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Sitting your first secondary school exam? 3 things I wish I knew...

So you’ve made it to secondary school and have your first exam coming up. Freaking out, right? Don’t worry, Elevate’s team of experts have been through it all before and have some crucial tips for you as you approach your first set of secondary school exams…

Tip 1: Control stress

Stress is a perfectly natural reaction to a difficult situation such as exams. We need a little bit of stress or else we simply would never put in any effort for anything! The problem is when this stress gets totally out of hand and you start freaking out. 

Before any exam you’re bound to see people frantically pacing around outside the exam hall. If someone comes up to you sweating, chewing their fingernails and downright stressed out, the chances are that they’re just going to make you more nervous. Stress is contagious! If you can, try to avoid hanging around with everyone before the exam and especially those people who you know are prone to stressing you out!

Once you get into the exam hall and have a chance to sit down and settle, take a few deep breaths in and out. When we get stressed we actually change the way we breathe. Believe it or not, by doing a few simple breathing exercises, you’ll get more oxygen flowing to your brain, which actually allows you to think more clearly! Awesome! A pretty simple way to do this is to put your hands on your stomach and when you breathe out make sure your shoulders stay still and stomach moves out.

Tip 2: Use your reading time wisely!

The first few minutes of an exam are absolutely crucial! First and foremost, when you get given your exam paper, you’ll be given a certain amount of time to read through it before you can start writing. This is called reading time and it is absolutely GOLD! Make sure you read every question at least twice so that you fully understand what you’re being asked to do. This is when we want to start planning in our heads how we’re going to answer the question. The most important piece of equipment in these first few minutes will be your highlighter. We want to highlight all the key words in the question – the ones that specifically tell us what it is they want us to answer. 

Tip 3: An exam is not a memory test!

When we get tested in primary school, our teachers are simply looking to see if we remember what we learnt. It’s more or less a memory test. The bad news for us in secondary school is that exams are not a memory test at all. Our teachers will expect that we remember the information – they are now looking to see if we can apply what we’ve learnt to answer any question they ask us.

One of the most common pieces of feedback written on a student’s paper is “did not answer the question”. As you’re going through the exam, keep reminding yourself to simply answer the question. If it means writing ‘answer the question’ on the top of the page, then do it! Every time you catch yourself simply writing out your notes in the exam, stop and ask whether you’ve actually responded to the question you’re being asked!