As a high school student, any exam day can be stressful. In fact, tests are nerve-wracking at any age! It’s the day you get to show off all the knowledge you’ve gained and how hard you’ve studied. Plus, the result can greatly affect your overall grade. The good news is that with some tips for test day, you can relieve your stress and get the grade you’re aiming for.
Preparing for an exam is not just about studying, but it also involves proper planning and strategy. We’re assuming that you’ve taken at least the past few days to review the material that is supposed to be covered on your exam! In theory, it’s best to start studying a week before and slowly work up to test day. However, we know that that doesn’t always happen. So, even if you’ve only been able to fit in a few days of studying, you can use these test day tips to do your best.
The night before your test day
Cramming adds more stress to your test preparation. It’s better to start studying a week or at the very least a few days before your test. This gives you time to take regular breaks and relax. While some people can cram and perform well under pressure, you’ll retain information better, do better and feel better by spacing out your studying.
Review your notes
Review your notes and materials one last time to reinforce what you have learned. Focus on the most important information and key concepts.
Prepare your exam essentials
Prepare everything you need for the exam, such as a calculator, pens, pencils, and erasers. Pack your bag or backpack ahead of time. If you’re going to take an exam like the SAT or ACT, make sure that you also have your ID with you!
Get a good night’s sleep
Besides spacing out your studying, this might be the most important of all test day tips! Getting enough rest the night before the exam is essential. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep to ensure that you are well-rested and alert during the exam.
First, you’ll have to create a sleep-conducive environment. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Use curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine to block out any disruptive noise and light. Here are some tips for falling asleep:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Avoid caffeine: Don’t have any type of caffeine around bed time. This includes coffee, tea, and chocolate. Even having caffeine after 5PM can mess up your sleep!
- Limit screen time before bed: Stay off your electronic devices like smartphones or tablets at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by these devices can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Try relaxation techniques: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation to calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
- Use white noise or soothing music: Listening to white noise or soothing music can help drown out any distracting sounds and promote relaxation.
- Drink sleep tea: Herbal teas like chamomile or valerian root tea can help calm your mind and promote sleep.
- Take a warm bath or shower: Taking a warm bath or shower before bed can help relax your muscles and calm your mind. It also cools your body down which is helpful for falling asleep.
The morning of your test
Eat a “brain food” breakfast
Another one of the best test day tips is to eat a nutritious breakfast to give you energy for the exam. According to Healthline, you can eat some of these foods to power your brain. They’re known as “brain foods” because they all contain important compounds and vitamins that positively impact your brain function!
- Berries (especially blueberries – a known superfood!)
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit)
- Nuts (especially walnuts – they even look like a brain!)
- Eggs (packed full of nutrients and protein to give you energy)
- Avocado (improves mental function)
- Red, green and orange vegetables (Red peppers, spinach, carrots)
If your test is across your school’s campus, ask your teacher in the class you have beforehand if you can leave class early to make it to your next classroom. You don’t want to miss out on any of the time you are alloted for the exam.
Then there are tests like the SAT and ACT. You take these exams on the weekends at sites other than your school. This means you need to keep traffic in mind. Double check the location first. You can check the traffic prediction with Waze ahead of when you think you should leave in order to know when exactly you should head out.
Arrive at least 30 minutes early to the testing site to avoid any unnecessary stress or last-minute rush. This will give you time to find your exam room, go to the bathroom, and take a few minutes to center yourself.
Relax and breathe
Take one last scan of your notes and key concepts to refresh your memory. Then take deep breaths and try to relax. Avoid any last-minute cramming or stressing out. Try out this three minute pre-exam meditation to calm your breathing and your mind.
Right before the test
Use the bathroom
This is one of the test day tips in the list that you could easily forget to do, but it can save you from disaster. Use the bathroom before the exam begins to avoid any distractions. You don’t want to have to pee halfway through a test! First of all, it’s distracting. Secondly, you lose time if you have to leave the test. Sometimes teachers won’t even let you leave the classroom in the first place and you’ll be stuck.
Really, one of the most impactful test day tips you can implement is calming yourself down. Similarly to the meditation suggestion above, you can use some calming breathing techniques to center yourself as you’re waiting for your teacher to pass out your test. Try out the 4-7-8 method.
The idea is to inhale for four counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, then exhale for 8 counts. Make sure you’re sitting down as you do this. Medical News Today lays out the instructions for this method like this:
- Exhale everything out of your lungs first.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Inhale into your belly first and then into your lungs.
- Hold that breath and count to 7.
- Exhale forcefully out of your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat this process three to seven times.
Check out this Everyday Health article for more calming breath techniques.
Also, right before the exam, avoid talking to other students as it can cause unnecessary stress.
During the test
First and foremost, read the instructions carefully and understand what is expected of you. Then, manage your time effectively during the exam. Focus on the questions you know and answer those first to avoid running out of time. Try your best to give yourself a few minutes at the end to double check your answers and make sure you’ve answered all the questions fully.
Different types of tests require different strategies. Here are some test day tips tackling different kinds of exams. By following these tips, you can prepare for the exam efficiently and approach it with confidence:
- Eliminate wrong answers: One way to increase your chances of selecting the right answer is to eliminate the ones that are obviously incorrect. Cross out any answer options that you know are incorrect. This will leave you with a smaller set of possible answers to choose from.
- Use context clues: Sometimes, the answer can be found in the context of the question. Look for clues in the question itself that might help you narrow down the answer choices.
- Go with your gut: If you’re unsure of the correct answer after reading the question and eliminating some of the options, go with your initial instincts. Research has shown that our first instinct is often correct.
- Don’t second-guess yourself: Avoid second-guessing your answers. Once you’ve selected an answer, move on to the next question. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on previous questions, as this can waste valuable time and cause you to doubt your answers.
Short answer questions are designed to test your knowledge on a specific topic or concept. Here are some tips on how to approach short answer questions:
- Read the question carefully: Make sure you understand the question before attempting to answer it. Pay attention to the key phrases and instructions. If the question is asking you to define a term or explain a concept, make sure you provide a clear and concise answer.
- Be concise and clear: Keep your answer brief and to the point. Avoid using jargon or complex language that might confuse your teacher. Use simple language and write in complete sentences to ensure your answer is clear and easy to understand.
- Use examples: Where appropriate, use examples to illustrate your answer. This can help to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and provide evidence to support your answer.
- Answer all parts of the question: Make sure you answer all parts of the question. If the question has multiple parts, make sure you answer each part. Read the question carefully to ensure you don’t miss any important details.
- Revise your answer: Before submitting your answer, take a moment to review your work. Check for any spelling or grammar mistakes and ensure that your answer is clear and easy to understand.
- Analyze the prompt: Make sure you understand the essay prompt before beginning to write. Identify the key terms, such as “analyze,” “compare,” or “contrast,” and make sure you understand what the prompt is asking you to do.
- Organize your thoughts: Before beginning to write, take some time to brainstorm and organize your thoughts. Develop a clear thesis statement that sums up your argument, and then create an outline that includes the main points you want to make.
- Include an introduction and conclusion: Your essay should have a clear introduction that introduces the topic and provides context for your argument. It should also have a conclusion that summarizes your main points and restates your thesis in a new way.
- Use evidence to support your argument: Use examples and evidence from the text or outside sources to support your argument. This will make your essay more convincing and provide the reader with a clear understanding of your position.
- Revise your essay: Before submitting your essay, take some time to revise it. Check for grammar and spelling mistakes, ensure that your essay is well-organized, and make sure that you have provided enough evidence to support your argument.
- Review all your notes and study materials: Start studying for your final exam well in advance. Go over all of your notes and study materials, including textbooks, class notes, and review sheets. Create a study schedule and stick to it to ensure you cover all of the material before the exam.
- Focus on essential concepts and themes: Identify the key concepts and themes that have been covered throughout the course. These are the topics that are most likely to appear on the exam. Spend extra time studying these topics and ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the material.
- Practice past exams: If past exams are available, use them to practice and familiarize yourself with the exam format and types of questions that may appear on the final exam.
- Manage your time effectively: Time management is critical during the final exam. Plan how long you will spend on each section or question and stick to it. If you get stuck on a question, move on to the next one and come back to it later if you have time.
- Stay calm and focused: It’s important to stay calm and focused during the exam. Take deep breaths and try to relax. Don’t panic if you don’t know the answer to a question. Take your time, read the question carefully, and try to use the strategies you’ve learned to narrow down the answer.
College Prep test day tips (ACT, SAT, and AP tests)
If you’re taking a college prep exam, like the ACT, SAT, or AP exams, there are some additional steps you need to take.
- Plan your transportation. AP exams are probably being held at your high school campus, so you might not need to think about this as much. However, for ACT and SAT exams, ensure you know how to get to the testing center and give yourself plenty of time to arrive.
- Double-check your exam time. Confirm the time (and location while you’re at it), and make sure you know how long the test will take.
- Know what to bring. Make sure you have your ID, No. 2 pencils (mechanical pencils are not allowed), an approved calculator, and snacks and water for break time. Also, wear comfortable clothes!
- Avoid rescheduling and cancellation fees. If you need to reschedule or cancel your exam, make sure you do it before the deadline to avoid any fees.
If you’re still deciding whether you want to take the ACT or SAT, first review the main differences between the two tests. Then, get more in-depth advice on which you should take based on your skills and test taking habits to make your final decision.
As far as the SAT goes, rescheduling your test is $28. If you cancel before the regular cancellation deadline, the fee is $25. Canceling after the regular cancellation deadline the fee means you’ll pay $35. Check out all the updated fees on the College Board website.
Similarly, you’ll have to pay a fee if you decide to cancel your ACT exam. There’s also a fee for additional services like changing the test center or date. The non-refundable fee for this is $42.00. If you register late, you’ll need to pay a $36.00 fee too. You won’t receive a refund for these fees whether you take the test or cancel it.
Lastly, for AP exams, you’ll be charged $40 to reschedule and cancel.
The big picture
All in all, exam day can be nerve-wracking, but with the proper preparation and mindset, you can come out on top. Implement the test day tips we’ve laid out above to prepare yourself to do your best.
Get plenty of rest, eat an energizing breakfast, and bring everything you need. Remember to take some deep breaths, trust your studying, and go for it. Good luck!