Exam Preparation

Exams and tests are often stressful for both students and parents. Emotions can run high and children feel under pressure to achieve.

For revision tips - see another one of our guides. This particular guide offers parents some advice and suggestions for helping their child in other ways during exam or testing time.


Help your child to eat healthily all year round, and especially in the build-up to exams. Ensure that they are eating a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables. Oily fish helps, too.

Although sweets, sugary snacks and energy-enhancing caffeine drinks might give a temporary boost, they can cause ‘crashes’ of low energy a few hours later. Encourage your child to eat healthy ‘brain food’ – like bananas or nuts – as snacks.

Offer a nutritious breakfast on the morning of an exam. Porridge is ideal – oats ensure a slow burn of energy to sustain them through the day.

They should be drinking lots of water. Brains are mostly water, and hydration helps thinking skills and concentration.

BBC Good Food offers suggestions for physically preparing for exams, as well as healthy recipes.


Don’t let your child spend hours revising without regular breaks and time out for relaxation. It’s much easier to concentrate and absorb information in short bursts – say, around 45 minutes, for older children. Even a five-minute break, fresh air and leg-stretch will help them to take in more learning. See BBC for more.

Between revision sessions, let them meet up with a friend, or watch TV to unwind.


Help them to switch off with exercise. Suggest they play sports, dance, have a game of football with their friends or go for a walk. The fresh air and exercise will oxygenate their brains, help them to relax, clear the stress and ensure a good night’s sleep.

State of Mind

Some anxiety before exams is perfectly normal – in fact, adrenalin helps prepare people for action. As long as it isn’t crippling, it’s OK to feel a little nervous.

Reassure them. All you can ask is that they try their best. If all else fails, they can re-sit important exams, or learn from the experience and do things differently next time. Positivity and the right frame of mind will alleviate stress.

Help your child to practise getting ‘in the zone,’ to focus like a champion. Prepare them to use the teacher’s phrases, ‘You may begin’ or ‘Turn over your paper,’ like an athlete’s starting bell – taking them to success. Or to see the exam like preparing to fly away on holiday. Packing your things, feeling nervous and excited, going through passport control, listening to the air crew’s safety instructions from the front – to lift off!

Talk them through the exam day step by step, anticipating what will happen, so they know what to expect – and get them visualising themselves feeling happy at the end.

Help them to recognise that it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go as well as expected. Exam stress tips are available on the NHS website.

When the exam is over, don’t dwell on it. What’s done is done. Encourage them to move on and focus on the next one.


Don’t let them cram revision into all hours of the night, however tempted they might be. Make bedtimes peaceful.

Sleep is important before revision and sitting exams, so try to make sure that children get at least 8 hours a night. Sleep gives their bodies and minds rest and regeneration, improves their memory and concentration, and gives them energy and resilience for the exams.

Understand Exam Papers

Look back at past exam papers to see the format and get an idea of the sort of questions they may face. Discuss the features of the exam paper, the examiner’s expectations, marking scheme and questions (Multiple-choice? Single answer? Essays? Options?).

Help them to manage their time. To finish the whole exam, sufficient time should be spent on each question. For example, they might need to spend more time on one question that carries the majority of the marks. Or to understand that if one question carries five marks, they might need to make five points in their answer to get full marks. Some graduate tips in The Guardian are useful for any exams.

Focus on them

Don’t put pressure on them to achieve certain grades. Focus on effort, rather than achievement.

Don’t compare them to siblings or friends. Every child is different.

Cut them some slack about tidying their bedroom. Encourage them not to leave revision until the last minute. Spend time with them designing a revision timetable and discussing strategies.


Get equipment and clothes ready the evening before, to avoid stress. Make sure they have all the resources required. In addition to pens that work, they might need specific things for certain exams – e.g. maths equipment, or particular texts.

Make sure they are confident about where the exam is taking place and how to find their seat (are they alphabetical, or in any order?).

Make sure they know how long each exam is. A watch is useful if they can’t see the main clock.

Just before the exam

Remind them to use deep breathing to steady their heart rate and feel in control. Run through any other techniques they have, to help them to focus and feel calm and positive.

Waiting to take the exam can be nerve-wracking. Suggest that they avoid standing near people who might jangle their nerves or make them feel unprepared.

Tell them to read questions carefully to ensure that they fully understand. And, if they have time at the end, to check their work. There may be things to add, or silly mistakes to correct, to get extra points.

And finally…

Make sure they know that you are proud of them anyway, and as long as they have tried their best, you are happy. There is everything to win in being positive.

Celebrate when they have finished, by having a special meal, or a family day out.

  1. Dehydration affects our brain power. How much water should we drink per day?
    Tests have shown that the brains of teenagers who are slightly dehydrated have to work harder than those of fully hydrated classmates. Poor hydration can also affect energy levels and moods, so encourage your child to drink plenty of water
  2. Relaxation is important during revision. Experts say that children should have a break after how long spent revising?
    Liam Nolan, the executive head of Perry Beeches Academy in Birmingham (which saw the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs increase from 21% to 77% over just 5 years), believes that regular breaks are essential. Other experts agree that children should study for no longer than 1 hour at a time. Even 5 minute breaks help to relax the mind and reduce stress
  3. Exercise has many benefits, including reducing pre-exam nerves. According to the NHS, how much exercise should a 15 to 16-year-old get every day?
    This should include moderate activity, like a brisk walk, and vigorous activity, such as running or playing a physical sport. As well as improving your child's fitness, exercise can boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress
  4. Nerves before exams are natural but if they turn into anxiety they can become crippling. Which of the following is a way to help children control their nerves?
    Expecting great results can be a motivator but can also stress a child out. Make sure that they know you only want them to do their best and do not expect A grades in every subject. If the stress becomes too much and turns into anxiety then, if all else fails, medication may be a last resort
  5. Revision at different times of day can be more effective. When is the best time to revise?
    Everybody has a different learning style and works better at different times of the day. Through practise your child can find out what best suits them. Late night revision - particularly on the eve of an exam - is never a good idea though
  6. It's a good idea to take a look at previous exams to get an idea of what they entail. You need to get one written by your school's exam board. How many exam boards are there in the UK for GCSE and A-Levels?
    They are AQA, CCEA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC. Each provides slightly different exams so be sure you get the right one! The best way to find out which exam board your school is using is to ask the teacher
  7. Certain items are not permitted in exam rooms. The exam board, AQA, will penalise students who bring which of the following items with them?
    Pencil cases are allowed - but only clear ones. It's a good idea to wear a watch as it will help with time management. Policy on mascots varies but most invigilators will not allow them. However, mobile phones are a definite no-no. In 2013 AQA penalised 814 students for having a phone on them during an exam
  8. Students must take certain items of equipment to their exams. Which of the following is NOT a necessary piece of equipment for an AQA GCSE English exam?
    Exam papers require the use of black pens, not blue. The teachers will tell their students what they should take to the exams, so make sure they have everything they need!
  9. If a student performs poorly in their exam because of illness or a family bereavement, they may be given 'special consideration'. What does this entail?
    If a student misses an exam completely they may be given a mark based of past tests and coursework, but they must have a valid reason for their absence. Even if they do take the exam when feeling ill, they must provide a doctor's note to qualify for special consideration. If your child is ill on the day of the exam contact the school at once and arrange for an appointment with their GP
  10. Once the exams are over, students can still be beset by stress. Which of the following is NOT on AQA's list of the most frequent worries children have after taking an exam?
    Try to calm your child if they have any worries - the examiners can cope with three of the above problems. If the name is not filled in though, you should contact the school at once. If stress becomes too much, encourage your child to speak to the school counsellor, their teachers or even an outside agency such as Childline


Author: Linda Innes

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