Expert chat with vInspired: Exams and revision

Our exams and revisions expert, CatrinaFind out what happened when Catrina, a careers expert from vInspired answered your questions on panic in the exam room, finding revision techniques that work and preparing for an exam that you're really worried about.

Anna: I often find myself rather panicky when it comes to exams and revision. In most exams I end up having a panic attack. I also generally struggle to revise. I can't stay focussed. I give myself a few hours then go for a break but when I go for the break, I just forget everything! I tried doing a mock paper but I just ended up glaring at it for ages. How am I meant to overcome this?

Catrina: Hi Anna. Stress about exams and revision is totally normal. Is it mainly when you're in the exam itself that you feel the most stressed?

Anna: It's often during revision too; I just can't revise. I swear I've tried almost everything in the world!

Catrina: What sort of things do you do to revise? I know you mentioned the mock paper.

Anna: I do mock papers, I write out notes, I have flashcards, sticky notes - I do a lot but it doesn't seem to enter my brain.

Catrina: It sounds like you're trying a few different things, which is great. It's often a good idea to think how you learn best as everyone is different. Some people like talking about things rather than reading. For example, you could try and talk to someone else about the topic you're revising, or try teaching them about it.

Anna: My main worry is going in to the exam, staring at the paper for half an hour and not writing anything.

Catrina: I know it's tricky, but you've probably taken in more info than you think. It's just getting access to it when you're feeling stressed.

Becky: I have a full on break down when I look at the exam paper. I sit exams in a room on my own with a learning support person and I'm allowed to have breaks every half hour or so due to mental health problems. I'm an A* student according to the teachers, so it's not that I can't do the work. I just freak out and end up crying :(

Catrina: Hi Becky, I'm sorry to hear that you've felt that way in exams before. Sometimes it's trying to get through the panic, which can be very hard I know. Try to allow yourself some time to 'settle' in the exam, don't feel that you have to rush into writing. Breathing deeply and calming your mind if possible might help too. Have you spoken to your teachers about this? I know you're not the only one to find exams really hard to deal with.

Becky: Yes, I have breaks and sit exams in a small room which helps a bit. CAMHS have been able to advise the teachers at school quite a lot.

Niki: You could also maybe look through the paper, find a question you feel happy answering, then do the harder ones later when you might have calmed down a bit?

Catrina: That's a good technique Niki. It's finding the technique that works best for you Becky which can mean trying a few different things; allowing yourself some thinking time is a good idea. Make sure you have rewards planned for afterwards too and celebrate each exam that you conquer!

Chris: I have a psychology exam tomorrow. I've been getting 'u's in previous past papers and last year (this is a retake). What can I do in the next 18 hours that's going to up my chances of doing well?

Catrina: It's important not to focus on the exams that didn't go so well before. It sounds as though you're finding it really hard to engage with the subject. Do you feel that you've taken much in when you've been revising? Sometimes you're holding more info than you think. The tricky part can be accessing it, especially if the subject isn't your favourite

Chris: Hardly anything, realistically I'm looking at an E for tomorrow's exam I think.

Becky: An E is a pass at A level :)

Catrina: That's right Becky, A levels are no mean feat. I know it's hard but try not to think about the worst case scenario. When you get in the exam tomorrow, try and just focus on doing what you can and planning to demonstrate as much knowledge as possible.How many other subjects do you do Chris? If you have another three it won't matter if you're trying for uni.

Chris: ICT, AS Psychology, English Language, and Business Studies.

Catrina: It sounds like you're doing an interesting mix of subjects. Have you spoken to your teachers about your concerns? There are always alternative options if it doesn't go to plan. I know it's difficult to put aside the worries about what the exams represent.

Chris: Yes, I have spoken to my teachers. Unfortunately if you're a student who needs guidance or a second chance, you don't get much help. If you're trying to get from an A to an A*, they will happily supply you with all the resources you need. They have very high standards.

Catrina: I'm really sorry to hear that you feel you haven't got the support that you need Chris. It can be extra hard at exam time when you feel under added pressure. All you can do at this stage is try your best tomorrow, get a decent night's sleep and remember that you have put the work in. There will be options whatever the outcome.

Helen: We've got some info on exam prep in terms of the final run up that you might find useful too. It mentions picking out the questions you know you can answer first to get yourself into the swing of things when you get in there. This might be a good place to start.

Becky: There are other colleges who will accept you as well if things don't go well.

Catrina: Becky is right. If things don't go to plan there will be other routes that you can take to get where you want to go. If you have a goal it's worth pursuing it. It sounds as though it might be a good idea to allow yourself time to break down the question and plan your answer carefully to make sure that your question is matching what they're asking. I think you might surprise yourself.

Chris: Well, cheers for the help all!

Catrina: Good luck everyone! Make sure you have plenty of treats planned for when it's all over! ;)

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015