- Take care of your brain. To work well, your brain needs to be well rested. Be sure to get a full night’s sleep before the test; staying up late and cramming at that point probably isn’t going to help anyway. We think you should eat breakfast every morning, and it’s particularly important to fuel your brain on test day. Eat something similar to what you’re used to eating. If you usually have a banana and some toast, don’t sit down to a six-egg omelet, which may make you feel overly full and sleepy.
- Have strategies for dealing with test anxiety. Some ideas include talking or journaling about your worries, reminding yourself of all the work you’ve done to prepare, doing physical activity before the test, trying some deep breathing or muscle relaxation exercises, using positive visualization, or repeating a calming mantra to yourself. If all else fails, consider this: stress can actually enhance your performance! For more complete information on test anxiety, see our previous post on exam-based fears, and how anxiety can actually help you.
- Know some good test-taking strategies. For example:
- Flip through the test before you start to get an idea of what you’re up against. If there are different sections, you may want to think about where it’s best for you to start.
- For timed tests, skip hard questions initially. Be sure to circle them and dog ear the bottom of the page so you don’t forget to come back to them later.
- If you’re taking a multiple choice test, cover the choices, answer the question in your head, then choose the answer that most closely matches your idea. If you’re still stumped, eliminate as many answers as you can, then pick the one that sounds best.
- Jot memory aids in the margin of the test before you start working. This will save you from having to keep all that stuff in your memory, freeing cognitive energy to focus on the test content. For example, if you’re taking an algebra test, writing “PEMDAS” or “FOIL” at the top of each page can help you remember to use the right order of operations or guide you through the process for multiplying a binomial.
- Use the margins to plan your response to essay questions, too. Take a minute or two to list some ideas you could include in your answer to center your thoughts before you begin to write. You could even go back and number your ideas so you’ll know what you want to say first, second, etc. Your answer will probably be better, and you won’t have to try to squeeze in all the stuff you realize that you forgot to mention when you proofread your answer. (By the way, don’t forget to proofread your answer!)
We wish everyone the best of luck on finals, though with solid preparation, you shouldn't need much luck!