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What not to do the week before your exams

By Simon Hennessy on 9 October 2019Exam adviceNSWblogUKblogStudy tips

They might call it the calm before the storm, but there’s really nothing calm about the week leading up to exams. Half of you want to just get them over and done with, and the other half is hoping the days drag on forever to keep those exams as far away as possible.

Since getting through this gross week is pretty tricky, we’ve put together a few tips on what to do – and, just as importantly, what not to do – in order to survive the week and be as prepared as possible for the exams that follow.

Do: Stick to your timetable

Exams are right around the corner.  The temptation to hit the panic button, throw out your existing timetable, and just try to power through whatever subject or topic is worrying you most at any given moment is real.

Resisting this temptation, however, is important. Assuming that your plan has mapped out how much attention each of your subjects needs, sticking to it gives you your best chance of peaking at just the right moment for all of your exams.

Of course, some slight variation might be needed. If you’re feeling very confident about History, but know there are several Maths questions that you haven’t quite cracked, then it makes sense to take a chunk of History time and spend it making up the lost ground in Maths.

Generally speaking though, sticking to the plan you made in advance is the best way to put yourself in the right position across the board when next week rolls around because when you made the timetable you already gave the correct weight to each subject.

Don’t: Stay up late studying

When you can count the number of hours you have remaining until the exam on one hand, it can feel like you need to use every second of that time to cram as much information as possible into your head. Plenty of time to sleep once exams are over, right?

Well… no. There’s no use having covered every topic twice from the Biology syllabus if you’re struggling to stay awake in the exam. What’s more, you probably won’t really have managed to cover every topic twice.

Humans are not built to manage without sleep, so the study you think you’re getting done at 2 am is, I’m afraid to say, probably not all that effective. Even overlooking the fact that your brain is unlikely to absorb much new info at 2 am, the next day, you’ll lose a lot in terms of ability to focus and exam endurance. Key exam skills include being able to properly understand and engage with the questions being asked, and remaining concentrated throughout the entire exam in order to answer them, but fatigue brought on by lack of sleep will deprive you of these skills.

Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep during the week and whatever extra bit of study you think you’ve missed will be more than made up for by how alert, focused, and ready you are when the actual exam begins.

Do: Stay active

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Sleep and exercise? There are only so many hours in the day!

But honestly, it doesn’t take too much time out of the day to go for a run or to the gym, and it makes a big difference. You’re going to be spending most of your day crouched on a desk, using all your concentration to answer questions and memorise information. Giving your brain a rest and your body a workout will help keep things balanced and healthy, and make going back to study and actually make tackling exams, a lot easier.

Don’t: Forget to ask questions

The week before exams isn’t just your last chance to get study done before your exams., it’s also your last chance to soak up as much useful information from your teachers as you can before the pressure of exams arrives and you go into lockdown.

Any questions that you’ve been sitting on for a while, that have just come up, or that might even seem a bit silly or insignificant – this is the time to send that email and ask them. Your teachers are here to help and will be keen to take advantage of their last chance to do just that.

Even if you feel like you’re bombarding them with questions, keep them coming! You never know what bit of information is going to make a big difference on the big day.

Do: Plenty of practice questions

There’s a time and a place for putting all your focus on note-making, reading the textbook to get information, or even watching our videos to build up your knowledge base. However, by now (the week before your exams start), the time has come to shift the focus onto the main priority: answering past paper questions.

Atomi has a number of multiple choice questions as well as the custom revision feature so you can get your hands on a number of practice questions and revision sessions to help you with this.

Testing yourself using practice questions from previous exams will have three particularly well-suited benefits for this period of time. Firstly, it will show you what you don’t know, allowing you to be specific in the revision you’re doing at the time. Secondly, it will get you in the groove of answering the kind of questions you’ll face on the day. And thirdly, doing timed past papers is a great way to have a mini practice run before you get into the exam and realise that you haven’t sat down for a solid 2-hour block since trials.

Revision of the material is still important, but the best type of study you can do during this time is to tackle practice questions and past papers, mimicking what you’ll face in the exam.

Don’t: Throw in the towel

This is an important one. Things can start to seem very, very real during the week before exams, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by how much you don’t know and how little time you have left. So if this happens to you, take a deep breath, take a break from studying, and when you’re ready, sit back down and get back to it. Don't give up.

You always know more than you think, so using this week to add to that, rather than giving up altogether, is a worthwhile exercise no matter how desperate the situation seems.

If you need a little more motivation and some tips on how to stay sane during these exams, check this out.


You won’t be able to learn the entire course in the week before your exams, but how you handle the week will still have a big effect on the exams coming up. Following these tips will go a long way towards making sure that effect is a positive one and is the best way to prep yourself for the last school exams you’ll ever do 🙌.

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