Tricks EVERY student can use to tackle their GCSEs

From sniffing a lemon to massaging their ears, the scientifically-backed tricks EVERY student can use to help boost their chances in exams

  • Exam season is in full swing and students up and down the UK are busy revising
  • Teachers and neuroscientists have worked together to create an ultimate guide
  • Scientifically-backed advice tells students to sniff lemons or rub their earlobes
  • Suggests revising in ‘chunks’ of time is more effective than all-day cramming

Exam season is in full swing and students at schools, colleges and universities are busy revising.  

But it can be difficult to know which study methods actually work – and which are a waste of time. 

Fortunately teachers at Queen Anne’s School, near Reading, have been working hard with neuroscientists at universities across the UK to come up with a scientifically-backed solution. 

The result is the BrainCanDo revision guide which provides students – and their parents – with practical and effective study strategies that are rooted in the latest neuroscientific evidence. 

Here, Ben Stephenson, former sports psychologist and director of sixth form at Queen Anne’s who worked on the guide, reveals the tips everyone should know…

The BrainCanDo revision guide which provides students – and their parents – with practical and effective study strategies that are rooted in the latest neuroscientific evidence. Stock image


‘There is no correlation between the amount of time you revise and the results you get,’ Ben said. ‘What we’ve found is it’s actually the type of revision you are doing.’

So instead of spending endless hours cramming for an exam, take a smarter approach to revision. 

Ben suggests students test themselves in the days leading up to an exam. Note down the key points on a topic and then put the piece of paper away and see how many you can recall.   



When the exam is just hours away it can be tempting to try and squeeze in a last bit of learning. But Ben advises against learning anything new on the morning of. 

He said: ‘Do very little revision, if anything, on the day of the exam. If you do anything then just look at essay plans or key notes.’  

With a string of modules to tick off, it is common for students to allocate an entire day to a particular subject. 

But this approach be counter-productive when it comes to actually absorbing the information. 

‘Students tend to spend a whole day on one topic but “spaced” learning is better,’ Ben explained. ‘That means maybe doing biology in the morning, followed by English annotations, then testing yourself on biology modules after lunch.’  

This works as it gives the student time to ‘forget’ what they have learnt, which is key. 

Ben added: ‘The bit the students hate is the frustration of forgetting an answer but this is important when it comes to exams.’  

Students can afford to sleep in a little later if their exam is in the afternoon, Ben explained


It might sound obvious but students should take extra care to look after themselves on the morning of an exam. 

If it is an afternoon exam, Ben advises sleeping in a little longer in the morning before tucking into a good breakfast. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean their favourite. It means something with plenty of fibre and slow releasing energy, like porridge topped with chopped bananas.   


Parents desperate to help can find themselves bombarding their child with questions on the morning of an exam. 

‘Parents want to feel useful but they’ll often have a negative impact,’ Ben explained. 

Instead anxious mothers and fathers should use any chats before to reinforce their child’s confidence. 

Ben continued: ‘Wish them luck, tell them how proud you are of them, let them know you are proud of their best efforts. 

It can also be a good idea to talk to the child about something other than exams – whether it is their own plans for the day or what was on TV the night before – as students in that situation would often rather listen rather than talk. 


A student can condition their brain to work its best during exams, just as an athlete can condition their body ahead of a race. 

One trick is to associate a trigger object or sensation with a positive mood that can then be tapped into on the day itself.  

Try sniffing a lemon while doing a favourite activity – whether that’s watching a favourite TV show, thinking about holidays, or scrolling through an album – in the weeks leading up to the exam. 

This will send signals to the hippocampus, which plays a role in emotions and memory. 

Then before walking into the exam hall, sniff the lemon to invoke the same positive emotions that you have associated with it.


If sniffing a lemon feels a little fussy, something as simple as massaging the ears can have the same effect. 

Ben noted visualising the exam room has also been shown to help a student’s performance.

The BrainCanDo Revision Guide, £5. Email with you name, contact number and address to order your copy.

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