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It is usually at this time of year that nerves first begin to affect those preparing for GCSE and A level examinations. So what can parents and teachers do to help pupils keep their cool?

Although there is no magic formula for exam success, it is vital that students are encouraged to remain self-confident. A successful student must be an effective communicator - something that will be impossible if he is crippled by nerves.

The purpose of the examination, after all, is to test the candidate’s ability to read and comprehend the questions set and then provide an answer that ‘matches’ them. A common failure among pupils is that, instead of addressing the question on the exam paper, they try to answer one they had hoped to see and for which they had prepared.

Many pupils find examination skills difficult to grasp because they do not understand the need to learn a basic methodology and then practice it. The fact is that success comes only through regular and repeated practice of past exam questions.

In any exam, it is important not to begin by immediately answering the questions. Rather, pupils should read all the information in the paper to understand what it means, then carefully read over the questions. Only after doing this should they begin to write their answers.

Students who will be sitting exams this summer should remember that the key to success is focusing on the questions and having confidence in their abilities. Confidence will improve grades. And there is no substitute for the old adage that practice makes perfect.


Why should you revise?

You cannot expect to remember all the science that you have studied unless you revise it. It is important to fix it all in your memory so that you can recall it in a test.

Where should you revise?

In a quiet room, with a table and a clock. The room should be comfortably and brightly lighted. A reading lamp on the table helps you to concentrate on your work and reduces eye-strain.

When should you revise?

Start your revision early each evening, before your brain gets tired.

How should you revise?

If you sit down to revise without thinking of a definite finishing time, you will find that your learning efficiency is diminished.

If you sit down to revise, saying to yourself that you will definitely stop after 2 hours, then your learning efficiency falls at the beginning but rises towards the end as your brain realises it is coming to the end of the session (see the graph).

We can use this U-shaped curve to help us work more efficiently by splitting a 3 hour session into 4 shorter sessions, each of about 25 minutes with a short, planned break between them. The breaks must be planned beforehand so that the graph rises near the end of each short session.

For example, if you start your revision at 6.00 pm, you should look at your clock or watch and say to yourself, "I will work until 6.25 pm and then stop - not earlier and not later". At 6.25 pm you should leave the table for a relaxation break of 10 minutes (or less), returning by 6.35 pm when you should say to yourself, "I will work until 7.00 pm and then stop not earlier and not later". Continuing in this way is more efficient and causes less strain on you.

How often should you revise?

The graph below shows of the amount of information that your memory can recall at different times after you have finished a revision session.

Surprisingly, the graph rises at the beginning. This is because your brain is still sorting out the information that you have been learning. The graph soon falls rapidly so that after 1 day you may remember only about a quarter of what you had learned.

There are two ways of improving your recall and raising this graph:

If you briefly revise the same work again after 10 minutes (at the high point of the graph) then the graph falls much more slowly. This fits in with your 10 minute break between revision sessions. Using the example on the opposite page, when you return to your table at 6.35 pm, the first thing you should do is review, briefly the work you learned before 6.25 pm.

The graph can be lifted again by briefly reviewing the work after 1 day and then again after 1 week. That is, on Tuesday night your should look through the work you learned on Monday night and the work you learned on the previous Tuesday night, so that it is fixed quite firmly in your long-term memory. So make sure you start your revision a few days before the test, do not leave it to the day before - you will only recall 25% of the work.


Another method of improving your memory is by taking care to try to understand all parts of your work. This makes all the graphs higher. If you learn your work in a parrot-fashion (as you have to do with telephone numbers), all these graphs will be lower. On the occasions when you have to learn facts by heart, try to picture them as exaggerated, colourful images in your mind.

For many pupils, ‘mind mapping’ is an effective tool both in study preparation and in planning the answer in the exam room. The technique is also a way of providing structure. Starting with a central point – a topic area in the case of revision, or the question in an exam situation – the pupil constructs a spider diagram linking the key areas for discussion.

Remember : The most important points about revision are that it must occur often and be repeated at the right intervals.

Here is a good site for additional revision guidance.  Home learning