School exams and tests play such a huge role in our lives, from deciding whether we get into our chosen university to study our dream subject to confirming the level of our knowledge in a specific field and determining a job role. Nobody wants to fail a test - those results really count to students!

As such, it is entirely reasonable to feel nervous as a student ahead of the exam period.

What if you failed? What if you didn't fail but get the results you needed? What id you were the only student in your school year to not pass? What if you were so bad you felt you had let the whole class and teacher down? These are all things that might race through your head ahead of the exam peiod.

But, what if there was a way that you could predict the different ways in which you could go wrong during an exam and make them right, in turn, learning good exam technique and avoiding falling prey of a really bad exam disaster?

Here, we review the most common mistakes that school students make when entering the exam hall and praying for a pass.

Find the most common causes of exam failure listed here.
Are you feeling nervous about the exam period? Photo credit: comedy_nose on Visual hunt / CC BY
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Turning Exam Nerves Into Excitement

Anxiety and nerves are part and parcel of life, especially when things are important to us. This is why so many people feel anxious about an examination, because it means so much to them after spending so much time in class working hard for a goal, whether it be to get into high school, university or another education driven motive or just for personal reasons (ie to please or make someone at home proud of them).

But if you sit back and analyse the way you are feeling - butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, shaking, maybe? - then you might notice that these reactions are similar to those we feel from excitement. Did you ever feel those tingling sensations when really looking forward to something? Well, make that something your examination!

If you can somehow turn any negative feelings into positive ones, then you could ultimately change the course of your exam, and possibly your life. Try to use that energy that you are feeling and fuel your brain and your body rather than letting it consume you and hold you back.

Nerves are the only thing getting in the way of your goals, if you have put in the effort to do the learning!

Some experts swear by going preparing yourself for an exam by releasing any tension from your body with the use of breathing exercises, meditation or by clenching and relaxing your fists which is said to calm your nerves.

Remember, your body is responding to your mind so, if you remain positive, then your body will follow suit and will help you to reflect your truest ability and you won't possibly fail!

We have deducted that you should keep in mind 'www', or the three 'w's: Watch, Weigh, Write!

I.e, you should study the page before you do anything, determine how you will answer your brief on the test in front of you and then, once you have your plan of action - get writing!

The Three Common Causes of Exam Failure

There are three main ways that students of all ages can sabotage themselves in exams and bed up with an exam results fail: poor exam technique, poor revision and weak understanding of the subject itself. These can all lead to a bad day in the school exam hall.

Poor learning or understanding

The last of these is the hardest to get round. It may be due to class teaching that is not brilliant, or just to the fact that you are not really interested in a subject. But once you are committed to taking an exam, you may as well give it your best shot.

Things you can do to improve your knowledge:

  • Make sure you have read all the set textbooks/workbooks and then supplement that information with (good, accredited) sources of information on the internet and from the library. Revision websites such as BBC Bitesize are great for identifying what you do and don’t know – but look at them well in advance, not the week before the exam.
  • Study with your friends sometimes, to encourage you to work, share ideas and to learn their techniques for understanding and remembering things. Ask parents or older friends to help. You can create your own outside or school learning class but with your closest friends. There's never a bad result when you're sharing knowledge with friends!
  • Consider a tutor if you’re struggling. Learning from a different person can really help you build your understanding of the areas in which you commonly fail.
  • Look out for interesting internet talks, TV programmes or even visits to places related to your subject area. Don’t let them distract you from the core curriculum, but use them to spark your imagination and interest.
  • Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do xyz,” and write a whole subject off because there’s one part of the curriculum you don’t get (a type of equation, a particular set book). Focus some energy on trying to improve that particular weakness. Ask your teacher to give you some extra pointers.
Make revision fun by doing it with your friends.
Get together with friends to study and enjoy revision. Photo on Visual hunt

Revision skills

Good quality class and home revision is vital to exam success and the result you want. It will take longer than you think, so plan well-ahead and stick to it, especially if you have a set image in your head of what grade you want to achieve or you know you need to pass with flying colours in order to reach your next step in education.

  • Make yourself a quiet, distraction-free place to study and do your learning. Be strong about detaching yourself from social media, and focus. Pass on invites to go out if you have more you want to get through. Also, revising in bed is not the best way either to study or to guarantee a good night’s sleep afterwards. You don't lay down in class, so you shouldn't at home! The best way to reproduce that class learning atmosphere is to sit at a desk, as you would in school or in your test.
  • Break subjects down into small sections, so that they don’t feel too daunting and you can gradually tick them off one by one and reward yourself (the odd bad treat won't do you any harm but remember our tips on eating healthily and how this can be beneficial to your learning both in and out of the exam). Studies show that if you absorb a chunk of information and then sleep on it, your brain processes it much more efficiently.
  • Study past papers and do timed questions to see how you have absorbed the topic. Analyse the sorts of questions they are asking, and look at what you need to know to answer them.
  • Try as many ways as you like to remember things – draw images, pictures and mind maps, use memory tricks such as mnemonic lists, put key points on cards or post-its, read things out to friends or family and test each other, record yourself and play it back, list key facts or themes on your phone and review them on the bus, in the car or on the loo – whatever helps!
  • Take regular breaks to stretch, do deep-breathing or meditation, run around the house or talk to someone. Anything to avoid stress! This reboots your brain and rests your eyes.
  • Look at revision advice online (here and elsewhere).
  • Remember the three 'w's, or WWW!

Exam technique

It’s a shame, when you’ve learned all that stuff, to then mess up on the day because of stress. Practise timed questions from past papers as much as you can.

  • You know in advance how many questions are required, so work out how much time you’ve got for each. You don’t want to get carried away in the exam or stress over time right at the end.
  • Build in time at the beginning to read the whole paper, you don’t want to just plunge in on the first question you can do. You can then pick the best questions for you (they might be at the end of the paper), and set your subconscious brain working in the background on the later questions.
  • “One of the biggest causes of failure is not answering the question,” says an examiner friend of mine. Don’t spot the topic and assume you know what the question says; read it carefully. Look at the wider image. Avoid splurging out everything you know – make your knowledge fit the question.
  • In essay questions, plan your answers and cross out the plan afterwards.
  • Keep calm. Not easy. Getting everything ready the night before can help reduce stress and anxiety (pens, calculators, uniform, notes to read on the bus). Eat breakfast. Simple deep breathing or relaxation exercises can help you slow your heart rate and focus. Don’t worry about what your neighbour is doing (they’ve started writing and you’re still planning? You’re the sensible one.)
  • Sleep is better for your brain than staying up all night revising. In the run-up to the exam, keep junk food and caffeine to a minimum and give your brain and body healthy food and regular exercise to keep your energy levels up.
Sleep is so important to your performance on the day of the exam.
Be sure to get enough sleep in the run-up to your exam. Photo on Visual Hunt

Some Last, General Tips For Preparing for the Exam

While everyone has their own ways and systems, there are a few general pointers below which might help you to prepare for an upcoming exam with positivity in mind, some have been covered above, and some might be new to you.

  • Be organised - this means putting together a study schedule, using diagrams, charts and so on to get into the correct headspace.
  • Use past papers to get familiar with the structure of the exam paper and questions that will be asked. Sometimes, points are awarded for understanding how to answer the question rather than solely on showing your knowledge. The examiner wants to know that you have put conscientious thought and preparation into your exam!
  • Don't overdo it - it's really important when studying to take enough breaks, and to give yourself enough time and space away from the work to be refuelled and ready to tackle the task when you return! The worst thing you can do is burn yourself out and find yourself getting tired of studying.
  • Eat healthy snacks - as well as eating a consistent, nutritional diet (no skipping meals in favour of studying!), you should aim to keep your body and mind fuelled with energy. Eating healthy snacks rather than binging on chocolate or crisps can really benefit your brainpower and keep you focused.
  • Finally (and this doesn't take much planning), you should get your day figured out in your head. Check your timings, plan your travel, and basically have an image in your head of the different parts of your day so that you can be confident that you know how your day will go when it finally comes. And it is mainly YOU who decides how the day will go!

When it coms to the day of the exam and you have the test being placed in front of you - remember the three 'w's or WWW we've mentioned - watch, weigh then write!

Good luck… not that you’ll need it now!

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Imogen

I'm an active energetic person. I enjoy long-distance running and have taken part in many organised events including the 2016 Prague Marathon. I'm a keen skier and love open-water swimming, when the weather is right!