The Evening Before the Exam

Why is it important?

The 24 hours before your exam are the most important 24 hours in your preparation for the exam. This is especially true for STEP, in which being off your game on the day can have a large effect on your performance. Below are some of the many things you can (and should) do in those vital hours. Of course, the months of preparation building up to this are vital. These tips will just help you make the most of that preparation on the day itself.

Sleep, seriously

There’s nothing I can stress more than the importance of sleep when it comes to STEP. Unlike many exams, STEP is much more about problem solving and understanding on the spot than knowledge or methods learned by rote. Because of this, an hour of revision is worth much less than an hour of sleep.

So, go to bed early and sleep. (If you are struggling to sleep because of anxiety or restlessness I would recommend the Sleep With Me podcast which has helped me on many occasions.)

Eat well

If you have a morning exam, eat a good (by which I mean healthy) breakfast. In fact, even if you don’t, eat a good breakfast. If you have an afternoon exam, eat a good lunch (and breakfast). Keeping up your energy in the exam is really important, and eating well is vital for that.


Adrenaline can do wonders in sport or times when you need fast reactions and intense thinking or physical activity. Adrenaline is not particularly useful in a 3 hour exam, it stops you being methodical, making you miss things or make mistakes. It is much more helpful to be relaxed in the lead up to the exam, giving you the space to think and the endurance to keep at a steady pace the whole three hours. Try to make things as smooth as possible for yourself, pack bags the night before and don’t depend on unreliable public transport where possible. Stress is often the enemy of clear thinking (this is not to say you should become stressed about how stressed you are, that might worsen the situation…).

Read over the advice on timing, presentation, and question choice

Prepare for the non-mathematical side of the exam. Think and read the advice about timing, presentation and question choice and have a strategy for the exam. Also, make sure you have in your mind your targets and what you need to reach them. Most importantly, make sure you know the admin side. Know where and when the exam is, the structure of the exam, and all the stuff like that. Do whatever you can to make sure that in the exam you can focus on the maths.

Get stationery ready

You do not want to be spending precious minutes in the exam sharpening a pencil or trying to find a pen which hasn’t run out. Instead, prepare stationery in advance, make sure everything is working correctly and is appropriate. Don’t have inky pens which may smudge, or pencils which are too thick to draw diagrams etc. Think about the advice on stationery in Presentation, and make sure you have the things you might want in the exam.


In conclusion, there are far better things you can do with your last 12 hours than doing panicked past papers or sitting stressed late at night. Instead, focus on your wellbeing and the non-mathematical side to the exam. Make sure you enter the exam hall with everything you need to use your skills and abilities. That means a clear mind with which to think, and a strategy to know how to think most effectively and the means to get those thoughts on the exam booklet. Good luck!