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Revision and Exam Preparation in English and maths

‘No one has ever regretted being over-prepared’

As the final sprint of the marathon that has been 2023/24 approaches, many students (and teachers) will begin to feel the familiar creep of anxiety and stress brought on by the thought of exams. Love them or loathe them, there is simply no escaping exams (for now, anyway).

As exams approach, it’s more important than ever that we effectively support students. With that in mind, let’s look at common challenges related to exams and a range of solutions.

Tackling Exam Anxiety

Just like the content covered in classrooms to prepare students for exams, anxiety and stress support must be assessed, planned for and taught. Which students are most likely to be impacted? What symptoms do they exhibit? We must identify who requires what support and when.

Many students are intimidated by the exam space itself – a simple step is to allow students into this space well before the exam: this dispels fears and allows comfort and confidence before any exams. Even booking this space and facilitating a session (or revision) can work wonders.

What’s The Plan?

When have students planned to revise? For how long? What will this look like? Who else will be involved? Crucially, what will they revise? So many students leave revision until the very last minute because they don’t have answers to any of these questions. Taking the time to go through this with them and supporting students to develop an effective plan (which identifies what they should do and when) will make sure that they have an internal revision toolkit.

It's important to remember that revision is a very personal experience – it is not our jobs to tell students exactly how to revise, but rather give them a range of options from which they will pick the most suitable method.

Part of this is clearly communicating what they should be revising (topics, themes, subjects) and how much focus they should give to the ‘what’.  

Timing Is Everything

Too often, students block out 2-3 hour windows for revision days before the exam. This is problematic for several reasons (too many to name here); needless to say, 20 – 30 minutes a day, with regular low stakes testing from family and friends (more on that later), will support recall of relevant information and won’t be too exhausting.

It’s important also to note that revision should be ‘extra’ and shouldn’t be a tacked on element of a lesson when a student has finished 3 minutes earlier than planned.

The ‘How’

Flashcards are a fantastic starting point for any student looking to effectively revise. Whether using highlighters, notes, questions, key words, drawings, bubbles, underlining, colour coding or any number of methods, it’s important that students are able to regularly use flashcards to recall information until it ‘sticks’.

Low stakes quizzes are a fantastic method, especially when supported by family and friends who frequently test each other. This can be supported through text, phone call, a Teams group or even a WhatsApp group: regular low stakes quizzing and testing makes a real difference (especially when supported by collaboration with others).

Often, students are directed to mock exams to hone their revision. Mocks can be useful; however, only as part of a wider dialogue with a teacher. If students are not receiving feedback on mock exam questions, they serve little purpose. Similarly, if they are not then given opportunities to apply this feedback, it is unlikely the feedback will support progress.

The ‘Where’

Some basic points which bear repeating: revision should be completed in an environment in which students can switch off, similar to all electronic devices which are not key to the revision process. TVs, iPads, laptops, mobile phones, Xboxes etc. which are not being used for revision, shouldn’t be turned on. If possible, revision should be broken up with exercise (a walk round the house, garden, block or in a natural area, if possible) – this gives the body and the brain a break and very simply supports student mental health and wellbeing.

Mindset and Perspective

A very difficult concept for many students and teachers at this time of year, it’s vitally important to maintain perspective. Yes, the exams are important, and success in them opens up fantastic avenues for progression. However, it’s important to remember that the exam is not ‘the end’ of a journey and, regardless of result, there are opportunities to resit. Similarly, we must maintain a positive mindset for students at this time of year as they are under enormous pressure. It is tempted to be frustrated with students who have shown little engagement to this point in the year: these students are feeling pressure too and require our support more than at any other time.

For more resources to support exam preparation, as well as a wealth of teaching and revision resources, and innovative tracking and progress monitoring tools, get in touch to see how you can access our fully funded, DfE project. To be a part of the great work we’re doing, find out more here.

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