FIVE last-minute exam tips

exam tips for gcse and a-level

Here are a few last-minute exam tips to help GCSE, A-level and international students with your exams. Let me know if they work for you – or if you’d add any more 😊

  1. Read the question.

This is the easiest piece of advice to follow, and the easiest to forget. Sometimes we scan a question quickly, spot a few key words and make an assumption about how to answer without reading on. I can’t understate this – please read the question. Read it twice. There might be clues in there. This is particularly important for questions with data and diagrams – make sure you understand what the chart shows before starting on your answer.

  1. Remember they can only test you on what you already know.

Ok, so you’ve read a question but it doesn’t make sense – I’ve never studied the lifecycle of fungus before. Why are they asking me about the lifecycle of fungus?! Often questions are testing your ability to apply familiar ideas in unfamiliar settings. Oddly named cancer drugs, strange species names, enzymes you’ve never heard of. Here’s the good news – the answer has to be something you already know. If you’ve revised properly – and you will have done – the answer is up there somewhere. They’re not actually testing your knowledge of unfamiliar things – maybe they’re asking how drug trials work, or about phylogeny, or dipeptidases… The unfamiliar context is a distraction, but it shows you that the principles you’ve learned are flexible – they apply to examples you’ve come across before, and to those you haven’t.

  1. Remember examiners aren’t out to get you.

Really, they’re not. Exam papers are designed to challenge, but examiners (and question setters) are people too. They will give you the benefit of the doubt, they know it’s hard to write neatly when you’re against the clock. And that exam paper, for those two hours at least, is yours to write on – even if you write all those last minutes notes on the first page as soon at your time starts.

  1. But I REALLY don’t know the answer!

Breathe. Read the question again. Is there anything in the question you recognise? A clue to a topic maybe? Try not to focus on the number of marks, just aim for the first mark. Another will follow. Take the pressure off yourself and approach it step by step. If you want to, skip it. No-one is going to tell you what order to answer the questions in – pick the one you feel the best about to get you off to a good start.

  1. Remember exams are important… but they’re not everything.

Exams are a means to an end. They may provide the pieces of paper you need to do a course at University, or to get a job, but they don’t define who you are. If they go badly, you can sit them again, or choose not to. It might sound odd for a tutor to be advising this but most people find a way to do what they really want in life with or without exams. Think about what grade you want, but think harder about what you want it for. This might give you the motivation to dig deeper, or if needs be, to find another way.

All the best, and good luck in your exams! Summer is just around the corner…

Dr John Ankers is a writer and specialist online A-level biology tutor.

Author: Dr John Ankers

Dr John Ankers is a tutor, coach and writer. For writing and consultancy work, please contact me at

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