When it comes to test prep, it really is a marathon, not a sprint. Any marathoner would be able to give you a detailed breakdown of their routine before a big race. It is equally important to follow a regimented schedule for the 7 days leading up to Test Day. In developing a plan that works best for you, be sure to keep these tips in mind. Your body will thank you and we suspect your exam scores will be the reward!
Your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, has a huge impact on how you feel both physically and intellectually. Disruption of your circadian rhythm (like pulling an all-nighter, for example) can negatively affect the brain and the body. In order to feel your very best on Test Day, it is crucial to regulate your sleep pattern.
Start by figuring out when you need to wake up on Test Day. That means factoring in things like: How long does it take to get to my school or testing center? How long will it take to wake up and get out the door? Am I going to shower? How long does it take to prepare breakfast? Am I going to drink coffee? This may sound over the top, but these are all important items to consider. Once you’ve determined when you should wake up on Test Day, try to get a minimum of 8.5 hours of sleep each night (and preferably 9.5) and wake up at that time for the entire week leading up to your exam.
Nine-and-a-half-hours? Yes! Teenagers need more sleep than adults and the cognitive impairment that results from a lack of sleep mimics the effect of alcohol on reflexes. Sentia’s founder Billy Wheelan maintains that, “a lack of sleep is enemy #1 of academic performance. The most impactful change most teenagers can make in their test prep is to sleep more – and more consistently – every night.”
Whatever you do, do NOT pull an all-nighter. There is plenty of research demonstrating the counterproductivity of sacrificing sleep for studying. In fact, more sleep is strongly correlated with better grades and a higher GPA. Getting enough sleep will not only make you feel better, but will also ensure that your brain is primed to remember the information that you’ve worked so hard to learn.
No need to train for an actual marathon while studying, but squeezing in a workout each day of the week leading up to your exam can increase your mental processing abilities. Taking up a new, rigorous workout regimen is probably not the best idea. Figure out what feels best for your body — maybe that’s jogging, doing yoga, or going for a swim.
Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can sharpen one’s ability to learn and digest information quickly. Exercising may help you clear your mind and alleviate some of that inevitable test anxiety. Plus, when you do sit down to study, and eventually take the exam itself, you will likely feel more focused and energized.
Breakfast, they say, is the most important meal of the day. On Test Day, this is certainly true! A satisfying, filling breakfast can give you ample energy to get through even the longest exams. According to this study on the effects of breakfast on academic performance, eating breakfast has a positive effect on cognitive performance, particularly in the domains of memory and attention.
Of course, memory and attention are crucial to acing your exam. Consider stocking up on good brain foods like whole grains (oatmeal, granola, quinoa, etc.), fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables for the week of your exam (and always!). There is plenty of evidence linking healthy eating habits to strong academic performance, so make sure that you’re fueling your studies with healthy foods, which will ultimately help you succeed on Test Day.
If you’ve ever taken a major exam (or experienced performance anxiety of any kind), you are probably no stranger to testing anxiety. At Sentia, we teach our Relax, Refresh, Refocus™ technique to help students solve questions in a state of calm, focused flow from exam start to finish. Some elements you can try on your own include practicing deep breathing between sections, putting your pencil down for mini breaks during the test, and performing shoulder and neck rolls to release upper back tension. Don’t wait for exam day to give them a try. Instead, when you sit down to study during that final week, practice your deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Give yourself time to sit back, stay grounded, and take breaks as needed.
Yes, testing can feel terrifying. And yes, you may feel like your future hangs in the balance of your exam scores. But, especially if you follow these pro tips, you can succeed. As you sit down to take your exam, focus on feeling confident and at ease — you got this!
As always, we are here to help with all manner of test prep needs, from content to strategy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are seeking additional support. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!