Expert chat with vInspired: Exams and revision

Find out what Catrina, a careers expert from vInspired has to say about your questions on panic in the exam room, finding revision techniques that work and preparing for an exam that you're really worried about.

Two young people are standing in a school corridor talking about exam and revision tips

Struggling with panic attacks and lack of focus when revising

Anna: I usually get pretty panicky when it comes to exams and revision. It’s to the point that in most exams I end up having a panic attack. On top of that I have a hard time revising; I just can’t seem to stay focussed. To combat this, I try to give myself a break every couple of hours, but when I come back my mind goes completely blank! Once I even tried doing a mock paper but I just ended up glaring at it for ages. Is there any solution? 

Catrina: Hi Anna. Stress about exams and revision is totally normal. But the trigger is different for everyone, so I’d like to know – is it mainly when you’re in the exam itself that you feel the most stressed?

Anna: It’s not confined to the exam hall, unfortunately. Revision is massively stress-inducing as well. 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 – At this point it would be easier to ask what I haven’t done. But no matter what I try, the info never enters my brain.

Catrina: It sounds like you’re trying a few different things, which is great. It’ll help you figure out what type of learner you are i.e. some people like talking about things rather than reading. If you think that sounds like you, you could try and talk to someone else about the topic you’re revising, or try teaching them about it and see if that helps.

Anna: Thanks! That’s great advice.

The Mix: You can also read this for support with panic attacks. And have a look at our article on exam stress here, and our article on revision tips here for more support.

Struggling with exams due to mental health problems

Becky: I have a breakdown whenever I even look at the exam paper. To help, 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 get completely overwhelmed and end up crying 🙁

Catrina: Hi Becky, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve felt that way in exams before. Sometimes it’s about trying to get through the panic. Easier said than done, I know. To start, why not allow yourself some time to ‘settle’ in the exam. Basically, don’t feel that you have to rush into writing straightaway. Taking a minute to focus on your breathing and calming your mind if possible might help too. Have you spoken to your teachers about this? It can really help if they’re in your corner and know what’s going on.

Becky: Yes, I have breaks and sit exams in a small room which helps a bit. CYPMHS (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services) have actually been able to advise the teachers at school quite a lot.

The Mix: If this sounds familiar, our article on exams and the pressure to do well may be of interest.

I can’t sleep and I have an exam tomorrow

Chris: I can’t sleep and I have a psychology exam tomorrow. I’ve been getting ‘U’ in most of the past papers as well as last year (this is a retake). As it is, I usually have trouble trying to fall asleep before my exams but I really don’t wanna screw this one up. 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. Remember they’re in the past. In terms of your upcoming exam, 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? 

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 nothing to laugh at. I know it’s hard but try not to think about the worst case scenario. Honestly, there’s nothing you can do in the next 18 hours that will drastically change your result. So instead, try to relax this evening, read a book and get a good night’s sleep. When you get into the exam tomorrow, focus on doing what you can. This means making sure that even if you don’t know the full answer, you include whatever you do know.

Helen: We’ve also got some info on last-minute exam prep 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 as well as other stuff. This might be a good place to start.

Becky: Try not to put too much pressure on this one paper. 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’ll definitely be other routes that you can take to get where you want to go. For now though it sounds as though it might be a good idea to break down the question and plan your answer carefully during the exam. 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! 😉

The Mix: See our article ‘tomorrow is my exam’ for more support the night before an exam and our section on what qualification you should do if you’re struggling at school or college.

Got a story about exam success or some tips for getting ready? Let us know on our discussion boards.

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 01-Apr-2022