The Complete Guide to Exams

The school year is coming closer to the end, and for some, this means end-of-year exams. I’ve collected as much information as I could, some from my experience with previous tests and my new school entrance exams (which were tough), and I’ve put it all into a step-by-step guide on how to battle exams and get the best out of them.

Are you ready? 

Before you even start revising, you need to make sure you’re ready and have everything sorted out to learn and revise in a smart way. 

1. Where should you work? 
If you don’t have a designated study area, find one. It should be quiet, uncluttered, organised, and where you can keep all your revision resources even during the time when you’re not revising - basically everything for quality studying. The best place is a desk in your bedroom. 

Make sure that it is also a pleasant place to study in, where you can easily turn on some music and use the Internet (for studying!). Also, make sure there’s good lighting, preferably natural light. Your room should be warm but not stuffy, and your seat should give you good support and be at a height where you can easily rest your non-writing arm on the desk. If you have a study area, make sure it is tidy and organised, ready for you to study. 

2. When should you work? 
What I’ve learnt from my hectic school entrance exams experience is that you should always make your plan and schedule very flexible and easy.
Start by listing all the subjects for which you need to revise. For each of the subjects, work out exactly what you need to learn and group it into small, manageable topics. 

School days
Set aside roughly 30 minutes in the evening for one topic. This means 20 minutes active learning (revising), a five min. break and three to five minutes reviewing what you just learnt. From previous exams’ revision, I have realised that it is not a good idea to set specific times, but it is always good to know roughly how long one topic will take you to complete. 

What time of day is best for you? Be honest and consistent, as it’s much easier to work when you’ve got a routine you’re used to. A good idea is a 30-minute slot right after breakfast. If the exams are getting close, extent to two or even three slots (topics) per day, but only if you can manage it. 
Make sure you know the exact date for each of the exams by making an exam timetable (use this template). 

Now that you know how much time you’ll need in order to cover all the topics, you need to set up a schedule for when you’ll study. Instead of making a tight schedule and plan exact times of studying for each day, you have several other better and more flexible options: 

Using a weekly plan
- Save the image for the Weekly Planner and print it.
- Choose which subjects you are going to revise and when. Fill these in on your planner, but make sure not to make your schedule too tight or tiring. 
- Pin it up on your wall. It also helps to have a smaller version available with you in school; such as on your phone, in case you need a glance at your plan. 

Using a topic checklist
- Save the image and print this topic checklist, one per subject 
- Write down the topics that you need to revise for that particular subject, making sure that the first topics are the ones which are vital, the second ones are important, and the last ones for if you have time. 

- The table is divided into sections – these are the stages of your revision. You’ll learn more about them later on in the guide. Once you have completed that stage of revision for the topic, put a tick.
- Pin it up on your wall. It also helps to have a smaller version available with you in school, such as on your phone, in case you need a glance at your plan. 

Using a subject checklist
- Save the image and print this subject checklist 
- Fill in the subjects and list the topics for each subject
- Tick every time you complete a topic for a particular subject
- Pin it up on your wall. It also helps to have a smaller version available with you in school, such as on your phone, in case you need a glance at your plan. 

3. What equipment do you need? 
Here is a list of suggested equipment you might want to use for top-quality revision. You’ll need the items I have listed here for the activities that I will mention later on in the guide. Remember that you don’t necessarily need them all! 
- Coloured pens and/or highlighters
- Sticky notes
- Card or index cards (and a folder/box to store them in) 
- A3 paper and a folder to store 
- Notebook with sections for each subject or a separate notebook for each subject. 

It might seem obvious, but you always must make sure that you have a reliable resource from where you revise. The best resources are your notebooks, if, throughout the year, you have made notes for all the material you’ve studied. As well as that, textbooks that you’ve used in class are a great help as they provide all the information you need. For specific material, revision guides (I order mine online when/if I need them) are amazing, as they also have tips for tackling the topics. 

Active learning 
There are many ways to keep your brain alert and learning actively, but here are the basic skills you’ll need first. 

1. Brain Warm-Up
First of all, instead of blindly going through the entire topic, start off by “warming up”. It helps to get you going with revision and figure out what’s missing in your knowledge. 

What do I already know about this topic? 
- Spend a few minutes jotting down everything you can think of to so with the topic
- Do this either in a list
- …or in a brainstorm - have a bubble in the centre of the page and drawing lines out from the centre with words or phrases. 
What else do I need to know about this topic? 

2. Plough through notes

Now is the time to use your notebooks, textbooks, and any other notes about the topic (whether on the Internet or on a printout from your teacher). 
Pick out key words and ideas from the texts by underlining or highlighting. You might want to use different colours. 

3. Summarise
Make notes that make sense to you and that only contain the information that is needed, a.k.a. write a topic summary. It’s helpful to use short sentences, lots of key words and phrases, formulae (if needed), diagrams (if needed), and write in bullet points. Use abbreviations if you feel like you need to. Remember - they’re your notes, so as long as you understand them and it’s easier to remember, then go ahead! 

Learning techniques
Here are a few of different interesting learning techniques that use the three-step concept you have just learnt (1. Warm-Up, 2. Notes, 3. Summarise). Remember that some techniques work better for some subjects/topics than for other ones. 

Mind maps

I did this all the time for my revision, and it helped a loooot. Use an A3 page with the name of the topic in the middle, then draw arrows coming from the circle, with sentences, key words, concepts, diagrams, formulae, and everything you can think of to do with the topic. Different coloured pens and highlighters always helps with this. Remember to do a “brain warm-up” by adding info from your own knowledge, then reading through and picking out information from your notes, then finally combining the two to create a whole idea. This revision technique is useful for subjects such as Geography and Science, where you need to remember a lot of processes. Below is an example of a mind map about health. 

Box and bubble flow charts 
This is a technique where key points are connected downwards and sideways by lines, surrounded by boxes or bubbles. Start off with the warm-up as usual by brainstorming or listing everything you know about the topic, then go through the notes and pick out the key stuff. When creating a flow chart from a text, it helps to write the key point of each paragraph. Use colour to help group your notes into the flow chart. Use different shapes to group as well. Revise from your flow charts in the same way that you would from your mind maps. This learning technique is also useful for processes, but also topics and subjects relating to chronology, like History. 

Index cards
This is a method that uses a question and answer approach with numbered points, key words, colour and pictures. Start with the warm-up, and then go through the notes and underline/highlight key words. Depending on what your cards will be about, you may want to colour-code the key words. Then, use the highlighted key words to write questions on one side of the cards, then answers on the other. Remember that, since the cards should be small and compact, you should always write in notes and sometimes draw diagrams and write abbreviations instead of writing the whole thing out. This technique can be used for anything, really, but mostly for material that you need to remember, such as definitions of key words, formulae, rules, etc. It’s great for testing yourself. 
Set your cards out in front of you, in order (if there is one), question side upwards. See if you can give a full answer to each question, then turn the card over to check whether you have remembered all the points. 

Association techniques 
These memory tricks are very useful for remembering words, a series of words, certain facts, etc. and they’re very useful in practically all the subjects. Your brain loves making connections between facts and letters, words, pictures, rhymes and stories. The best memory tricks are the ones you invent yourself. 

Word and picture links

You can use all kinds of connections between the facts that you want to learn and other words with a similar sound, an amusing meaning, and more. Use cards to write the fact/word and draw the picture that will help you remember it underneath or on the other side. These can be used for remembering words such as countries and capital cities, or for vocabulary in languages. 
For example, to remember the word for “trainers” in French (“les baskets”) I would write “les baskets” on one side of the card, then draw a picture of a pair of trainers in a basket on the other side, because “les baskets” sounds like “basket”. 

Letter links

See if the first letter of each word you want to learn makes another word or useful pattern. 
For example, a memory trick used for life processes is “Mrs Gren”. 

Revision activities
Once you’ve got the basics of the topic covered, you need to put what you’ve just learnt into action. Below are ideas for interesting activities that will help you test your knowledge. 

- Watching educational videos about the topic on YouTube (yes, you can use YouTube for revision!) 

- Condensing boring paragraphs of information about the topic into small sticky notes leaving only the key points

- Making cue cards - Note/cue cards are always handy for when you’re out and about. List definitions and rules you need to know. Or write key words from which you can fill in the gaps to tell the whole story. They're also handy for learning language vocabulary. Once filled in, these cards will allow you to reclaim time that would otherwise be wasted - on the bus, in the queue at the supermarket - there’s no limit.

- For some cases, you’ll find it much easier to understand if you have a diagram or a picture in front of you than if you have a page of text in front of you. This is where the Internet comes in handy. 

- Making timelines - Timelines can be helpful - especially for History. They are invaluable for making sense of a series of events, because you can trace improvements, factors etc. Pin them up in your room or take them out with you (or save a photo on your phone) for constant reviewing.

- Getting friends and family to test you - this works well for vocabulary and key words. 

- Recording information and then listening back to it when you’re out, for example on the bus, during school breaks, etc. 

- Repeating things over and over in your head to remember them. Works well for names, vocabulary, or key points. 

- Listening to songs about the topic - there are loads of educational songs on YouTube. Listen to them even if they’re “lame”. If the song is catchy and you listen to it frequently, it will stick in your head and you’ll be able to recall the point you’ll need on the exam! 

- Talking and discussing points with someone else (who is also studying the topic) - what’s great about this is that you can talk about it, which is much easier and engaging than just reading your textbook. And by discussing the topic, it will be easier to see what you remember and what you don’t. 

- Making a PowerPoint presentation or even an animation about the topic - works for every topic, helps you remember, and is basically the perfect way to revise and review a topic. 

- Using educational websites such as BBC Bitesize (there are loads more). Bitesize has revision notes, activities (yay!) and quizzes for many different topics, and is a great website to use if you’re bored of using your textbook. 

- Making flash card games with vocabulary, key words, definitions or main points. Yes, make games. Games like matching games and dominos where you’ll be able to, for example, match the definition to the word or the question to the answer are great because they’re not boring but at the same time require you to think and review the information. 

- Writing key words, dates, points, etc. on sticky notes and placing them around the house/room. Instead of having your revision session in your study area, you’ll be walking all around the house and reading the notes. Another idea is to write questions relating to the topic on the notes, and if you know the answer, collect the note. Do this until you’ve collected all the notes. 

- Working with a friend - and making resources and exercises for each other, like “fill in the blanks”, quizzes, etc. 

- If your exam includes writing an essay, you can make practising essay writing more fun with Written? Kitten! which shows cute pictures of kittens for every set number of words you have written. 

Review, review, review

After you’ve done each of the topics, it’s time to review. This is where your mind maps, flow charts, lists and all the other review exercises you’ve done come in handy. Consider doing practice exam papers, too. The exams are near, so it’s vital that you keep reviewing everything you’ve done. Carry around the flash cards you made, save revision files on your phone. Keep listening to those revision recordings you’ve made (if you made them) and keep listening to those annoying songs on YouTube. Know what your hardest exam will be, and why, and focus on those areas.

 Advice about exams

1. Know what to expect

Make sure you can answer the following questions about each exam:
- When is it? 
- How long does it last?
- Where is it? 
- How many marks are there?
- Do I get a choice in any part of it? 

2. Understand the instructions 
Here is a basic list of instruction words used in exam papers (make sure you know what they mean): 
- analyse
- assess
- comment on
- compare
- contrast
- criticise
- define
- describe 
- discuss
- evaluate
- explain
- interpret
- justify
- list 
- relate
- state
- summarise

3. Know how to answer 
Remember that the more marks there are for the question, the more it is worth and the more you should write. Avoid careless mistakes. Always follow exactly what the question says. If it says to explain, make sure you do explain your statement and give reasons. Make sure there aren’t any spelling or grammar mistakes (although some teachers don’t count minor spelling mistakes). 

Final tips 

Before the exam
Are you at your best? 
- Make sure you have everything ready
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Be determined and think positively 
- Eat healthily 
- Try not to panic 

During the exam
- Keep track of time
- Divide your time sensibly for all the questions, with time at the end for checking (I always make sure I check at least three times)
- The way I do the exam paper is that I go through the whole paper and only do the easiest questions. I never let myself stay on one question for more than two minutes. Once I’ve reached the end of the paper, I go back and do the ones I haven’t done. If there’s a question that I’m not sure about, I leave it, do all the rest, and then use the time that there’s left to try to figure out an answer. 
- Ask yourself - do my answers make sense? Have I spelled long words or names that appear in the exam paper correctly? 

I hope you find this guide useful! If you’ve got any questions or would like some help with anything about exam revision, remember - you can ask us anything!