How to do your best on a test

Tests are a reality of getting an education.  Every course a student takes has some form of testing to determine if the student passes or fails.  To pass a test, most students read the required chapters in their textbook, take notes that they can study later, review the notes they took in class, and hope that’s enough to get a good mark on the test.  Often, however, this is not enough, and students are disappointed in their test results.  Students don’t realize that there’s more to passing a test than they think.  Following are some things you can do to help you get the score you deserve on any test you take.

The first thing to do is to start early and give yourself enough time to study.  Not doing this is the major reason why students fail.  You need time to learn any material, so determine how much time you think you’ll need, double it and make a schedule of your study times.  Put this schedule on a calendar that you can easily see everyday.  You can also put this schedule in your smart phone.  Then all you have to do is stick to your schedule and don’t let anything interfere with these times.  More than a few students try to cram before a test because they didn’t plan their study times, so they didn’t study well enough.  Although you may get a passing score, cramming is not a good way to prepare for a test.  The reason is if you study late into the night before a test, your brain won’t function properly the following day.  You’ll feel sluggish and you’ll have trouble remembering things that you think you learned, so don’t put yourself in a position where cramming is the only thing that you can do.

The second thing to do is to take breaks.  Give yourself a mini-break of 5 minutes or so every hour.  During this break, stretch your body, dance, or do calisthenics.  Then eat a brain-boosting snack such as fruit or almonds, which allows your body to replenish the glucose it needs to feed the brain and keep it working well.  Short, repeated periods of study are often more effective than long periods of study.

The third thing you should do is to change the location of your studying.  Research has shown that if you study in different places, such as in your room, at a quiet coffee shop, or at the library, you don’t associate the material you learn with any one place, so it’s more easily recalled.  You can even study on the bus if you’ve brought flashcards with you.

The fourth thing is something you should not do, which is multitask. Multitasking is doing two or more things at the same time as you’re studying.  This is a bad idea because your brain can’t give enough attention to more than one thing at a time.  Give yourself dedicated study time and do the other things at another time.  The exception to this is listening to music, which can make you feel more relaxed and help you focus better on the material you’re trying to learn.  The music you listen to should be wordless, however, or part of your brain will be listening to the words and not remembering what you’re studying.

The fifth thing to do is get enough sleep the night before a test.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers aged 14 to 17 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, young adults 18 to 25 need 7 to 9 hours, adults 26 to 64 need 7 to 9 hours, and older adults over 65 need 7 to 8 hours.  Getting less than this amount affects your mental abilities.  If you can’t get to sleep, try some warm milk or tea.  Many students have found that taking melatonin a half hour before bedtime is an easy way to fall asleep.  Unlike traditional sleep medication, melatonin is a hormone that your body produces to make you sleepy, so it’s a natural aid you can use without fear of addiction.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the first part of the lesson.

The sixth thing to do is to avoid any food too close to bedtime.  All that digesting will keep you awake at night.  However, it’s a good idea to feed your brain the evening before.  Fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, help boost your brainpower.  You might also want to incorporate some eggs into your general diet.  Eggs contain choline, which is linked to memory and cognitive performance.  Avoid simple carbohydrates and processed sugar.  These may give you a temporary energy boost, but they cause your body to crash, which leaves you feeling super tired later.  If you crave something sweet, go for fruits, especially those that contain vitamin C, which help improve your mental abilities.  If you like salty snacks, eat pumpkin seeds or nuts, which have vitamin E and zinc, also good for your brain.  Lastly, on the morning of your test, eat a healthy breakfast with fiber and protein, which will keep your mind alert.  An example of a good breakfast is a glass of juice, an egg, toast, and cheese.

The seventh thing you should do is stay generally hydrated, especially before an exam.  One of the symptoms of dehydration is fatigue, so bring a bottle of water with you to the test.  A lot of students drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages not only when studying but also before taking a test.  However, be careful because caffeine is a diuretic, which means it will dehydrate you.  Dehydration can cause fatigue, so if you do drink coffee, also drink plenty of plain, clear water so you don’t get dehydrated.  Drinking coffee after dinnertime is also a bad idea because it keeps you awake, and you need to get a good night’s sleep before a test.  Chewing mints or mint gum is an alternate way to stay alert.  Studies have shown that mints or mint gum increase alertness, accelerate reaction time, and increase how people process information.  There’s one more thing.  Avoid alcohol, especially the night before a test.  In addition to the hangovers, alcohol also dehydrates you.

The last thing to do is use visualization, which is using your imagination to mentally create a situation.  There are two ways that visualization can help you prepare for a test.  You can use this technique to help you relax before a test or to help you create the outcome you want.  To relax and get rid of your stress, close your eyes and cover them with the palms of your hands to eliminate any light.  Then imagine a scene that’s very relaxing to you, such as a day at the beach or curled up in bed with a good book.  Picture as many details as possible to make it realistic, and spend a minute enjoying the relaxing scene.  Open your eyes and feel your body more relaxed than it was before.  Then repeat the same visualization scene.  The more you practice this, the easier it becomes.  This process creates a safe place for you to feel calm and relaxed before you sit down to take your test.  The other kind of visualization is about creating the result you want.  Imagine yourself achieving your goal of passing the test. What does it look and feel like?  Imagine your success in as much detail as possible.

On the day of the test, you can do the following things to insure that you do well on the test.  First, go to the bathroom so you won’t have the urge for the duration the test.  Find the place in yourself that is confident, and go to this place and stay there.  When you get the test, read the directions carefully and follow them.  Before you start, look over the entire test and identify which sections are the easiest and which are the hardest.  Answer the easy questions first, which will not only get them out of the way, but will also give you confidence for the harder parts.  Skip questions you don’t know and come back to them at the end if you have time.  Your job is to get the highest score you can on the test, and if you get stuck on hard questions, you’ll just waste time and may not get to the questions that you can answer.  Set a good pace that will allow you to finish the whole test in the time that you have.  Also, if it’s a multiple choice test, cross out any obviously wrong answers.  Even if you don’t know the right answer, you increase your chances of guessing correctly.  For essay questions, write an outline before you start.  In your outline write down your main point and the supporting details you want to mention.  This will help you stay on track as you write your response.  Lastly, review your answers before you submit your test.  Too often students forget to do this and turn in a test with careless errors.

Armed with these suggestions, you should do well on your next test.  Good luck.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the last part of the lesson.


determine:  decide, figure out
required:  necessary, assigned by the teacher
realize:  know
score:  mark, percentage
major:  most important, biggest
material:  information to learn
double:  multiply by 2
schedule:  plan of the days and times that something will happen
interfere:  stop something from happening
cram:  try to learn as much as possible in a short time
function:  work
sluggish:  slow
position:  situation
calisthenics:  exercises where you move your body in a repeated way
boosting:  making better
replenish:  put back, replace
effective:  working well and fast
research:  studies to find out something important
associate:  make a connection
recalled:  remembered
flashcards:  cards with a vocabulary word on one side and its definition on the other side
attention:  focus, concentration
dedicated:  doing only one single thing
according to:  as stated by
affects:  changes, makes worse
hormone:  a chemical your body makes
aid:  help
addiction:  dependency, something you can’t easily stop
avoid:  stay away from, not eat
digesting:  turning food into something the body can use
omega-3 fatty acids:  a chemical found in food that is good for your body
incorporate:  use regularly
cognitive:  brain
carbohydrates:  food composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
processed sugar:  sugar that is made pure
crave:  really need
contain:  have
mental:  brain
fiber:  plant matter that cannot be digested
protein:  meat and similar plant food
alert:  focused, aware
hydrated:  watered
symptoms:  negative effects on the body
dehydration:  lack of enough water
fatigue:  great tiredness
caffeinated:  containing caffeine
mints:  green plants with a fresh taste
alternate:  other, different
accelerate:  make faster
process:  learn, remember
hangovers:  headaches and general pain that result from too much alcohol
technique:  practice, way of doing something
outcome:  result
palms:  the inside parts of the hands that aren’t the fingers
eliminate:  stop, cancel
scene: picture
realistic:  seem real
achieving:  being successful getting
duration:  length, time
confident:  feeling like you can do something successfully
entire:  whole, 100%
identify:  find out
skip:  don’t do
stuck:  not able to move forward
pace:  speed
multiple choice:  choosing the correct answer from a list
obviously:  easily seen or known
essay:  writing a long answer
mention: write about
on track:  on the topic
review:  look again at
submit:  give to the teacher
errors:  mistakes
armed:  knowing and using