking the papers and seeing working out but not knowing which question it belongs to.  You can even separate questions by drawing a line between your extra working out.
Let's say you still don't have space for your working out.  What do you do then?  It is usually possible to ask for more paper when sitting an exam.  Simply raise your hand and ask.  Make sure the paper is clearly labelled also including with your name and candidate number.  Make sure the page is securely tucked into your exam paper.
Tip 3. I need a tissue! 
Most exams are during the summer these days and this is fine for some.  If you are like me and you suffer from hayfever this is disastrous because you need tissues, have itchy eyes, banging headache and a sore throat.  You can't take your medication because it makes you drowsy and you can't take tissues into the exam.  However, here is the thing, you are entitled to ask for tissues.  To get the teacher's attention raise your hand.  Don't leave your seat!  You could be disqualified.
Tip 4. I can't see the clock on the wall!
Firstly if your struggling to see the clock or even the whiteboard in the classroom you may need glasses.  So I would get your eyes check ASAP. 
Most exam rooms have a clock at the front so candidates are aware of how much time they have left when sitting their exam.  By all means use this clock but be aware these clocks can sometimes be wrong.  Nothing worse than thinking you have 5 more minutes and the invigilator shouting "times up!".  
You may find it handy having your own watch on your desk as well.  You may want to check this is allowed.  I read a story a while back that the wearing of traditional watches in exams has been banned.  You may be able to have it on your desk though.  This is because some smart watches now double up as phones (e.g. the iWatch) and can be disguised as traditional watches which some people have been found cheating with.  Also you can hook up an audio ear piece to them that can play audio and display text on the screen.  They even have emergency buttons that can switch the "cheating" mode off.  So, smart watches themselves are definitely banned.  If that's not enough, these watches are probably not allowed in the exams also to storage capacity and texting.  I'd like to say it's back to the Mickey Mouse watch but I can't even guarantee this!  It makes you wonder if there will be a standard watch for exams like there is a standard calculator?
Tip 5. But I just want to do well....
OK so your Mum bought you a good luck card and a lucky horse shoe.  You also have your loveable good luck sock and your my little brony from 6th grade which guarantees you'll succeed.  Sweet. Yes?  Maybe (well everything accept the sock!).  Good idea no.  Don't bring in anything into the exam that you are not supposed to bring in.  All that is going to happen is they will be confiscated or you'll be asked to remove them from the room before the exam starts.
Tip 6. Please leave the answer after the beep...
This also goes for mobile phones.  I think these are now banned from exams but if you are allowed to have the phone in a bag at the front of the room make sure it is switched off.  There is nothing more annoying than a phone going off in the middle of an exam.  I don't think your even allowed them on silent any more.  Make sure your phone is off!  You could get disqualified.
Tip 7. And the list goes on...
The same goes for your laptop.
Bags and coats are usually not allowed next to you in the exam and must be placed in a designated area.  
Additionally, food and water is usually not allowed.  There may be certain exceptional cases.  For example, a diabetic may need to take food at a certain time.  
If you need to take medication, food or drink into the exam you want to confirm this with your teacher well before the exam.  I am not certain if you will get extra time if you need to leave for medical reasons but (if you can) find this out in advance.
Tip 8. How do I write right?
Some exams require that you write in pen, others in pencil and some computer.  Make sure you know the format your exam will be in and be aware if you should write (and draw) in pencil or pen.  
Certain pens are now band from exams.  For example the ones that you can rub out with.  It may be worth finding out if coloured pens and pencils are allowed because this can enable you to show shading and make working out more visual for you and the examiner.  Wherever possible I recommend, for Maths, writing in pencil or with the pens you can erase for exactly this reason; they are erasable.  However, as I said, in exam conditions I realise this is not always possible.
Tip 9. Lost even before the exam starts?!
Before you sit an exam make sure you know where it is going to be.  Some schools, for example, don't host the exam and you have to go to a different location.  Some exams can even be on the computer and in some circumstances at home.
If you are unfamiliar with how to get to the examination centre it may be a good idea to make a practice run.  If you have to take public transport make sure you are familiar with how long the journey will take and still leave extra time in case something goes wrong.  If necessary write down the address, telephone number and print a map.
Leaving the extra time also gives you a chance to grab a drink, food and of course go to the toilet.  Go to the toilet before the exam not during if you can.  This wastes time that is non-recoverable.
Tip 10. White rabbit down a rabbit hole...
How long is the exam?  You thought it was an hour and you have to pick the kids up.  It is actually 1.5 hours and you didn't know.  Timing in exams is essential.  Make sure your clear how much time is allowed for the paper and when your exam is.  There is nothing worse than turning up for the exam on Friday at 10:00 when it was on Thursday at 11:00!
Some students get extra time for example if you’re an SEND student.  If you're not sure ask your teacher well before the exam so you can be assessed.  Some students get a scribe and a reader.  Make sure you use them and know what they can and can't do in an exam.
Tip 11. Ahh where do I start...?
When sitting the exam I recommend doing the easier questions first and then coming back and doing the harder questions.  The aim of an exam is to get the highest amount of marks in the time allotted.  If you could get six 1-mark questions whilst your struggling to get a 5-mark question it makes more sense to answer the 1-mark questions first and then go back to the question you were struggling with.
As a general rule allocate your time per question according to the number of marks given.  For example a 2-mark question should take you roughly 2 minutes, a 5-mark question 5 minutes.
Tip 12. Check..mate!
You should leave 5-10 minutes at the end of the exam to check your paper through.  Look for mistakes.  Does it look accurate?  Are your answers sensible?  Use estimations to check your answers or if possible a calculator to confirm your working out.  Can you use an alternative method to check your answer and get the same result (e.g. inverse operations)?
Tip 13. No clue!
So you have gone through the paper and answered every question you know the answer to.  You have even gone through again and attempted most of the trickier ones but there is at least one question on the page that you have no clue how to answer it.  What should you do?
My advice: don't leave any question blank.  You will get marks for your working out even if the answer is wrong and it is better to try than give up.  If you don't understand the question ask yourself can you apply it to a real-life situation?  Put yourself in that situation and it may suddenly click.  You could also underline words and figures to help you decide on what the question is asking.  What number operation is it getting at.  Ask yourself 'What Maths can I do that relates to the question?' and you could try this.
Tip 14. Half way there...
You may know how to answer part of the question but not all of it.  
It is better to start and not finish than to not try.  Whatever happens go with your gut.  If it looks like an area question then find the area.
Tip 15. Points do matter!
When answering questions you should always be asking yourself have I got enough working out to guarantee marks for the method.  I remember tutoring a student and describing the examiner like Paddington bear.  You don't want him to get lost on the journey so you give him exact directions to the end address.  Show the examiner every step to get to your answer so they know how you are thinking and can follow your working out.  If your using a calculator during your exam include exactly what appears on your calculator screen.  If it is a geometry question and drawing an image is going to help you or the examiner draw it in.
Tip 16. But I want to be a Doctor...
As a general rule if you can't read your handwriting then I guarantee your examiner can't.  You want your paper to be neat and for methods to follow on logically one part from another.  For example, if an examiner can read line by line what is written it is easier than jumping from the top of the page to the bottom and then to the middle.
Tip 17. Skimming stones
Make sure you read the question thoroughly and try not to skim read.  When I sat my GCSE exam I skimmed read a geometry question by looking at the picture not the writing underneath and missed the length of one of the sides.  In the last 5 minutes I was scrambling to answer a question I would have found simple if I hadn't skim read.
Tip 18. Is this in the fourth dimension?
Make sure you include units of measurement when answering (e.g. minutes, grams, kilometres).  
Also watch out for conversions within questions.  
It may be a question is only asking for an estimation and there may be a final mark for rounding to a significant figure, decimal place or truncating.  Be aware of this.  
Some questions may require a reason as well as arithmetic (e.g. an angle question).  Make sure you include all working out.
Tip 19. Ummmmmmmmm...
Try to go into the exam unstressed.  If you're not the type of person who enjoys cramming with your friends just before a paper, go somewhere quiet.  If you like meditating...meditate.  If you want to distract yourself before the exam read a book.  Do what you need to do to relax.
Remember some adrenaline has been proven by scientists to be good before an exam because it puts you on alert.  Being totally unnerved by an exam is not normal for most of us.
Tip 20.  Who you gonna call?
Finally when in doubt - ask your teacher.  They are a fountain of knowledge and most teachers if they don't know the answer will find it out.  Try to ask before the exam.  Usually though an invigilator will ask "Are there any questions?" just before the exam starts.
B. Top 10 Tips to Stop Panicking in Exams
Shropshire Council reported that student exam stress levels are placing undue pressure on health services.  There are suggestions that exam stress is resulting in more suicides and mental health problems.  According to the on-line news article Childline has seen an 11 per cent increase in calls from students.  In 2017, Sally Weale reported for the Guardian that 8 out of 10 school leaders felt that fear of academic failure was leading to mental health issues around exam time and that primary children were showing increased signs of stress and anxiety before sitting exams.  In Manchester Evening News, Emma Gill reported that a 10 year old daughter recently revealed to her Mum that she was stressed about SATs and that her friend was suicidal because of the exams.
In 2016, a Kellogg's sponsored survey of 1000 pupils revealed that 6 out of 10 students (21%, roughly a fifth) were skipping meals to undertake more exam study.  More disturbingly according to the report "33 admitted drinking coffee, 41 ate chocolate or sweets and 16 (up from 8 in 2014) 10 to 11 year olds said they'd smoked cigarettes before exams".
Worryingly, in 2018 TES reported that the children's charity Barnardos conducted a survey that revealed school was the biggest stress factor for young people!
So what's being done to eliminate this problem?  According to Emma Gill, SATs at Key Stage 1 (Year 2) are being scrapped in 2023 although Key Stage 2 SATs (Year 6) will continue.  TES has reported that Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow has got creative and is introducing Alpacas on to their playing field to help with pupil stress levels whilst Huffpost reported that All Saints' School in Blackheath chose to set a more relaxed homework before the SATs exams (i.e. extra curricular activities such as riding a bike or going for a walk or swim).  TES has a link to the charity MISP (Mindfulness in Schools Project).
There are many articles saying that children and young people are under undue stress around exams and the negative effect this can have.  There are also many ways of reducing stress that people are implementing.  I feel that biggest ways to reduce stress is firstly by being more open about mental health awareness and secondly by encouraging positive change.  These children are our future so why not support them?
So I used to panic in exams.  I remember in GCSE Spanish having a panic attack for the oral conversation section of the exam.  The tape ran and ran and all you could hear was "Oh g-d I can't do this" whilst I hyperventilated.
Why am I telling you this?  Simply put I survived and even managed to scrape a B grade.  If you do have a panic attack it's not the end of the things.  The world goes on and we learn to improve and I can cope much better now.
Below are my 10 tips to help you through the papers.  Please bare in mind this is just some advice and does not necessarily work for everyone and I am in no way liable if you do have a panic attack in the exam!​​​​​​​
Tip 1. Can you sit a course with majority coursework?
For some people the exam stress is simply too much.  Granted not all courses will have a coursework element and it will be necessary for most people to sit at least some exam from SATs to GCSE and beyond.  However, there may be some courses that have a written element so if you do struggle stress you could get marks elsewhere.  It's worth looking into at the very least.
Tip 2. Meditation
Practising meditation has been proven to have many healing benefits and is highly spiritual for some people.  Meditation can be done anywhere though most people prefer a quiet environment and best of all it is usually free!  You can meditate to music or in silence.
In terms of meditating for an exam.  I would meditate before the exam, during and after.  The before and after are fairly obvious but let's say you feel a panic attack coming on during the exam.  Why not take 3 minutes to sit back in quiet contemplation.  It may help.
Please note don't spend the whole exam meditating (even for an exam on meditation!).
Tip 3. Practice Makes Perfect
When I usually sit exams these days I make sure I am extremely familiar with the exam paper format.  This is for two reasons.  Firstly, papers can differ from paper to paper.  For example, a functional skills paper is extremely different to a GCSE higher paper.  You want to be familiar to maximise marks.  Secondly, when you feel prepared usually you feel less anxious.  Some people even take this further by going to the venue where they are going to sit the exam and practise an exam in the venue.  This is because there are scientific studies that say students perform better after taking exams at the venue they are sitting the exam in test conditions.
Tip 4. Be as prepared as possible
As I pointed out above preparation is essential.  However this doesn't just apply to practice papers and when you sit the exam (e.g. correct writing equipment  etc.).  Preparation should start early including planning revision, creating timetables and actually revising ahead of schedule.  Cramming usually doesn't alleviate exam nerves.  However, if you are near your exams and haven't started revising, I would start now.
Tip 5. Practice mindfulness
By this I mean being aware of the present moment.  You can change your thinking by being more aware of how and what your thinking.  Studies have proven this can reduce anxiety.
Tip 6. Question the stress
This leads into questioning the stress.  Is there any point to being stressed?  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help with this.  Try this exercise.  Identify what is stressing you.  Ask yourself "and what will happen if this happens?" and repeat asking yourself this question for each new scenario.  Is it the scenario as bad as you thought it would be?  Then try challenging any bad scenarios what are your other options.  Questioning the things that are stressing you can put them in a box.
Tip 7. Proper conditioning
Looking after your body will mean your in prime condition for the exam.  This means physically and mentally.  Eating the write foods can improve brain power and exercise can help improve connections as well as destress you.  Looking after yourself mentally also is just as important.  People with mental health conditions often complain they cannot concentrate as well as they used to.  If you are struggling mentally maybe it's time to talk to someone.
Tip 8. Positive self-talk
Looking after yourself also means not putting yourself down.  Sometimes when we put ourselves down we internalise this negativity which makes us see things as going badly and then we are even harder on ourselves.  This is negative reinforcement.  No-one is saying you have to be arrogant but positive thinking about yourself can go a long way to creating a positive reinforcement cycle.
Tip 9. Breathe
Most of us breathe right?  How many of us though stop to catch our breath?  Sometimes concentrating on our breathing and slowing it down can stop anxiety attacks.  If your in an exam you could do this and even combine it with a 3 minute meditation.  Stopping for 3 minutes in an exam may be better than not being able to sit the exam due to stress. 
Tip 10. Take 3
I get very stressed when I don't take a break.  My anxiety increases and I can't read my writing or what I'm reading.  Taking 15 minutes for a break every now and then is OK.  If you have two exams in a day, I recommend revising a little in between but mainly taking time to chill and relax between the exams.  Your mind will appreciate it, you'll feel better and hopefully stop those panic attacks.
Back to Top