Finally, it’s almost over — I’m almost there. Since the middle of May, I’ve been sitting my GCSE exams. For those of you who perhaps aren’t aware of the ins-and-outs of the British education system, GCSEs are the exams taken by all 16-year-olds in England in Wales, testing English, Maths and Science knowledge, as well as a range of other subjects, as chosen by the student several years before. I’m doing 11 GCSEs, and have a total of 23 exams; fortunately, we’re down to just two now, which will all be over by Thursday evening.
I’ve never really done a proper exam series before; sure, we had mocks and endless end-of-term ‘tracker’ exams, but GCSEs are different. They actually, like, mean something, and are done in an extremely serious environment. I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve been using to get through the exam period itself, in the hopes that it might help you too, either now or in the future.
1. Be realistic
I’m not talking about grades here; trust me, if I was, I’d have lost all hope from day 1! No, I’m talking about revision, and work. I drew up a revision timetable before the exams started, both for the weeks and months leading up to my GCSEs, and for the weeks over which they ran. I didn’t really factor in my own wellbeing, or how I’d feel after an exam.
Top tip: do NOT finish an exam, and within the hour be pressuring yourself into revising for the next one. Be realistic. You need time to get over an exam, to relax and move on: spend that time doing something you enjoy. I felt really guilty doing this to begin with, because I NEED TO REVISE 24/7 OR ELSE I WILL FAIL. Honestly, though, you will be exponentially more productive if you take the time after one exam to relax, and get yourself in the right headspace to revise for the next one.
Anyone who knows me, reads my blog or (God forbid) follows me on twitter (@CouldBeKel if you’re interested) knows that my sleep schedule is actually a mess. I’ll get into a routine, and then one night I’ll be up until 2am, and the whole thing just goes out of the window. During exam season though, I’ve worked extremely hard to keep a regular sleep routine, and for the most part, I’ve been successful. Sure, there have been nights where I haven’t got as much sleep as I might have liked, but on the whole, I’ve gone to bed consistently at the same time, woken up at the same time, and felt really good for it.
A good tip would be to start this sleep routine a week or so before your first exam, to get your body into that schedule. Also, if, like me, you have a week off halfway through your exam period, don’t let that be an excuse to mess up your sleep routine. It’s better to keep it going throughout that week too; you’ll be more productive during revision, and your body won’t have the shock of messing up it’s sleep schedule twice in a week.
3. Remember to forget.
At the beginning of my exams, I was obsessed with them. Not in a weird way — I didn’t really enjoy them, or anything like that. No, I just obsessed over the exams after they’d happened: I googled unofficial mark schemes, swore at myself under my breath when I realised a stupid mistake I’d made, and generally submerged myself in people comparing answers and recalling questions.
In an exam series like GCSEs, where you have more than one subject being tested, and definitely more than one exam to complete, it’s vital that you forget the exams gone by — just let them go. There’s nothing you can do about them now, and although that sounds harsh, it’s true. Worrying over them, and hunting out your mistakes or others’ answers is literally achieving nothing, besides making you feel bad. By the end of my first week, I was wrecking my own confidence, not only in the subjects I’d done, but in the subjects I still had to do too. Don’t let that happen: finish an exam, and then let it go. You’ll appreciate it in the long run.
4. Stay motivated.
It is so, so easy to lose motivation during exams. Although I despised the week off halfway through my exams, it was a good opportunity to stop and reflect on the first half of my exams. I realised that, honestly, I’d lost motivation; I was tired — so tired —, and was losing sight of the point of any of it. I think the best thing to remember throughout the exams themselves that, whilst grades aren’t everything, and a piece of paper that arrives in a month-or-two’s time cannot define you as a person, it’s in your best interest to do as well in those exams as you can. To get a B in your exam is great, and you should be really proud of yourself; however, if you know you could get an A, without negatively affecting your wellbeing, then you should definitely go for it. Grades aren’t the be all and end all, but, unfortunately, the better they are, the easier it is to progress. You may as well put the effort and work in now, so that you’re better prepared for whatever comes next.
I hope this advice helped someone, somehow. Exams can be horrible, stressful and overwhelming; the key is finding little coping strategies, and being consistant and focussed. If you’re going through exams at the moment, or have some coming up, then best of luck to you — you’re going to do awesome! If you’re awaiting results now, then have a lovely summer, and don’t let your unknown results loom over you: you’ve done fab, I know it!