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GCSEs – 9 ways you can make exams less stressful for your students

As the exam period begins to approach, Spencer Williams offers up some useful tips that teachers can pass onto parents and students to help them prepare and use their time effectively

Spencer Williams
by Spencer Williams
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1. Include extra curricular events in revision timetables When students prepare their revision timetables, encourage them to also include extra-curricular activities, family commitments and other important tasks alongside their exam schedule. This will help them to manage their time more effectively and juggle other commitments – be it a family birthday, a part-time job or a sporting activity.

Breaking up long revision periods with other events will also help make the exam period seem less daunting overall.

2. Set achievable mini-goals Prevent students from panicking about the amount of information they have to absorb by helping them set mini goals and targets for each revision session. That way, they can measure their achievement and be motivated by small successes. A goal could be as simple as spending 15 minutes on understanding one particular area – for example, covalent bonding in Chemistry.

3. Introduce a ‘digital detox’ Technology might be a major part of most young people’s lives these days, the examination process itself is still largely done on paper. While it’s tempting to make frequent use of online resources, completing some revision offline with a pen and paper can be just as important as using computers, tablets and phones.

Digital-free revision sessions will not only avoid distraction, but can actually be more effective. A 2009 study (Greenfield: Technology and Informal Education: What Is Taught, What Is Learned) found that print-based revision is more effective than typing and the action of writing stimulated memory centres.

4. If you know one thing… Highlighting one key point or fact for each topic area can effectively alleviate the panic felt by those students daunted by the volume of information they need to remember.

Remind them that if they don’t need to remember every fact and figure, simply knowing the key pieces of information on a particular subject point will enable them to score some exam marks.

5. Familiarise them with multiple revision strategies Use tried and tested memory tricks such as mnemonics – for example, using the first letters of a list of items to help memorise particular facts. Visual prompts, such as concept maps, flow charts and making unusual connections, are also helpful. Remember that Sir Patrick Manson discovered that mosquitoes could spread diseases by imagining a man and his son running from a huge mosquito.

Sticking post-it notes with key words around the house can also a handy way to help memorise important information, terms and vocabulary.

6. ‘Little and often’ beats cramming Short, regular revision sessions are far more effective than spending hours trying to cram.

By allocating 15-minute blocks to particular topic areas or subjects your students will be able to stay engaged and motivated. This is especially effective when learning information presented as lists, be it French vocabulary, scientific definitions or important equations. The process of going through these can then be repeated on a daily basis.

7. Make sure that students and parents know their exam boards If parents are planning to buy revision resources for their children, it helps if they know which exam board the school uses for particular subjects. This will ensure that students don’t become confused if they meet a topic that they’re unfamiliar with during their revision and worry the night before an exam.

8. Positive reflection Encourage students to evaluate how successful each revision session was. Get them to list five things they have learnt, three things they will confidently remember and three things that they’re still unsure about. This means that when they return to their notes for further revision, they can focus on filling in their knowledge gaps.

9. Keep things in perspective Remind students that while exams and qualifications are stepping-stones to a bright and successful future for those who​ ​achieve them, they are not the be all and end all. They do not, and will never, completely define the sum total of what a good​ ​education ought to provide.

Pearson publishes a range of revision resources and study materials for students and schools, including the ‘REVISE’ series of revision guides, workbooks, practice papers and revision support services, available for purchase online from the Pearson Learner and Parent Shop.

For more information, visit or follow @pearson_uk

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