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Preparing for exams

This video explains the importance of six key techniques, backed by scientific research, which we tell students are important when planning revision:

Parental support is 8 times more important in determining a child’s academic success than their background/economic factors. The Campaign for Learning found that parental involvement in a child’s education can mean the difference between an A* and an ‘also-ran’ at GCSE. The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert in any of the subjects your child chooses to make a real difference. You also don’t need to give up your life and other responsibilities – you just need to know how best to spend the time you do have.

One of the hardest demands on students is that of understanding the long-term importance of doing the best they can, and learning to shelve short-term fun at times in the interest of long-term benefits (not easy even for adults). Children will also differ in their levels of maturity, their ability to take responsibility for their learning, organisational skills and levels of motivation. This is where parents come in. Your support, encouragement and interest can make a spectacular difference to your child’s motivation and ability to cope with the academic and organisational demands of the exam period.


  • Don’t stop going to, or working in, lessons you find hard or dislike – talk to someone about any difficulties you are having – there is always a solution
  • Revise your revision schedule if necessary and stick to it – even when you don’t feel like it. Don’t wait until you are in the mood – the further behind you get the less you will be in the mood (agree the schedule with your parents for a hassle-free life)
  • Resist the temptation to bury your head in the sand if things are getting out of hand – talk to your parents/tutor/teachers
  • Ignore what friends and others are doing or saying – you are working for an easy life for YOU now and later – let your friends have the hassle of redoing homework, coursework or even the full GCSE


  • Agree the balance between work and social life and stick to the agreement. Again, flexibility is the key – if a special night comes up, agree that they can make up the work at a specified time
  • All students fall behind, feel demotivated or overwhelmed, or struggle with the balance of social, work and school demands at times. When your child feels like this, berating and threatening them will have a negative effect. Talk to them about the issues, acknowledge their feelings and adopt a sensible attitude in wanting to find a solution
  • Be flexible – use the 80/20 rule. If your child is sticking to what they are supposed to be doing 80% of the time, they will be doing alright
  • If your child asks for your support, encourage them by helping them to see the difficulties in perspective. Teenagers often take an all or nothing ‘catastrophic’ approach to difficulties – “I’ve messed up this essay, I might as well give up.”




  • Start revision early. The sooner you start the less you will have to do each day and the less stressed out you will be
  • The most important thing is to make a realistic revision timetable that you will stick to
  • Get one good revision book or aid for every subject. They do much of the initial work for you by breaking the subject down into ‘do-able’ chunks


  • Go to all lessons and make them work for you – especially the ones you don’t like or find hard
  • When your teachers tell you about exam technique – try them all out to see which one will work for you best (it might even be the one you thought wouldn’t work). 
  • Match the revision notes you make to the sort of questions you will be asked. Get hold of old papers (ask teachers which websites to look at – they are also in your planner)  Have a clear goal for each revision period. For example – ‘at the end of these 2 hours I will be able to label a diagram of the heart and answer a question on how the heart works.’
  • Have a start and finish time – and stick to it!
  • Get into the routine of following your revision plan – if you really don’t feel like it, tell yourself you will do 15 minutes and then decide whether to carry on. At least you will have done fifteen minutes. Set your aim for the session and get right on with it – ignore the impulse to suddenly tidy your room for the first time in 3 years!
  • STOP and take a break if you are becoming frustrated, angry or overwhelmed. Put aside the problem
  • Don’t waste time struggling – note down anything you are finding hard and take it to your next lesson or if on study leave, phone friends or your teachers
  • DO NOT BE INFLUENCED BY FRIENDS WHO TALK ABOUT HOW LITTLE WORK THEY ARE DOING Get you head down – your results don’t matter to your friends – but they are crucial to your future. Tell yourself it’s not for long and think about that long summer holiday  Make yourself start however much you don’t want to – the hardest bit is over with then.


There are a number of factors that cause students to lose marks in the exams. The factors below are often reported by examiners. You will also find them in revision books. Here is a list of factors that you need to be aware of and concentrate on.

  • Start in good time – leave it too late and you will start panicking
  • Plan for half hour or, at most, one hour slots. Nothing extra is likely to sink in if one subject is revised for much longer
  • When revising during the evenings plan 1 or 2 subjects only. Leave some time for relaxation
  • Allow some days off, but not in the few weeks just before the exams
  • Plan to revise specific topics or aspects of a subject – for example, not just science, but human systems, or waves, or chemical reactions or electricity
  • Read through a topic and then make brief notes on cards which can be used for further revision later
  • Use colours to highlight key works  Work in small groups to discuss a topic



  • Make sure you know your timetable  Get there early – only fools leave it too late and rush – catch the much earlier bus
  • Allow time for your brain to wake up – have a shower, eat breakfast – take a banana with you
  • Do a final check of the subjects you will be doing that day – know the structure and how many sections there are
  • Make sure you have EVERYTHING you need and take spares – do not get into the stress of asking teachers for things you should have brought
  • Take a pen you enjoy writing with – take 2 just in case

During the exam

  • Don’t forget that it is natural to be nervous. It actually gives your brain the extra adrenalin it needs to make the final effort
  • If your mind goes blank, don’t worry. Look at the question again, write down some notes – it’ll get your brain ticking over again
  • Don’t start writing until you know what the instructions are and you are ready to write sense
  • Make and keep to a time scale for each question depending on the number of marks (you will have done this in revision classes – stick to it). If you only have 3 minutes left for a question, write the answer in note form – the examiner will give you marks for it
  • Allow a little bit of time at the end to check through your work to see if any changes need making. Examiners have said that this can make the difference between a higher and lower grade



  • Please don’t add to the stress levels by ‘rising to the bait’ when your child pushes teh boundaries. Shelve the battles that don’t need winning just yet
  • Help prepare you child for the exam – talk with them about when it starts, how long it lasts for, what are the main topics that might come up. Don’t ‘over egg’ this – they may have worked all day and have come down stairs to relax

(Our thanks to the Langley Academy for these notes)