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4 Expert Tips for Reducing Exam Stress

I have been tutoring on and off since 1991.

I found it to be a good option to keep my brain ticking over and to earn some money when my children were young. Having studied Chemistry at Jesus College, Oxford, I offered GCSE Maths and Chemistry and A-level Chemistry. I found most of my work was GCSE Maths.

I went on to work in my children’s school as a non-qualified teacher once my youngest had started school, teaching Science and Maths at Key Stage 3 and 4.

After an In Service training session on ‘Brain-compatible learning’ and ‘teaching with the grain of the brain’, I became fascinated with theories of learning and went on to gain a M.Ed. from the Open University after studying on and off for 6 years. I chose to study Maths education, Science education ad literacy difficulties (dyslexia). I went on to take the role of Special Educational Needs Coordinator for the secondary department of the school and trained to be an exam access arrangements (e.g. reader, scribe, extra time) assessor.

I retired from working at the school in 2019, but am not ready to retire completely, hence the tutoring!

Top Tips for Reducing Exam Stress

I think the best way of reducing exam stress is to be prepared. This can be supplemented with techniques to stay calm in exams as well as how to tackle the paper. I advise students not to leave gaps.

A guess is better than a gap’.

This doesn’t necessarily work so well in Maths as there are so many numbers to choose from! The timing of the paper is also important: don’t get bogged down on one question.

Some students get overwhelmed at the thought of revising, so as tutors we need to break down the material to help them. We also need to teach them study skills so that eventually they will know how to revise independently.

My 4 top tips are:

  1. Take the material to be revised and do something with it

For example, take a piece of text and make a mind map (Buzan) or poster to put the information into a different form. Cutting up a photocopy of an article, map, diagram and putting it back together would be another example. This will help processing and memory.

I recently heard the phrase ‘learning is a change in the long-term memory’ (I think this comes from OFSTED). A number of years ago I learnt the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ song in a linear sort of way, line by line (I knew Days 1-5 already of course). A question came up about the 12th day of Christmas in a quiz this Christmas and I couldn’t remember! I went online recently and found a pictorial representation on a 3×4 grid.

It was so easy to learn! The pictures helped, but I was also able to group the elements, e.g. ‘two white birds in the centre’.

  1. Encourage students to find out how they revise best

Some students like to write post-it notes and put them all over the house! Some like to use cards with a subject-specific word on one side and the definition on the other. A good grasp of vocabulary is important for all subjects. Others like to listen and can access their English text better via an audiobook.

These students can record their revision material and listen to it. The technique of ‘learner as teacher’ can also be helpful: the students explain what they have learnt to someone else.

  1. Plan revision

Christine Ostler has written a book entitled Study Skills- A pupil’s Survival Guide. It’s full of excellent advice but seems to be out of print. I recently bought a good condition used copy online. The chapter on Revision contains many helpful tips, e.g. ’time management’, ‘what to revise’ (prioritising) and ‘bribery and breaks’.

Revision guides such as CGP can be excellent. As a teacher and tutor I have often written a set of revision notes containing a summary of the most important things to revise, and giving examples of calculations etc in Maths. In educational terms this is called scaffoldingthe learning.

  1. Past Papers

When the exams are drawing near, these can be excellent for revising, both to give students an idea of what they will face on the day of the exam and as a diagnostic tool for gaps in knowledge/understanding.

Students should be supported by the teacher/tutor in this, not just left to their own devices.

I hope these are helpful to you and your students!

Hazel Barnett
Hazel has been tutoring on and off since 1991 and before that very occasionally, as it fitted in well with raising small children. When the third went to school, Hazel started teaching Chemistry and Maths in the school they attended (a small independent Christian school where QTS was not required). Her BA from the University of Oxford is in Chemistry. She completed an MEd with the Open University in 2010 and went on to become secondary school SENCO and to qualify as an access arrangements assessor. She retired from the school in 2019 but still does assessments on a self employed basis.

1 Comment

  1. Julia Silver
    21 January 2021 @ 4:47 pm

    Tony Buzan’s mind-maps are a great way for students to organise their thinking.
    Lovely tip!

    Reply

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