This month marks the beginning of testing season for most students. Younger students face annual standardized tests, and older students will soon take AP exams, SATs, ACTs, and SAT Subject Tests. Regardless of which tests you’ll take, there are some things you can do to make sure you can do your best.
Get a good night’s sleep. You might think that sleep is for the lazy — it’s a passive activity, perhaps the most passive activity you could think of. But the truth is that sleep is just as necessary for learning as studying is. Sleep is the time when the brain consolidates your memories of what you have done and learned that day. For that reason, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep every night — but it’s doubly important to get a good night’s sleep the night before a big test. Want proof? Researchers in Belgium surveyed more than 600 university students to determine their sleep habits during exam time. They then compared those students’ exam scores to their sleep patterns. Researchers found that those students who got at least seven hours of sleep during exam time scored 10 percent higher than those who got less sleep. More sleep not only helps you remember what you’ve learned, but also improves your thinking ability the next day.
Eat a healthy breakfast. When you’re running behind schedule, it’s tempting to just skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast isn’t a good idea to begin with (breakfast is, after all, the most important meal of the day), but on test day, a good breakfast is even more important. Eating breakfast improves cognitive performance and boosts test scores. But it’s not just that you eat — it’s also important to consider what you eat. According to research published in “Physiology and Behavior,” students who ate a low-glycemic breakfast (i.e. low in sugar) were able to maintain attention longer than those who ate a high-glycemic breakfast — and being able to pay attention certain affects test scores. So put down the sugary cereal and scramble up an egg instead. Look for breakfast food that is high in protein (think eggs or bacon) and whole grains to give yourself a mental boost.
Drink water. A well-hydrated brain simply works better than a parched brain. Give your brain a boost with a tall drink of water before the test. Just don’t over do it — you don’t want to have to take constant bathroom breaks!
Wear comfortable clothes. It’s easy to be distracted if you’re uncomfortable. Make sure you aren’t distracted by wearing comfy clothes. Consider layering so that you can avoid being overly hot or overly cold in the exam room.
Think happy thoughts. Stress hurts test scores. Don’t walk into a test stressed out. Remind yourself that this test — no matter how important it might be — is not the whole world. You’ll do your best, and that’s all you can do. Worrying about the possible negative outcomes will prevent you from doing your best.
Beat anxiety. Lots of students suffer from testing anxiety. Don’t let anxiety hold you back! In addition to focusing on positive thoughts, consider practicing deep breathing techniques. Deep breathing involves breathing slowly and deeply. Inhale through your nose making sure to use your diaphragm — not your chest — to take a deep breath. Then slowly exhale through your mouth. A few deep breaths can calm you down and make sure your brain has plenty of oxygen.
Bring everything you need. Being unprepared just adds to the stress of test day. Before leaving the house, double check to be sure you’ve got everything you need. Perhaps you only need a few pencils. Perhaps you’re taking the SAT and you also need a calculator, your ID, and your registration information. Be prepared!
No matter what tests you might be taking this test season, relax, do your best, and arrive prepared. We wish you the best of luck!