How to prepare for the first day of exams

It is a good idea to get everything organised the night before an exam.

Written by spunout


If you are feeling stressed about your exams, you are not alone. It is completely normal to have these feelings as exam time gets closer. Here is some advice that can help to make the day of your first exam as stress-free as possible.

Preparing the night before the exam

It is a good idea to get some things organised the night before the exam.

Take time to relax

As tempted as you might be, try to avoid spending the night cramming. Instead, take some time to relax and try to get a good night’s sleep. Read our tips on how to have a good night’s sleep.

Make sure you have what you need

Check your timetable and make sure you know the time that your exam starts. Plan to get there at least a half hour early. It is a good idea to take a look at our exam checklist and make sure you have everything you need in your bag so you’re not panicking on the morning of your exam. Alternatively, you can make an exam checklist of your own.

Decide when to wake up and leave

It is a good idea to set an alarm so you can be certain you won’t sleep in on the morning of your exam. Try to set it so that you have plenty of time to get ready on the morning. Decide how you will get to the exam and when to leave, making sure to take any traffic or public transport delays into account.

What to do on the morning of the exam

Whether you are at home or outside the exam hall, there are some things to keep in mind on the morning of the exam.

Give yourself plenty of time

Try to get up early so that you’re not in a rush, and make sure to leave well in advance of the exam. Aim to be there early so you can find the room, go to the bathroom and get settled.

Eat a nutritious breakfast

It is a good idea to eat a nutritious breakfast before your exam. Some scrambled eggs on toast, an omelette or some porridge are some examples of meals that can provide you with the energy you need. If you skip breakfast, it will be difficult to concentrate and you might not have enough energy to get you through the test. It’s also a good idea to bring a bottle of water with you to the exam hall to keep hydrated.

Try to avoid last-minute studying

Try to avoid taking in new information that you haven’t already covered in your study. You might get confused or panic, and you might end up forgetting something valuable you covered a few days before.

If you want to do a little bit of prep to keep yourself focused, take out a pen and paper and just write out some key points that you want to cover when answering a particular question. Preparing flashcards with some key points could also be helpful, but try to avoid cramming them with too much information. Stick to the most important information.

​Avoid talking about the exams

Try to distance yourself from anyone who is complaining or panicking. They could make you feel anxious and distract you at the last minute. Instead, keep to yourself or talk to someone about something unrelated. If you have a friend who is stressed, our tips on how to support a friend doing exams might be helpful.

In the exam room

Once you are in the exam hall, the main thing you need to do is focus on getting your answers down on paper.

Calm yourself before starting

Take a few deep slow breaths before you open your exam paper and start writing. This can help you to stay calm and focused. These quick and easy mindfulness exercises that you can do anywhere may also prove helpful before and during the exam.

If you start to panic, you can speak to the exam supervisor and ask to be accompanied out of the room until you have time to settle.

Read the exam paper

Take time to read the paper carefully. It is important to examine each question carefully to ensure you understand what is being asked before you start writing. It can be helpful to write out the main points you wish to cover before answering a long-form question.

Keep an eye on the time

It is a good idea to work out how much time you have for each question. This is something you can usually do in advance of the exam. Start with the question you feel most confident about and keep an eye on the time. There will likely be a clock in the exam hall but it is a good idea to bring a watch or clock of your own, just in case.

Avoid looking at other classmates

It might seem like other students are writing more or appear more confident than you. Try not to worry if people around you seem to be writing more than you, just focus on yourself.

Leave time at the end to review exams

Leave five or ten minutes at the end of the exam to review everything and to make sure your identification details are on every page. Running out of time can be a common problem, so try to pace yourself well. Practicing exam questions in the lead-up to exams can help with this.

What to do after the exam

When the exam is over, it’s time to let it all go. Try to avoid overanalysing the exam, or over-thinking your answers. Instead, concentrate on what has gone well, and then get ready for the next one.

Make sure to take a break before you jump into studying for the next exam. Your mind will need a break, and you deserve it. If exam stress is getting you down, it can be helpful to talk to someone. Read more about how to open up to someone about your mental health.

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