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Exams and revision
Find out what happened when Catrina, our careers expert, answered your questions on panic in the exam room, finding revision techniques that work and preparing for an exam that you're really worried about.
After completing her post-graduate in Careers Guidance at the University of East London, Catrina spent several years working in East London as a Connexions adviser, working in schools and with young people who needed additional support to get into employment, education and training. She now works at vInspired - a charity that helps young people discover the value of volunteering.
Anna: I often find myself rather panicky when it comes to exams. In most exams I end up having a panic attack. I also generally struggle to revise. I can't stay focussed. I give myself a few hours then go for a break but when I go for the break, I just forget everything! I tried doing a mock paper but I just ended up glaring at it for ages. How am I meant to overcome this?
Catrina: Hi Anna. Stress about exams is totally normal. Is it mainly when you're in the exam itself that you feel the most stressed?
Anna: It's often during revision too; I just can't revise. I swear I've tried almost everything in the world!
Catrina: What sort of things do you do to revise? I know you mentioned the mock paper.
Anna: I do mock papers, I write out notes, I have flashcards, sticky notes - I do a lot but it doesn't seem to enter my brain.
Catrina: It sounds like you're trying a few different things, which is great. It's often a good idea to think how you learn best as everyone is different. Some people like talking about things rather than reading. For example, you could try and talk to someone else about the topic you're revising?
Anna: I've tried that, I often use online chats to talk about it or just with friends - we quiz each other.
Niki: I revise by talking too. I've spent all my time since we went on study leave just sat in the common room talking about whatever subject.
Anna: My main worry is going in to the exam, staring at the paper for half an hour and not writing anything.
Catrina: I know it's tricky, but you've probably taken in more info than you think. It's just getting access to it when you're feeling stressed.
Niki: Teaching people things can work too, not to sound like I'm showing off. I'm doing better than most of my friends, so teaching them stuff really helps.
Anna: I have to dash now but thank you for your help everyone!
Catrina: No worries - good luck! Teaching is a great technique to use Niki and I'm sure your friends share ideas too.
Becky: I have a full on break down when I look at the exam paper. I sit exams in a room on my own with a learning support person and I'm allowed to have breaks every half hour or so due to mental health problems. I'm an A* student according to the teachers, so it's not that I can't do the work. I just freak out and end up crying :(
Catrina: Hi Becky, I'm sorry to hear that you've felt that way in exams before. Sometimes it's trying to get through the panic, which can be very hard I know. Try to allow yourself some time to 'settle' in the exam, don't feel that you have to rush into writing. Breathing deeply and calming your mind if possible might help too. Does that make sense?
Becky: Yeah it does, thanks.
Catrina: Have you spoken to your teachers about this? I know you're not the only one to find exams really hard to deal with.
Becky: Yes, I have breaks and sit exams in a small room which helps a bit. CAMHS have been able to advise the teachers at school quite a lot.
Niki: Is there any way you could get your break earlier? That way you could look through the paper, take a break, and then start writing when you get back.
Becky: I'm not sure, I'll ask tomorrow Niki. The breaks are to keep me calm and in the room, so probably.
Niki: You could also maybe look through the paper, find a question you feel happy answering, then do the harder ones later when you might have calmed down a bit?
Catrina: That's a good technique Niki. It's finding the technique that works best for you Becky which can mean trying a few different things; allowing yourself some thinking time is a good idea. Make sure you have rewards planned for afterwards too and celebrate each exam that you conquer!
Becky: Yeah, I might try that. I've failed a few exams for the first time ever which was a bit weird but I got my Maths GCSE early, so at least that's done.
Catrina: Well done for getting Maths early Becky. Maybe you can use that experience to tell yourself what you can do. Celebrate your successes. Can you remember how that exam felt?
Becky: Awful! I sobbed my eyes out in both of them, it was two parts.
Catrina: But you got through it, twice!
Lilly: I had my first two GCSE's last week. The first one was okay and the other one went really well apart from one question that was worth 6 marks :-/
Catrina: Great to hear that the first one went okay Lily :) I know that it can be easy to think about the questions that didn't go so well but the important thing is to focus on all of the good things.
Lilly: Yeah, it wasn't in the big hall so that was a relief.
Catrina: Have you got any top tips for exam revision?
"If things don't go to plan there will be other routes that you can take to get where you want to go."
Lilly: I don't really do revision, I probably should though.
Becky: BBC Bitesize is really good, especially for science, you could try that?
Catrina: What do you find works well for you Becky?
Becky: It's really well laid out and for some subjects you can pick your specific exam board.
Niki: S-cool's really good for A Level chemistry, not sure about anything else though but it's worth a look.
Catrina: I haven't heard of that one before Niki. It's great when you find a resource that works well for you.
Chris: I have a psychology exam tomorrow. I've been getting U's in previous past papers and last year (this is a retake). Any advice?
Catrina: Hi Chris, what sort of things have you been doing to revise?
Chris: Reading over notes etc. I'm more thinking, what can I do in the next 18 hours that's going to up my chances of doing well? I hate psychology with a passion, it's frying my brain.
Catrina: It's important not to focus on the exams that didn't go so well before. Do you think it's the exam situation that's the issue? Or, is it the subject more generally?
Chris: It's the subject on all accounts but if I fail Psychology they will kick me out.
Catrina: It sounds as though you're finding it really hard to engage with the subject. Do you feel that you've taken much in when you've been revising? Sometimes you're holding more info than you think. The tricky part can be accessing it, especially if the subject isn't your favourite
Chris: Hardly anything, realistically I'm looking at an E for tomorrow's exam I think.
Becky : An E is a pass at A level :)
Catrina: That's right Becky, A levels are no mean feat. What are you hoping to do after the exams?
Chris: It is a pass but at my 6th form if you get anything below a D, you're asked to leave so as to not lower their average grades :-/
Niki: How many other subjects do you do Chris? If you have another three it won't matter if you're trying for uni.
Catrina: I know it's hard but try not to think about the worst case scenario. When you get in the exam tomorrow, try and just focus on doing what you can and planning to demonstrate as much knowledge as possible.
Catrina: There are always options Chris. What other subjects are you doing?
Chris: ICT, AS Psychology, English Language, and Business Studies.
Catrina: It sounds like you're doing an interesting mix of subjects. Have you spoken to your teachers about your concerns? There are always alternative options if it doesn't go to plan. I know it's difficult to put aside the worries about what the exams represent.
Chris: Yes, I have spoken to my teachers. Unfortunately if you're a student who needs guidance or a second chance, you don't get much help. If you're trying to get from an A to an A*, they will happily supply you with all the resources you need. They have very high standards.
Catrina: I'm really sorry to hear that you feel you haven't got the support that you need Chris. It can be extra hard at exam time when you feel under added pressure. All you can do at this stage is try your best tomorrow, get a decent night's sleep and remember that you have put the work in. There will be options whatever the outcome.
Helen TS: We've got some info on exam prep in terms of the final run up that you might find useful too. It mentions picking out the questions you know you can answer first to get yourself into the swing of things when you get in there. This might be a good place to start.
Becky: There are other colleges who will accept you as well if things don't go well.
Catrina: Becky is right. If things don't go to plan there will be other routes that you can take to get where you want to go.
Chris: I actually know a hell of a lot of psychology, but I implement the wrong ideas for the wrong questions. Essentially, I give a brilliant answer, to a different question. This is something that is hard to overcome.
Catrina: If you have a goal it's worth pursuing it. It sounds as though it might be a good idea to allow yourself time to break down the question and plan your answer carefully to make sure that your question is matching what they're asking. I think you might surprise yourself.
Chris: Well, cheers for the help all!
Catinra: Good luck everyone! Make sure you have plenty of treats planned for when it's all over! ;)