Exam Season 2023. A Survival Guide to Studying, Stress and Specifications

It’s that time of year again. That event has reared its head, marked in the calendar, stuck in your brain. Some will be filled with dread.

Readers, GCSE, AS-level and A-level exams are on the horizon. With just two months to go until exam season arrives, students are starting to think about how to tackle the next few months, questioning how to revise, finding techniques which work for them, and hibernating before summer arrives.

After two years of disruption, students have finally returned to the exam hall. Last year, GCSE and A-level students were able to sit their exams in person, unlike previous years.

It’s undeniable that students have been resilient over the past few years. Now, with Zoom no longer required, swapped instead for that infuriating 7am alarm clock, it’s fascinating to see how students feel, living in a post-pandemic world. Mya Singh-Landa, an A-level student sitting her AS-level exams in May, said that it is “natural to feel nervous as a post-Covid student”, but, “I think school has been very supportive, so I do feel prepared for the upcoming exams.”

However, Soanna Khan, a year 13 A-level student suggested that “as a post-Covid student, I was feeling quite worried for the upcoming exams, although I found the advanced information released by the WJEC useful in allowing me to plan my revision.”

Another individual said that, “I felt more nervous last year, when sitting my GCSEs. But now, I feel as though it has all become normal again, so I am not as fearful for the upcoming exams.”

To find out the date of exams, search for your Exam Board’s website online where you can find a timetable. Advanced information can be highly useful and you should look for this on the Exam Board’s website too.

Yet, it is not the exams that students find stressful to accomplish. It’s the revision. The preparation before exams comes down to the organisation of subject content, which some people may struggle with. Revising for exams is predominantly subjective, as there are multiple methods that you might utilise.

Whether it be active recall, creating mind maps, cue-cards or watching YouTube videos for extra help, many different methods work for different individuals.

Stuck with finding a revision method? It’s often beneficial to talk to those in a similar situation as you. They often have the tools you are looking for. Speaking to Mya, she said that an effective way to revise is by looking at “past paper questions and understanding how examiners mark. Active recall is very effective, especially when you’re asked specific questions.” It can become monotonous over time, constantly at your desk, hour after hour, attempting to cement information into your head.

However, Mya also said: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Actively seek help from your teacher and don’t sit there thinking that you can’t do it. Look at ways to overcome the problem.”

Sitting her A-level exams in May, Soanna believes “the most effective ways to revise are using flashcards with a question on the front and the answer on the back, making mind maps of different topics, re-teaching the content to yourself or to someone else, making acronyms and the ‘blurting method’.” Finding the right method for you will come with time, but make sure you do not leave it to the last minute. As Mya says, “revising from the beginning and building up your revision materials is beneficial.”

Another individual suggested that “for most, a visual approach is one of the best: reading school work, noting the main points on blank paper, condensing this further into brief, essential points that are easy to memorise, then repeating the process in reverse- from your brief notes, build it back to your longer notes, then go back to the original and see what you forgot.”

Whilst revision is highly important, it’s vital to maintain a balance. Socialising, homework, revision, hobbies and spending time with family can be particularly difficult to manage, especially with multiple upcoming exams. Annabel Grosfils, an A-level student sitting her AS exams in May, expressed that “it’s important to take regular breaks and do things other than revising, to give yourself a rest.” She suggested that other useful methods are, “a number of apps that can help with managing your time productively, such as Flora.”

If you are sitting your exams for the first time, it might be useful to talk to those who have already sat their exams. Annabel’s top tip is “to start early, so that you already know the basis of the content, then you can start doing past papers closer to the exam and are not trying to cram as the exams approach.” When speaking to Mya, her best advice is to “ensure that you have breaks” and “if you haven’t started revising now, do start soon.”

Another source said that you definitely need to “buy a ring-binder; it’ll save you from losing all your notes and all your revision.” Lastly, in the year above, Soanna said that “advice I would give to anyone sitting exams in May is to work hard and enjoy the time between your exams and results day, as it can often be easy to stress and worry over the summer about your results.”

Remember: “revision is a unique experience and learners will develop their own preferred approach.” We are all different, so choose a technique that works for you and good luck to you all sitting your exams in May.