The GCSE exams come and go in a flash, all the hard work focused on a 4 week period of exams. It can be a tough time for students going through the process so to help our Year 10s as they move into Year 11, some of our ex-Year 11s have given us an insight into the whole experience.
First up we hear from Kasey:
Year 11 has been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved: whether you’re loud and outgoing or quiet and reserved, the final year of high school hits everyone just as hard.
For me, this year has been difficult and stressful but I have also learnt so much and I feel like I’m walking out of Northgate a different person than when I walked in. This year I have been forced to teach myself time management skills and I’ve found out so much more about the way I learn and therefore the best way to revise. Going into the exam season, I was working in a dark room every night until I fell asleep on my desk, but nearing the end of my exams, I realised that this was not helping me at all, in fact it was probably hindering my revision. The stress of exams was blinding me to how I really felt and I didn’t realise how exhausted I was, until it all hit me at once. Going into the exam season, I wish I’d have believed the teachers that told me that you need time to yourself as well.
Too much revision is suffocating and it can affect you so much. But how do you know when too little becomes enough and when enough becomes too much? Honestly, you don’t. You don’t know at all, it is different for everyone. And this will be hard, especially to the people that feel like they have to prove something to someone. But you have to make sure you take at least ten minutes every day to ask yourself how you are feeling. “Am I okay?” And you must answer yourself honestly. If you feel exhausted, if you feel like you are not good enough, if you are not okay: That is too much.
At the start of year 11, I was so scared. My GCSE exams felt like the be all and end all of my life. If I didn’t do well in these, I would let down everyone who believed in me.
But this was not true. Everyone in the year was going through the same thing, they all felt alone, but I realise now that I could’ve talked to anyone about it. No one was going to judge me. And I learnt that if you want to do better in your exams, you need to be happy. You need to be okay. You need to be able to say to yourself honestly “I believe in you”.
Next up we hear from Rosie H:
The exam period was very hard and stressful. As a whole, the exams are difficult and it takes a lot of effort to get through them. Personally, I found some of the exams hard, some quite easy but ultimately it depends on your strengths and weaknesses.
I think that I managed to do well in my exams due to an organised yet also relaxed revision timetable. I planned out when and how to revise certain subjects, planning more time for my less confident ones so that I could be as prepared as possible for the exams. I also attended extra revision sessions after school so that I could have a more relaxed lesson with the teachers. This was extremely beneficial as we could go over subjects I needed help with again and I was able to get different perspectives on topics than from within my lessons.
Overall the exams are very challenging and a good mind-set is needed to go through them and I think that if you’re aiming for high grades, after school revision is a good option for you. I also think lunchtimes spent with friends and again perhaps teachers for extra support are the good thing to do as the more prepared you are for the exams, the better and smoother they will be.
Finally, Molly’s thoughts on the GCSE experience:
The build-up to the exams is possibly the most stressful time of the year. For me, it was probably more stressful than the exams themselves. Once the exams start, you start to become familiar with the routine of revising but in the months building up to them, it’s difficult to manage time due to how easy it is to simply say “I have more time”. For me, revision timetables added to the stress rather than took away from it so I had to find other ways of managing my time. It can feel quite suffocating with the pressure of doing well and of the expectations of the predicted grades.
At times it was difficult to know what to revise for, especially at the weekends before a week with exams in the more difficult subjects (and this varies for everyone). I think that it’s important to set priorities and to know which subjects need the most work. For me, English and Science needed more work than Maths so I made sure that I revised more for the subjects that I struggled on. Preparation was key.
Not doing as well on my English Literature mock exam as I would’ve hoped was a major setback because I knew that I had a lot to work on but by knowing what I had to work on, I was able to concentrate on improving.
Knowing when to stop revising and to take a break was difficult for me. As I revised I listened to music so it was easy to lose track of time. When coming across a harder topic, I think that it is important to take a break and come back to it again. I found out that when I had been revising for more than an hour, my concentration started to slip. When I took a break I stopped staring at my laptop screen and started to read. This helped me to switch off completely and it allowed me to not worry about revision.
One thing my mum always said was “remember to breathe”. This helped me to remember that when I was struggling, I should calm down and rethink. Another thing that helped me was “try your best” because as long as you try your best, you won’t come out of the exam feeling like you could’ve done better. It’s normal to come out of the exam hall thinking “that was hard” but it’s better than thinking “I could’ve tried a bit harder”.
Rosie, Head Girl, gives us her top tips for GCSE success below:
1. Prepare yourself. Although it may feel like ages until your exams come around, the time flies by. This is why I suggest that you try not to put tasks off until the next day or week or month as before you know it you will be knee-deep in revision with the exams starting the following week. Do small amounts each day once you begin the year and you will thank yourself later.
2. Use the teachers. All of the teachers at the school are there to help and guide you, trust me. They are more than happy to give up their time to help you, whether that be breaktime, lunch, or after school. All you have to do is ask and check that they are available when you would like them to be.
3. Manage your time. There is not an infinite amount of time between you and your first exam paper which is why time management is so important. Lots of people like the support of a revision timetable, which is perfectly fine. Just make sure, if you are one of these people, you make it realistic, plan breaks and short bursts of revision, you’ll burn out before the exams start otherwise. Personally, a timetable was too restrictive for me, I’d often find myself choosing revision as I went, keeping track of what had done. This way, I was able to cover all of my subjects without the pressure of a timetable and being overambitious. Plus, some days I wouldn’t fancy Physics revision so would choose something else to be getting on with.
4. Know your weaknesses. It is so much easier to revise what you already know as it isn’t as stressful and you feel better if you know everything you are going over. That’s not the point. Keep going over your weaknesses, not your friends’, to fill in blanks and improve your own knowledge. It’s good to support your friends during the stress of the exam period but keep in mind you are on your own in the exams so working independently in the run up to them isn’t such a bad idea.
5. Go to the holiday revision sessions. The Easter and half term revision days are probably one of the last chances you will have to use the teachers and get lots of revision done, so use them wisely. I went to as many revision days as I could, which really helped to refresh my knowledge and make me feel more confident as the exams approached. I would urge you to go to these and not waste time having fun with your friends, you’ll have plenty of time for that once the exams are over.
6. Relax. Having said work hard, it is also very important to take some time to relax, although not too much. Simply relaxing won’t get you the grades you want, but it is vital to reenergise between revising so you maintain a steady pace of revision. Working yourself too hard will do no good as you will become too tired to face the real papers when they come around. Know how you work well and push yourself, just not so hard that you burn out.
7. Use the teachers, again. The teachers are of course there to use when learning and revising, but they also really care about your mental health. If you find yourself getting overly stressed and don’t want to talk to friends or family, the teachers will listen and give you the right advice to keep you going, it’s part of their job. Don’t hesitate to talk to them about the pressure or stress, I didn’t.
8. Know when your actual exams are. It sounds silly but knowing the dates of your exams and whether they are morning or afternoon is key. You will no doubt have a million things going around your head so it is easier than you may think to forget. Don’t do it! Stay calm and check your exam timetable each day in the morning before school just to make sure.
9. Turn up with the right tools. Of course, having a pen and pencil is important but something easily forgotten is turning up with the right mindset and an empty bladder. Sort out your pencil case before the exam period so you don’t have to worry each day about asking for a calculator and make sure on each day before the exam you have some water, go to the toilet, and take a deep breath.
10. Prove yourself. As much as you will want to deny it, the examiners want to give you marks, you can’t lose any for writing something. Give each question a go, even if you have absolutely no clue what it’s about and prove to the examiner how great you are in every exam.
11. Lastly, GOOD LUCK. They’ll be over before you know it.
A big thank you to all 4 girls for giving us their advice. We wish all our Year 11s the best of luck on results day in in the future.