What to Do on Exam Day and the Day Before

The time is finally here, whether you have an exam today or tomorrow (or maybe even a few days from now; I have to commend you for planning ahead!). How would you go about preparing yourself for the examination though?

There are generally two ways, we as students, go about this and usually it’s a balance between these two things. I’m talking about studying/revising information last minute and just trying to relax!

This article looks at how you should approach an exam, whether it’s the day of the exam or the night before. Read the subheadings carefully to find out which information is most suitable to you (at a certain stage).

My exam is tomorrow (preparing a night before)

If your exam is tomorrow, you should read the following information.

Do not pull the all-nighter! Please!

I absolutely hope that you are not at this stage. And if you are considering this, think very carefully because studying the whole night and compromising your sleep is not worth it.

My friend told me this story once about his brother. His brother went to the library to study the whole night and eventually went to sleep due to tiredness. You can perhaps guess what happened next. He woke up and checked the time- only to find out that his exam already started.

You may view the above story as slightly funny (my friend and I did!) but here’s the thing: it’s not funny when it’s you. In all seriousness, you do not want to miss an exam because you tried to study all night.

If I ever had the choice, I would never pull of an all-nighter and to be very honest, I never have. If your exam is tomorrow, you need to absolutely make sure you get sleep. Good, quality, long sleep. You may be tense or anxious but put this all behind yourself and get to bed as fast as you can.

If you feel as though you have topics to cover or information that you have just forgetten, you can either review it very quickly (don’t compromise a lot of your sleep) or create a checklist for topics you are going to cover in the morning or the day of the exam.

Studying a night before

Before you go to sleep, you should briefly look over your notes just to make sure you have everything. Remember, do not create panic for yourselves; if this will stress you out then simply don’t do it.

As mentioned above, sleep is really important (trust me and trust all the scientific research that goes behind this). So don’t think reviewing a chapter is absolutely essential before heading off to sleep.

Get a checklist and organize tomorrow

You should spend the night before an exam, preparing as much as you can. Create yourself a checklist and plan out your day for tomorrow. The more you can plan and organise today, the less time and energy you will have to spend on it tomorrow.

When it comes to planning your day, start by first looking at when your exam is. When should you leave the house? When you have your exam time scribed in and when you will leave the house, fill out the previous hours to see what you are going to do. Read on a bit more to find what activities you can include.

Creating a checklist is another important step in preparing for an exam. You checklist should have all the necessary equipment required for your exams and any other jobs or tasks you need to do before you leave the house for you exam.


My exam is today

If your exam is today, you could either be doing your exam in the morning, afternoon, evening or even at night (yes, I have experienced all those times).

Do some exercise, just a little

Exercise on exam day can be vital. You’ve already heard enough on how exercise positively helps the mind.

The type of exercise completly depends on what you like and if you’re not a big fan then just try light stretching or my personal favorite: walking.

You’re not running a marathon remember, don’t absolutely tire yourself out so you feel really lethargic as you walk into your examination.

When should you exercise? If you feel that the morning/afternoon/evening suits you then go right ahead, however, doing exercise before a test or exam can be highly beneficial as highlighted by this article.

I remember when I had to give exams in my school, I had to walk from the carpark to the exam hall which took like 10-15 mins (my school was huge). It’s definitely worth taking a long walk right up to the exams- you can benefit from some exercise as well as some peace (assuming you’re alone that is).

To stuff or to starve? Neither actually…

I’ve met quite a few people who have varying opinions on whether they like to eat or not close to the time of the exams.

First off, you should definitely avoid stuffing yourself. When you stuff yourself to the brim, it’s really hard to concentrate. Conversely, if you starve yourself, you might not be able to focus as the only thing you can focus on is food!

When it comes to eating, you should know yourself and your limits. You don’t need to stick to a strict exam eating diet (although you should always stick to healthier foods and avoid junk), just make sure you have enough fuel to get you through an exam.

You may feel some people recommending certain ‘brain foods’ which are totally relevant and acceptable but you don’t want to drastically change your diet going up to an exam (unless it’s tons of unhealthy foods).

Should I take caffeine before an exam

If you feel that you need to drink coffee or tea to wake yourself up then that’s your choice. Behavior and reactions to caffeine vary from person to person and sometimes it takes a few minutes for caffeine to actually kick in (I think it’s 30 minutes).

What you do need to keep in mind is your caffeine intake (especially during exam season), I feel as though you shouldn’t drink coffee unless you really need it. There’s always decaf remember!

One more thing, if you have a long exam then caffeine might only do you good for the first few minutes. This is because we reach a state where the caffeine effects start to deteriorate, and we just fall into a lazy slump. This is known as caffeine ‘crash’ and it occurs a few hours we drink caffeine.

I’ve never actually had an energy drinks and you should be careful when drinking them before an exam because as I said above, it might only be useful for a brief time before your body just falls into an extremely lazy state (after a caffeine or sugar crash).

On a final note, caffeine is a diuretic which means that you may feel the urge to go to the toilet- not very ideal during an exam.

Have a checklist

It would absolutely be essential to have a checklist in order to get yourself prepared yourself for the exam itself. Think about it, a checklist is an absolute fool-proof method that makes sure you never forget anything.

Stationary checklist is a must, you don’t want to turn up to an exam without bringing any required stationary. If you have a checklist then you ensure that you don’t forget anything.

Also, remember to pack extra stationary just in case. I’m definitely an over-preparer but I would rather overpack for an exam rather than under-prepare.

Your checklist could look like the following:

  • Pens
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Sharpener
  • Calulcator
  • Water bottle
  • Jumper/hoodie

Positive mentality and journaling

If you don’t have a journal, then you should definitely get one right now! Journaling doesn’t just keep you organized, it helps to enlighten your mood and attitude.

Before an exam, it would beneficial to write positive statements. And in addition to this, try to write down what you’re trying to achieve (a percentage and a grade).

This allows you to stay positive. You need to stay positive before an exam, the amount of times I’ve heard my own classmates say “I’m going to fail this exam” or “this exam is going to be really hard” right outside the exam hall before going inside is shocking.

I don’t think students understand the effects of such poor negative words. Do you know how damaging these words are? And the thing is, I know that my classmates are well prepared for this exam and yet their negative state of mind will absolutely pull down their percentage and grade.

You cannot get yourself in a negative state of mind and don’t fall into other people’s negative words. Keep re-assuring yourself and keep the mental thoughts positive. Furthermore, take the time out before the exam to just go through your exam strategy (how are you approaching this exam?).

One way you can stay positive is to journal a few thoughts and write statements like:

  • I have prepared well for these exams for over a year
  • I have done my best to study for these exams
  • I will stay positive and confident throughout my exam
  • My goal is to get 90% in this exam
  • I have to re-read questions carefully and not mis-interpret the question

These statements act as ‘affirmations’ and will boost your confidence going into this exam. You don’t have to share this information with anyone else, you decide what you write in your journal and how personal you want to get.

Spending time engaging the brain

It’s your exam day. You don’t want to do too much work that will lead to burn out and mental fatigue. On the flip side, you have to keep your brain working somehow!

On exam day, you can spend some time doing activities that are not related to your exam content but still get you thinking somehow. These examples include doing puzzles (or ‘brain exercises’), reading/listening to a book, listening to podcasts or watching an educational video.

I would recommend that you check out Scribd or Amazon Unlimited which give you access to digital and audiobooks. There are also services like Blinkist which offer complete book summaries; these are great for short snappy chunks of information you can easily digest.

These activities will definitely help keep your mind away from your exam while still keeping the brain engaged on something. As I mention again in this article, you will have to get your brain back into exam mode soon before your exam.

Stay hydrated but don’t drink too much

It’s really important to stay hydrated throughout the day- especially when you have an exam. Make sure you pack yourself a water bottle as well.

It may be obvious but drinking too much water will not help. I have never ever gone to the toilet during an examination and I really don’t understand how others do. Time is extremely precious; if I go to the toilet during an examination, I definitely know I won’t finish my paper within the given time.

Drinking and eating during the exam

Now exam boards and exam styles vary around the world. However, you should definitely check with someone before bringing any food or drinks into an exam. And just remember that if these things are going to distract you then avoid them in the first place- you are going into an exam hall not a cafeteria.

Bringing water is highly recommended but make sure you don’t break any rules- always check the rules before bringing in anything into an exam.

Leading up to the hours before the exam

You’ve gone through a few hours and your exam is approaching, what do you do? Should you study or do something completly different?

What you do building towards the exam is definitely something personal. Some people try to revise as much as they can while others simply engage their minds somewhere else.

If you do decide to revise, remember to test yourself. The best thing to do before an exam is flashcards and flicking through mistakes you have made in the past. You shouldn’t really be doing past paper questions on exam day- these should have been done quite rigourusly over the past few weeks.

If you have not done many past papers then you should be looking at topics that you find the most difficult and looking at the solutions (since you won’t have much time to complete them).

On the other hand, if you decide not to do any revision (since it may cause unnecessary stress) then it’s completely up to you. However, as you get closer to your exam time, you should be getting your mind prepared for what is to come.

In order to do this, just test yourself quickly or flick through your notes and attempt to recall any information. If you want to, sit down with a friend (who won’t get you into panic) and brainstorm all the possible exam questions and what strategies you are going to implement in your exam.

Arriving at the perfect time

It’s always said to arrive as early as possible. However, the wait and build-up towards the exam could lead to anxiety. So essentially you have to arrive at the examination hall/centre at a reasonably good time.

Usually, it’s a good idea to arrive at your school or university early and then either hang out with a few friends (positive friends that is) or if you prefer, in a quiet place like a library. You can then plan how long it will take you to get to the exam hall.

At all costs, do not risk leaving your house late just because you think arriving early will cause too much anxiety. It’s better to be early than late for an exam.

Example exam day routine:

8:00 Wake up

8:15 Journal and plan for the day

8:30 Breakfast

9:00 Read newspaper, fictional book or any material not related to exam. Or listen to podcasts or audiobooks. You could even do some brain puzzles.

9:25-10:30 Review final notes and exam questions

10:30-12:30 Chill and relax

12:30 Lunch

1:00-2:00 Review final notes and exam questions

2:00-3:00 Relax

3:00-3:30 Preparing stationary and final checklist review + Leave for exam

4:00 EXAM


In this example timetable, working and relaxing is intertwined. If you want to change that then go ahead, after all, we are all different people and prefer different approaches.

If you don’t want to work and review information on the day of the exam or even before, then you absolutely do not have to. But do keep in mind that you might have to get your brain thinking about calculus whilst it’s still watching Netflix close to exam time.

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