8 simple things your child should do the night before an exam

As the school year nears its end, the prospect of exams are starting to loom large, and students (and their parents) are going through the same age-old ritual: ‘the last-night-before-exam-meltdown’.

When the big day finally rolls around, both you and your child’s pre-exam anxieties will probably have hit fever pitch, and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

The night before an exam - boy studying a book full of highlighted passages

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

The night before an exam is a crucial time when your decisions could mean the difference between an A and a B grade. It’s important to keep a cool head and do things the right way.

Follow these steps as best you can to maximise your child’s potential.

  1. Don’t overwork

Despite being a trite and clichéd piece of advice, it’s absolutely key that you don’t run your child into the ground.

At this point, it’s too late to cram in new information. Preparing for an exam is a marathon, not a sprint, and attempting to learn Pythagoras’ theorem with 12 hours to go is an easy way to finish in last place.

No student goes into an exam with a comprehensive knowledge of every last detail they studied throughout the year. If your child spends the night slaving over every word in every textbook the library will let them borrow, they’ll only amplify their anxieties and chip away at their self-belief.

At this juncture, a ‘que sera sera’ attitude will serve them much better. They’ve worked hard all year. They’ve done all they can. Whatever will be, will be

  1. If you do work (because let’s face it, you can’t help yourself), make it fun and don’t try to go through everything

Despite everything in point number one, we both know that you and your child won’t be able to resist having just a little peek at their revision notes, or quickly running over those history dates they always forget.

If you are going to do some work, keep it fun and breezy, and only do so as a means to review what you’ve already studied (see above).

As a parent you can prepare a revision quiz on a website like Kahoot or Sporcle a few nights before. It’ll be a positive revision experience for your child, and will ease some of the tension and pre-test nerves.

If you must work the night before an exam, it’s a far better idea to…

  1. …consider having a revision session with a private tutor

Of course, if you really want to handle the night before an exam the right way, invest in a professional.

A private tutor knows exactly what your son or daughter needs before an exam. Not only will they review the specific information that’s most useful to the individual (with the finish line in sight), they’ll also do wonders in building their student’s confidence and self-belief.

  1. Do some light exercise

The positive effects of a spot of gentle exercise the night before an exam are well-documented and tried and tested.

Exercise is great for your mental well-being, helps with memory and reduces stress: just about everything a child needs before their GCSEs or A-levels.

On top of that, it aids a good sleep, which is vital before the big day.

However, just as it’s important for a student not to run themselves into the ground by studying too hard, they mustn’t run themselves into the ground by, well, running!

The operative word is gentle exercise – no student wants to be exhausted first thing in the morning of their exam.

  1. Eat well

The night before the exam, your culinary choices may have more of an effect than you might think.

First of all, timing is important. Finding yourself hungry in bed is in no way conducive to a good night’s rest, and trying to drop off whilst stuffed isn’t much fun either.

Try to make sure dinner is served around 3-4 hours before bedtime.

You may also be surprised to hear that what a child eats can give them an extra edge the following day. A meal full of complex carbohydrates and low on saturated fats will see your son or daughter waking up raring to go, rather than feeling sluggish and groggy.

  1. Get some sleep

On the subject of sleep: get some!

Do not, under any circumstances, let your child pull an all-nighter. They may want to revise ‘just one more thing’, but one more thing quickly becomes fifty more things, and 10 pm quickly becomes 5 am.

The price for entering an exam without a good sleep is worth its weight in grades and is far more valuable than any last minute knowledge a student might acquire by staying up until the early hours. Our brains need sleep to work properly!

With this in mind, if your child goes to sleep at 9 pm and finds themselves blinking at the ceiling, don’t force them to go to sleep. It won’t work, and they’ll end up spending the whole night watching the clock tick agonisingly closer to its alarm.

Instead, give them a book to read, or even a puzzle to do. It might be tempting to stick the TV on or let them browse the internet on their smartphone, but the incandescent, unnatural light has been proven to hinder a healthy sleep.

  1. Drink water, but not too much

Surprise surprise, it turns out that the stuff that makes up 60% of our bodies is good for us.

It’s no secret that water is rocket-fuel for the brain, and instead of only giving your child a bottle to take into the exam, it’s a good idea to keep them hydrated days in advance.

Hydration in moderation is of paramount importance, though. A visit to the bathroom every 30 minutes is of no benefit on the night before an exam, or the day itself!

Caffeine is also a major no-no. Whether it’s in a cup of tea or can or coke, the late-night-inducing stimulant could play havoc with all of your careful preparations.

  1. Keep things in perspective

Last but far from least is a piece of meta-advice, for both student and parent. Keep everything in perspective.

With the pressures of exams, it’s so easy to forget that education should be something to be relished and enjoyed.

Make sure your son or daughter has their priorities right: they should simply do their best, and know that a bad mark isn’t the end of the world.

Spend some family time together in the evening without mentioning the exam at all. Simply turning a child’s mind away from the exam will help them realise that life will go on, no matter what happens.

Keeping a philosophical, calm exam-attitude quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: students under less stress perform better, get better results, then feel more relaxed before their next exam. Get in the habit today.

The night before an exam can feel like a tumultuous blend of nerves and panic for students and parents alike, but it can (and should) be a straightforward affair:

  • Get a good sleep
  • Drink some water
  • Eat healthy food
  • Do some light exercise
  • Let a tutor handle any last minute reviews (it’ll be much more beneficial, and fun that way)
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind

…and that’s about it!

If you follow the list above you won’t need it, but good luck nonetheless.


  1. bryanna skye
    16 April, 2018 / 9:44 pm

    brilliant suggestions — especially about not having too much water haha

  2. 15 April, 2018 / 8:18 am

    I’d also highly recommend the Khan Academy for learning – it’s a free online resource I found invaluable when I was studying for exams. That and Dictionary.com to set up quizzes on your own topics to help reaffirm your own learning.

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