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Exams are back on - what does this mean for you?

Exams are back on - what does this mean for you?

The Department for Education and Ofqual have announced that, after two years of teacher-based assessments, GCSEs and A level exams are now scheduled to take place in 2022. 

Let’s take a closer look at what this would mean for you and what are our top 5 tips for students to ace studying…

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How will exams work this year?

Following two years of exams being cancelled, formal exams are now planned to be back, with results day also returning to its normal format. However, there are still a few changes put into place during this “recovery period”. One significant change is that the grade boundaries will be set at a midway point between 2021 and 2019. This is to provide a “safety net” as well as a step towards normality.

Another change is that students will be given a choice of topics in some of their GCSE exams, including English literature and history. For subjects where there is no choice of topics, students will also be given information in advance about what the exam will focus on. They may also be given support material, such as formulae sheets for GCSE maths.

Although the Department for Education said that they were “firmly committed” for exams to go ahead, they have also come up with a backup plan, where teachers will use termly assessments in order to determine their students’ grades in the absence of exams. More advanced information would be made available in early February; however, this may change if the pandemic worsens.

So, now that exams are back on, what are some tips for students so they can make the best of the months they have ahead?

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Our top 5 studying tips

1. Use the best learning strategies

Often, students don’t know how to revise. We think there are two key factors to effective revision: starting early, and using effective techniques.

We often see students fall in a downward spiral of procrastinating and then cramming a few days (or hours) before the exam. This may not only cause them unnecessary stress but has also shown to be much less effective compared to spacing out their revision. Although this technique, which consists in studying little but often, might seem more time-consuming, research has shown that doing the same amount of work but spacing it over time can lead to much greater results. Time allows students to forget the material, meaning that they will have to re-learn it. This process is key in cementing the content into their long-term memory. The gap they leave between revisiting the content should also be longer if the test is further away. Find out more about spacing here…

Knowing when to study is a great first step, but how you study also matters greatly. So, which strategy should students focus on? Well, researchers suggest that one of the most effective revision techniques is retrieval practice. This is any activity that forces an individual to generate an answer to a question and can be done using different methods including past papers, completing quizzes or testing yourself using flashcards. This revision technique works because it helps students recall previously-learnt knowledge, increasing the likelihood that it is transferred to their long-term memory. Therefore, combining both spacing and retrieval practice is one of the best ways you can revise.

It is also vital that you keep on top of your time management. Some top tips:

  • Don’t get caught up with the Planning Fallacy. This states that most people underestimate the time it would take them to complete a task. This could lead to the stress of being behind your revision schedule. One way to overcome this is by comparing how long similar tasks took you and then predicting how long your task will take based on that.
  • Start with the hard tasks. These may be intimidating and often pushed aside or left to the last minute, but starting with these tasks it can help improve your performance and help you use your energy wisely.

Read our complete guide to top studying strategies…


2. Develop stress management skills

Although a little stress is actually a good thing, excessive stress while studying can hinder students’ performance when it comes to sitting the exam.

One tip to help minimise the stress of revision: doing the actual work. This might sound obvious, but students often get into a spiral of overthinking and not actually revising. Knowing that they’ve prepared the best they could should help squash students’ nerves on the day.

Another common source of stress is fear of failure. This often causes students to become pessimistic about their exams, and ignore the problem. One way to overcome this is questioning your fears: are they actually irrational and unlikely to come true? Worst-case scenarios rarely happen, and it can be much more beneficial to refocus this energy on doing the work.

Lastly, don’t aim for perfection. The amount of pressure associated with it can cause students a lot of stress. Nobody is perfect, and comparing yourself to others when they most likely only seem like they have it all under control is exhausting.Everyone is in the same boat. Developing a growth mindset and reinforcing the idea that your ability is malleable and it is fine to make mistakes can also ease a lot of stress.


3. Prioritise sleep

Quality sleep is extremely important, but it is often neglected with many students reporting that they sleep for less than 7 hours a night, much less than the recommended 8-10 hours per night. A lack of sleep can make students less focused in class and have a negative impact on their memory. On the other hand, regular and sufficient sleep has many benefits, including:

It can also result in better grades: one study found that students who slept 8 hours a night during exam week outperformed those who chose to sacrifice sleep for longer study periods.

So, what are some scientifically proven ways that can help you fall asleep? Firstly, get into the habit of having a regular bedtime - even at the weekend. Developing this habit early will not only help during exams but can allow students to feel more productive throughout the day and study more effectively. This also means good bedtime habits: turn down the brightness on your phone, as melatonin (the sleep hormone) is released in low light, but having a bright phone can hinder this from happening. Or even better: leave your phone in another room and don’t look at any screens in the hours leading up to sleep.

Read our complete guide to the benefits of sleep…


4. Make sure to exercise 

Exercising regularly will not only help you sleep better but can also boost your brain power.

Currently, the NHS recommends that young people aged 5 to 18 get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. However, a recent survey found a 40% drop in the number of children meeting this requirement. This is worrying as having less exercise means that students don’t benefit from some of the advantages that they can gain from exercising, including:

Students may feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do and neglect exercising. One way to overcome this is by weaving exercise into your daily routine, for example by getting off the bus earlier and finishing the commute to school on foot. Changing your routine slowly makes you more likely to stick to a habit.


5. Ask for help when you need it

Our final tip is not to be afraid to ask for help.

A recent review found that asking others for help develop your relationship with them. This is useful, as having a team around you can enhance your effort - research even shows that sitting next to hard working people increases an individual’s work ethic.

This year can be very stressful, but one way to help reduce this stress is by having a good support system around you. Contrary to what many think, asking for help is not a sign of weakness; feeling connected to others and sharing your worries with them is key to improve your well-being.


Final Thoughts

After a couple of years without “normal” exams, students may be feeling nervous and unequipped. Tackling the problem head on by developing good studying and stress management strategies now, making sleep and exercise an integral part of their routine and building a strong support system are all great ways for students to feel prepared on the day. You will get through it!

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