How to avoid exam stress and succeed at GCSE’s

Following a few simple steps, it is possible to feel in control of revision and as a result, less stressed about exams. Having said that, feeling a little anxious is a natural reaction and it allows us to perform on the day, so don't be afraid of it, embrace it and make it work for you.


‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’, said Benjamin Franklin and he wasn’t wrong. To reach the end goal, in this case being successful at exam time, you need to plan the steps needed to achieve it. You can do this by reviewing your notes and establishing what work needs to be done, break the task down into manageable chunks and plot it on a planner. As we are fast approaching exam time this may take the form of identifying strengths and weaknesses and focusing on weaker areas to improve your knowledge on a subject. Consider if you need to talk to teachers and go over stuff you are still unsure of or even to ask for additional resources. You should also be planning what revision techniques you may use be it condensing notes, flashcards, mind maps or practice papers.

Another area of planning often overlooked is preparation of the study space; where will you revise? Is it quiet and free from disturbance? Do you have a table, books, paper, pens, pencils, calculator or any other resource you may need to hand? Thinking ahead and having your study place set up will ensure that the time you have put aside to study will be fully utilised for that purpose.

The planner you draw up should be realistic and that means identifying what time you have available to revise outside school, family activities, sports and seeing friends. Divide that time between subjects and ensure you take plenty of short breaks as well as having healthy snacks and water to hand to keep you going and prevent dehydration headaches.

Managing your time

If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got’, Lee Lacocca

If you followed the above step then you should have identified time you have available and understand what tasks need to be completed so that you can consider how best to manage the time you have. It might help to:

1. Identify the key areas of learning for each subject and ensure you know them

2. Understand which topics your weaker areas of knowledge are and prioritise those

3. Practise past papers to ensure you know your way around them and the types of questions you are likely to be asked. Complete papers against the clock so you can manage the allotted time on exam day

4. Be disciplined and do not waste hours on social media or chatting to mates online – boundary this activity and plot it on your planner so it doesn’t eat into valuable revision time

Good time management skills allow you to accomplish much more in shorter periods of time, and thus can help with reducing stress and anxiety so you can perform better when revising.


Taking care of your mind, body and relationships is so important during exam time and should be a priority. Rewarding yourself for the hard work you do is key to motivation and it doesn’t have to be huge rewards. It might be a hot chocolate with marshmallows, a hot bubble bath with a few drops of lavender oil, listening to a podcast or rapping along to your favourite grime artist. Whatever you decide to reward yourself with, it should leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Eating well is also important providing brain fuel but do try and avoid sugary snacks as this will leave you feeling lethargic rather than energised! Maintain a well-balanced diet, washed down with plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Spending time with people we love and who make us laugh is good for the soul and will help release any pent-up tension. Meeting mates for a pizza, watching a comedy show together on TV or just chatting about stuff can help to bust those stress levels and reduce anxiety.

Practising output

As briefly mentioned earlier it is important to practise recall as often as you can in the lead up to exams. There is no point designing colourful mind maps or devising hundreds of flash cards if you never review them and test your knowledge.

You might undertake a PowerPoint presentation to the family about a subject as one of the best ways to consolidate learning is to explain it to others. You could also ask family or friends to test your knowledge by going through a handful of flashcards over breakfast.

Read, cover, repeat is another great method to test recall and this is done by reading about a topic, closing the book and writing down what you recall. It is also imperative that past papers are practised regularly and if you are short of time; take one question, read on the subject for 20 minutes, take a further 20 minutes to answer the question and then mark it, identifying what could have made your answer better.

Testing yourself continually will not only help you understand where more work is needed but you will begin to see the gains you are making through revision; sure way to boost confidence!

Stay interested

Revision can be repetitive, and you can become easily disengaged in the process, especially if you are doing the same things every day. To ensure that you pace yourself for the long road ahead and keep revision fresh and engaging, it is important to utilise different methods.

Condense notes by writing revision notes in your own words and testing yourself on what has been covered. Create a mind map, make flashcards, use mnemonics, create time lines, use sticky notes, record your notes on a voice recorder and playback, listen to podcasts or watch relevant You Tube channels.

Variety is the spice of life, so they say, so mix it up and keep yourself interested in your revision tasks.

Accountability partner

The link between success and accountability is undeniable and most successful people use accountability to gain the advantage needed to take action and get results.

Accountability is in simple terms; being responsible to someone for an action or result, for example, you may agree to check in at the end of your revision session with friends and talk through what you have achieved. Your accountability partner may be a parent or carer who can check in with you at the end of a session. Whoever you choose having an accountability partner may help you to stay off social media, alleviate procrastination and bring order to your revision, allowing you to progress, improve and achieve the results you want.

Ask for help

Keep the lines of communication open with those around you, peers, teachers, family and friends. We all need help at some time in our lives and this may be your time to reach out. It takes great courage to ask for help and is a show of strength, so do ask for it if you need to as you owe it to yourself to get all the help and support you need.

About the author

Lisa offers 2-hour coaching sessions from year 9 onwards and imparts valuable skills to enable young people to become more organised, better able to plan revision timetables, look at best techniques and tips for exam preparation. For more information check out Lisa on social media and read for yourself the reviews and recommendations for her services.

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