In a year without exams, it feels strange to be thinking about them now.

As tutors we often come in to help students with them. We teach our subject, we help students apply it to the exam and we build their confidence. But if we aren’t careful, we can overwhelm our students and add unnecessary pressure. We’d do well to think about the following question: ‘How long is too long to prepare for an exam?’

Parents bring me in to work with students providing GCSE or A-Level Maths support and exam prep. This can be as early as Year 9 or as late as after the mock exams in Year 11. These are the elements that I find work best for Maths in over 10 years of tutoring.

‘Low Threat’ Preparation

I incorporate exam style questions from the very start of tuition.

This is to challenge students in a ‘low threat’ manner with how they would apply the topic to solve a problem. This helps them with how topics will present themselves in their exam. Topics are not always presented as a simple calculation questions. At higher levels, questions will need students to think about which skills will help solve them.

Overview Preparation

At the end of a series of topics, I will set a whole past paper. This allows me to get a quick overview of the student’s abilities. It reveals where they have weaknesses that need addressing as well as demonstrating whether they can apply what I have taught. It is also beneficial to students so they are familiar with the presentation of a paper in its entirety.

Most students have mock exams within school. These occur between November and February in the academic year of the exam.

They reveal where learning is still needed, they correct misunderstandings and they plug gaps. I can see where students need to work on a topic or whether they’re understanding what’s being asked. This includes how to present their workings for maximum marks.

I find students often panic as they sit the mock exams if this is the first time they see a past paper. This is why I introduce exam questions and past papers before the mocks if possible.

Technique Preparation

In the spring, somewhere between February half term and Easter, the focus shifts. At this point the bulk of revision kicks in, and I focus less on topics and more on exam technique. This includes using past papers to explain what an examiner is looking for and how to pace the questions. I’m also encouraging students by suggesting mental health strategies so they can manage the pressure they are under.

I would say it’s never too early to incorporate ‘low threat’ preparation for exam students. A gradual build from the mock exams, stepping up in the spring, will avoid some of the stresses that a sudden burst of revision will cause.


Dive into the above discussion and many more on the theme of exam preparation within the Qualified Tutor Community. This month, we’ve covered many important topics such as what the word ‘revision’ means to us, what students should be doing this year to replace exams and establishing routines for learning.

Catch all of it in the April Monthly Theme: Exam prep (you’ll have to join the Community first if you haven’t already!)