Exam season is right around the corner, and if you’re about to sit your GCSEs or A-levels, the nerves may be kicking in.

While all your hard work and preparation will certainly pay off, it’s equally important to ensure that you go into your exam with a positive mindset. The evening before is an ideal time to mentally prepare for the task ahead.

Here, I’ll outline five things you can do the evening before your exam to ensure you’re cool, calm, and collected on the big day.

1. Use your study materials

Read over your notes or test yourself with flashcards one last time. Although re-reading notes is often considered a ‘passive’ revision technique, casting your eye over your notes the evening before your exam is a good way of refreshing your memory on key facts and information.

You don’t have buckets of time, so prioritise the areas you feel least confident with. If there’s a topic you don’t fully understand though, don’t panic. There’ll always be areas you find more challenging than others, and at this stage, fretting over something you may have overlooked will be more of a hindrance than a help. Remember, intense cramming shouldn’t be your focus. It’s more about making yourself feel more confident, organised, and self-assured.

Briefly flicking through a couple of past papers may also be helpful to re-familiarise yourself with the format of the exam, so you know exactly what to expect on the day.

2. Pack your bag

When you wake up on the morning of an exam, it’s normal to feel anxious. Having to frantically search for and pack everything you’ll need will only create additional stress, and you may run the risk of forgetting something important. This is why it’s necessary to get organised the evening before.

Here’s a checklist of items you may need:

  • Transparent pencil case
  • Pencils
  • Black pens
  • Rubber
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Ruler
  • Transparent water bottle
  • Reading glasses

Depending on the subject, you may also need the following items:

  • Calculator
  • Compass
  • Protractor
  • Set square
  • Highlighter
  • Coloured pencils

Remember to check with your school which items you’re allowed to take into each exam. You may also want to pack a healthy pre-exam snack!

Teenager reading a book in bed.

3. Look after yourself

Don’t spend all evening revising. Knowing when to step away from your books and have some downtime is crucial to give you time to unwind and recharge your batteries. Trust me, you’ll feel more refreshed and alert come exam day.

Here are a few ways that you can practise self-care and maximise your chances of success:

  • Have something nutritious to eat
  • Swap caffeine for a herbal tea
  • Get some fresh air or do some light exercise
  • Take a shower or run a bubble bath
  • Listen to some music (and have a boogie to expel your nervous energy!)
  • Watch an episode of your favourite Netflix show or listen to a podcast

4. Get an early night

Getting a good night’s sleep (at least 7-8 hours) is crucial if you want to perform your best on exam day. Staying up late to cram may leave you feeling exhausted and on edge − not the best state to be in when you’re going into a 2-3 hour exam.

Research shows that sleep impacts memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills. An early night will help you feel more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to focus on the task in hand.

And while on the topic of sleep, don’t forget to set an alarm (or two…).

A teenage boy having an early night the evening before an exam.

5. Breathe

I know it’s easier said than done, but try to keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, it’s just an exam and all you can do is try your best. Pre-exam nerves are more common than you think. Try to keep a positive mindset and if you start to panic, take a few deep breaths.

You’ve got this!

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Molly Wood

Molly is a recent first-class graduate from the University of St Andrews, where she studied biology. As Project Manager at PMT Education, she oversees SEO, digital content, and media management.