Examination anxiety and revision techniques
Tests and exams in school inform teachers, parents, and students themselves about their academic progress and potential future pathways. But like any situation in which a person’s performance is being evaluated, the outcomes may feel very significant. So exams have the potential to be stressful.
It is perfectly normal to experience anxiety and, research shows, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety and stress cause the body to release adrenalin which can be helpful when responding to challenging situations. Stress will help students focus on preparing for, and then apply themselves during, the exam itself.
Too little stress can lead to students lacking the motivation needed to do well. Equally, too much adrenalin can lead students to feel distressed which can hinder performance. It is important that all students strike a balance between too little and too much anxiety.
We support students to manage anxiety about exams by:
- Teaching specific revision and exam techniques
- Provide support to challenge negativity and manage the physical symptoms of stress
- Ensuring we enhance students reading ability
Teaching specific revision and exam techniques
One of the main causes of anxiety about examinations is when students do not feel sufficiently prepared for their examinations. This is often due to students preparing ineffectively for their examinations. Our research driven homework programme is designed to support students in revising key content from Year 7 to Year 13.
- Revision begins in Year 7. All homework tasks from Year 7-13 at King Charles I School have include retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is a strategy in which bringing information to mind enhances and boosts learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know. Research tells us that students who regularly complete retrieval practice are less anxious for upcoming examinations. (https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2019/05/14/retrieval-practices-impact-on-test-anxiety-and-stress/). By completing homework to a good standard students are effectively revising and preparing for examinations throughout school.
- The homework timetable is constructed in every year group so that students are effectively leaving appropriate gaps in their learning to aid memory and recall. By completing homework tasks according to the homework schedule students maximise their ability to retain information and better prepare for examinations.
- The revision homework set out by teachers details the essential content that will be tested upon. We will specify exactly what material students will cover and how they should revise it. We will never set tasks to simply “revise for the test”.
- The revision/homework timetable is adapted in Year 11 and Year 13 detailing when students should start to complete past papers.
- The types of revision tasks that are set by the teachers or that should be completed by the students in their own independent revision time are listed here:
- Quizzing and recall practice
- Creating and quizzing from Mind Maps
- Using revision “flash-cards”
- Using the Cornell note taking system
- Frequently answering short answer questions
- Providing narratives with their answers explaining steps in a process. This develops procedural knowledge and recall
- Web based learning such as Seneca learning, Quizlet and Hegarty maths.
- Asking someone to test them
- We do not promote ineffective revision techniques such as,
- Reading and re-reading notes/revision resources
- Highlighting texts
- Completing past paper question early in the revision process
- Students should work in a quiet, distraction free place at home. Students do not revise effectively when there are distractions such as music, television or electronic devices (phones/tablets) around them.
Ensuring we enhance students reading ability
All students need to have a reading age of, at least, 15 years and 7 months to fully access a GCSE paper. Struggling readers will have added anxiety if they are unable to cope with the reading demands placed upon them. In order to support students to enhance their reading we have the following strategies:
- A reading schedule where students read a range of academically challenging texts throughout the year.
- Accelerated reader and recommended reads
- Reading featuring in most lessons in all subjects
- Reading at home for 30 minutes each night in Years 7 and 8
- Reading aloud in all subjects
- Reading intervention and support groups
Provide support to challenge negativity and manage the physical symptoms of stress
As previously mentioned, too much stress can hinder exam performance. Some of the signs of high exam anxiety are:
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Tight churning stomach
- Jelly or wobbly legs
Our PSHRE, tutorial and assembly programme highlights the impact anxiety can have on concentration. We promote personal health and well-being by encouraging the following:
- Students should take regular breaks – we do not recommend revision for longer than 45 minutes without taking a short break.
- Students need to eat well. The brain needs energy and fuel to make the most of your revision time.
- Students need to sleep. The brain processes information whilst you sleep enabling for faster recall.
- Challenge negative thoughts such as "I am going to fail"; "If I don't succeed, it means I'm not good enough"; "Everyone else will do better than me"; or "I will never be able to pass this test". This can be done by replacing these thoughts with positive ones. For example instead of thinking, “I will fail” say something like: “I know I can do this.”, “Everyone experiences anxiety. I can handle this.” or “I’m not a loser if I have trouble with a test. Lots of students struggle with tests anyway.”
- When students experience “over-stressed” symptoms they should try diaphragmatic breathing (also called "belly breathing"). During times of stress we often breathe from our upper chests which can create feelings of anxiety. By engaging the diaphragm we can reduce these feelings.
- When students experience “over-stressed” symptoms they should try guided progressive muscle relaxation. This involves progressively tensing and then relaxing muscles or muscle groups and can be undertaken by asking students to:
- Focus their mind on the muscles of their right hand and be aware of any tension.
- Inhale and squeeze the muscles of their right hand fairly tightly for 3-6 seconds.
- Release the tension in their hand and imagine any tightness or pain flowing out of their hand as they exhale.
- Relax their hand for 10-15 seconds and notice the difference between the pleasant feelings of relaxation and any tension they felt before.