Ah autumn… Colorful leaves, carved pumpkins, pumpkin spice lattes, and standardized tests. Now that the school year is upon us, so are exams. Quizzes, tests, final exams, SATs, ACTs, PSATs, SAT subject tests (I swear they just make more tests to torture students).
Personally, I’ve got my PSAT on October 14th and my first ACT on the 28th. So far, I’m not really worried, but I think that might just be because I’ve never taken these tests before and I really have no idea what to expect. I suspect the anxiety will build as they get closer.
So that’s exactly why I wrote this post! I want to help my fellow students cope with the challenges of test-taking in a healthy way. So that means (ideally): no all-nighters, no junk food study snacks, no skipping breakfast, and no negative attitudes (“I’m gonna fail this class and be a failure for the rest of my life”) :) None o’ that.
Instead try these 5 healthy tips for coping with those beastly tests:
1. Drink water before and during the test
We already know that everything seems to work better when you’re properly hydrated. Your brain is NOT an exception. In a study, students who had a drink while they were in the testing room did up to 10% better on their exam! (source). Bring a water bottle with you (make sure it’s allowed) and sip on it throughout the test. Not only will it keep you hydrated, the act of drinking water will give you a nice little brain break that just might give you an aha! moment.
Drink some water beforehand, too, but make sure you don’t drink too much too soon. You know what that means - you’ll have to go to the bathroom. You want to avoid distractions like that at all costs. I would stop drinking water about an hour before, use the bathroom before the test, and then sip during it.
2. Bring a healthy snack with protein and fat
Again, make sure that this is allowed by your testing center. If you are allowed a break, make sure you bring something that will actually help you on the second half of the test, not hurt you. Sugary foods will give you a spike in energy and then a crash, which is a definite no-no. Fill up on fats and proteins instead.
Care.com has some good ideas, including greek yogurt with fruit and hardboiled eggs. I know that might sound a little boring, but you’re not going for Instagrammable meals here. In this instance, food is truly your fuel.
3. Get plenty of sleep (but not too much!)
You are setting yourself up for failure if you stay up late into the night trying to absorb last-minute material. I’ve been there. I’m generally not super great on low sleep and I find that the next day, mentally, I am in another world. I feel like I’m phasing in and out of consciousness, especially after lunch when that sleepiness really hits.
It’s better to cut your losses and accept that you won’t know some of the material than to get so little sleep that you can’t even perform well on the material you know like the back of your hand.
So whip out your extra-relaxing bedtime routine, dab some lavender essential oil on your pillow, listen to some soothing music, and sleep like a baby. Just don’t sleep too much! You know that feeling when you sleep in wayyy too late? Not good either. As with anything, it’s all about the balance.
4. Use essential oils to your advantage
Okay, essential oils are just so cool. There aren’t many situations for which you can’t whip up a helpful blend. In The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood recommends a blend of grapefruit, basil, bergamot, and lavender in your bath or shower before the exam.
I also really like peppermint oil for waking me up and boosting concentration. You can get something like this terra cotta necklace to make the scent available to you during the test.
Another idea is to make a unique blend you’ve never used before and smell it as you study for that particular subject. Then bring that same blend with you to the test and use your olfactory superpowers to make connections in your brain. It’s kind of like how studying on your bed isn’t recommended because you’ll need to sit at a desk to take the test and you should therefore study in a seated position.
5. Don’t cram, don’t cram, don’t cram
I know, what a lame and generic tip. I’m serious though. As I mentioned before, late-night cramming will hurt you when you’re dozing off in the middle of the test. Plus, it’ll stress you out and the anxiety will make it hard to focus. Try your best to stick to a manageable study schedule, but if it’s just too late for that, just leave it be. I don’t want to call it “giving up”, but just realize that your time is best used now to focus on test-taking strategies, to relax, and to get your supplies ready.
A parting word
If tests are giving you trouble, I’d like to end this post by reminding you that your test scores don’t define you as a person. Hey, if you don’t do so well, is it really the end of the world? You’ll have a chance to do better next time. Don’t let a small setback change how you think of yourself. Practice mindfulness.
Now that you're armed with healthy tips, go kick those scantrons' butts! Or as my biology teacher calls them - scamtrons (because they're expensive).
What’s the most stressful test that you’ve ever had to take?
For me it would be the AP World History test! Luckily it went well and I won't ever have to do that again :) Have an awesome Sunday!