Even when you know the material, there’s no doubt that exams can be difficult because of the pressure of the situation. A lot of students struggle with test taking not because the content is hard but because they aren’t mentally prepared for that stressful environment where it feels like getting one algebra question wrong will jeopardize their entire future. Whether it be a calculus final, the intimidatingly important SATs and ACTs, or just your average English class reading quiz, here are some ways to help improve your mindset before and during an exam so you are focused on taking and acing that test.
THE STUDYING MINDSET
DO IT FOR YOURSELF
So many students treat studying as something they do to appease their nagging parents and learning becomes a chore. While it’s great to want to do well to make your parents proud, reminding yourself that you want to learn because it will help your own future will help you become an independent student who is motivated to put in that effort.
STUDYING IN ADVANCE IS AN INVESTMENT
You might think you work better under pressure and your short term memory is strong enough to help you through a test but procrastination and cramming only leads to panic and not enough sleep. It might feel pointless to start studying a couple of days to a couple of weeks in advance but think of it as investing in yourself. Every little bit of effort you put in each day will help grow your knowledge, leading to good results on test day.
MIMIC THE TESTING ENVIRONMENT
A swimmer doesn’t prepare for a meet by doggy-paddling at the lake, he’s doing freestyle laps in a regulation pool. Even though he’s swimming in both examples, the latter is the exact conditions he’ll be facing at his competition. Likewise, when preparing for an exam, ditch the music, cell phone, and snacks for a quiet room with no distractions. If you become used to that environment, it can’t affect you negatively. You’ll be more comfortable on test day, able to recall what you studied, and focused on the exam in front of you.
If you didn’t do well in the past, it doesn’t matter because that’s in the past. Though it may feel like it, underperforming is not a fatal, irreversible mistake; in fact, treat it as motivation to do better the next time. Remind yourself that your worth is not determined by your test scores and dwelling on the past only holds you back from growing as a student.
ON EXAM DAY
STAY IN THE MOMENT
Yes, there’s a pretty girl sitting in the row next to you; no, it does not matter right now. Before your test, tell yourself that for the next X amount of minutes, all that matters is the test in front of you and everything else can wait until after the timer is up.
HYPE YOURSELF UP
You made it to exam day! (Many students skip school or cancel tests because they don’t feel ready so just showing up is in fact an accomplishment!) Before you put your phone away and take out a number 2 pencil, try listening to an upbeat and uplifting song that you like to get that adrenaline flowing. It helps drown out all the things that don’t matter and last minute panicked studying from your peers around you, refocusing you on your test. Believing you can do it is crucial to actually acing anything so don’t sell yourself short and stay positive.
FORGET ABOUT THE TEST
When the proctor calls “Time’s up!”, that is the last time you should think about this particular test (unless of course you’re using it to study for the next one!). After an exam, many students like to compare answers and discuss their opinions on difficulty but ultimately, this type of conversation leads to anxiety and panic over how everyone performed. It doesn’t matter. Like any previous test, this one is now part of the past and is only useful as a learning experience, not something to stress about. Take a break and get ready to move on to the next one!
Learning exam material is stressful enough so eliminating extra anxiety and pressure from outside forces through these tips will hopefully help create a better mindset when approaching studying and test-taking. Now let’s ace these exams!