Helping students with revision and exams

Tests and exams generate a lot of anxiety, for students and for teachers and parents too. According to a survey by The Children’s Commissioner for England, asking 8 to 17- year-olds about stress, 66% of students mentioned homework and exams as a main cause of anxiety.

Two thirds (66%) of the children we spoke with told us they felt most stressed about homework and/or exams, ahead of worrying about what other people think of them (39%) and bullying (25%).

The Children’s Commissioner for England

The most vulnerable students

As we know, pupils with a wide range of learning challenges often lack confidence in their academic abilities. Those with SEND or EAL can also struggle to gain the skills, knowledge and capacity to memorise information needed to reach their full potential via exams. An unfamiliar exam place full of distractions can be a worrying place for a child on the autistic spectrum, and full of distractions for a pupil with ADHD.  Mental health issues can also of course compound levels of stress at exam times.

So how can we make a difference?

Even just one small change can make a difference, so below are a few ideas to help prepare students for tests based on individual learning needs plus tips to get through exams. There are suggestions for dealing with anxiety and becoming more resilient.

Introducing the test/exam

  • Especially for younger students, talk through where the test will be, what will happen and when
  • Give 3 Tips to your students – to instil confidence early on:
    1. Avoid comparing yourself to others and remember that we all learn and memorise information differently 
    2. It’s normal to be anxious or apprehensive but talk to someone if you are worried; favourite teacher, trusted friend, family member/carer
    3. It’s normal to be a little apprehensive but remember that with the right preparation, questions in tests and exams don’t have to be stressful


  1. Talk about ways to break down revision into manageable chunks
  2. Discuss the different ways to learn and remember information, for example:
    • Be creative; use pictures, mnemonics etc
    • Short note form/bullet points, use cue cards etc, and use colour
    • Try mind-mapping or sub-headings
  3. For older students, encourage alternatives to learning/revising only via screens
  4. Build confidence and promote a feeling of success by choosing relevant practice material to work through
  5. Ask students to think of a special place to work, for when they are revising at home (not necessarily hidden away from the family) and a set time each day. For more on this, check out the blog on creating structure
  6. Encourage finding time for exercise, relaxation, …and rewards for working hard!

Exam time! Tips for students

  • Highlight the importance of taking time to:
    • Read all of each question carefully – maybe several times over!
    • Focus on the key words that clarify the meaning of a question
    • Organise ideas and thoughts first – perhaps jotting these down on spare paper (during the exam)
  • Try to plan ahead when you see the exam questions; have an idea of pace, ideally with enough time to check through at the end:
    • Don’t get too bogged down with a particular question especially if doesn’t carry many marks. Give a quick answer then come back to it at the end!
    • Ask yourself if your final answers make sense, particularly in Maths!

Anxiety surrounding exams / fear of failure

  • Create an environment in which it’s easy for students to be honest about their concerns; small group discussions and a ‘suggestion box’ can allow communication without peer pressure.
  • Brainstorm ways to keep focused in an exam environment; unusual sounds, unfamiliar teachers walking around, other pupils writing away
  • Consider NLP techniques to foster a positive belief in oneself
  • To help children deal with anxiety check out the blog by John Galloway

3 tips to developing a more healthy approach to exams and results:

  1. You are unique and this is your learning journey, not someone else’s – focus on your own learning needs and pace
  2. If you can answer one question this is still better than no answers
  3. Remember that we learn from successes but also from making mistakes!

What success really looks like is a lot of ups and downs, as opposed to the straight line we all imagine. Without failure we cannot grow, and without failure there is no success.

Ulfa, activist


Other resources/further reading:

For parents:


Written by the Wordshark Online Team