In this series, I’m looking at the ways get the most from mock exams, with practical steps to help you dial back the stress.
- Know your goals.
- Create a revision timetable
- 10 revision tips
- A good revision space
- What to do during mocks (this post)
- Review, reflect, repeat
Mock exams are there to help you. It’s a chance to practice in timed conditions – and often you don’t get much of that – and to see how you can do at that moment so you know what to work on. But exam weeks can be difficult; exams are close together, they feel stressful and difficult, and you often alternate between either feeling like you should be working harder or you can’t bear to work any more!
There are some things you can do to make the week less stressful, but still get the most out of them.
Take what you need, and pack the night before. Most schools have specific rules so check if you don’t know – usually it’s a clear pencil case, a water bottle. Pencil cases should have a spare pen, highlighter, and any special equipment like for maths exams. I always think an actual watch is a good idea to keep track of time but more schools seem to be banning them. If you’re planning to revise at school between exams, take the materials you need. If you forget, don’t panic – ask your teacher. They won’t have enough for everyone but mistakes happen, people forget.
Revise, but don’t overdo it.
When you made your revision schedule you should have stopped before exam week.
Change the focus – spend an hour or two before the exam working through the range of topics. So, if you have Biology in the morning and RS in the afternoon, your revision the night before should be those two subjects. If you have a spare morning and then RS, then have the evening off and do RS in the morning.
It’s important to have some breaks and scheduled time off. if you schedule it, for one thing, you feel less guilty about not working then! Studying can expand to fill all the time you have, so it’s good to have boundaries. Keep your regular activities. Sometimes it might not be possible to do this, particularly in actual summer exam weeks, but for mocks, keeping the rest of your life going provides breaks and perspective.
Make your down-time proper recovery too. Scrolling endlessly on your phone won’t make you feel better. Do something that uses your brain in a different way or moves you. Watching something interesting, or reading, or doing another activity would help.
Don’t work during meals
Have a break. And if your meal is the lunchtime before the exam, then don’t revise during it! It will only raise your adrenaline level and make you feel panicky. And last minute cramming DOES NOT WORK.
If you have a regular exercise habit, keep it up. If you don’t, try to fit in three ten minute walks a day – morning, lunch and afternoon. These can be around school, or getting off the bus early – it doesn’t have to be a massive change but movement will help keep you alert and wake your brain up. It’s especially important to do this at lunchtime between exams.
Avoid the stress-heads
You know exactly who they are. The ones sitting outside the hall madly chanting something from a flashcard or asking something about the process of the exam, when we all know that they know – they just like the drama of it all. Avoid them before and after. You don’t want to get infected with their panic.
Instead, wait quietly. Focus on something small and breathe slowly in and out to the count of five – a minute or two of this will relax you and you’ll perform better. The only last-minute revision you need is the timings; it’s worth having a card or post-it with the timings on just as a reminder before you go in (but remember not to keep it on your desk!)
After the exam, don’t hang around chatting with them to over-analyse every moment. Just move on to the next.
For some people, this might be nightmare advice! But I think that mocks are a good time to try things that you think might work but aren’t sure. So in your creative writing questions for the Language paper you can afford to experiment with ideas – I tell my students now’s the time to try stories with footnotes or multiple perspectives if they want to, because they can get guidance on it. You can also do this in any practice question of course!!
It’s also the time to experiment with timing. English Language is a notoriously full exam. It allocates 15 minutes for reading, but you don’t have to have that all at the beginning. Doing the exam with it at the start, and with it as you go along, can help you decide which works best for you.
Note how you feel
Although you shouldn’t engage with the stress-heads, do take a minute after mock exams to make a quick note – literally on paper or your phone – of your response to the exam. What did you find hard? What was easier than you’d thought? Was your timing right? These notes could be really helpful when you come to review your mark – and you won’t remember if you don’t write it down. It’s a good way to help you think about what you need to do before the summer. Once you’ve written something, put it to one side and keep it for when you get the mark back and can go over it.