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How to Prepare to Take an Exam

By Edited Apr 30, 2016 4 3

Test Preparation

Learning to Excel on Exams

If you or your child is about to take their finals, the state assessment exams, their SATs or some other major academic or professional exam, you and your child may feel nervous and worried.  It is not unusual to feel stress before an important test and this stress can actually cause you to do worse.  However, it is possible to learn how to relax and feel prepared, instead of nervous and fearful, and you can teach these skills to your children.  What are some of the steps that can be taken before an exam that will enhance your ability to do well?

Students Taking an Exam

Mental Preparation for the Exam

Your first step in preparing for a major exam is to learn as much as possible about the test you will be taking.  Is the exam going to be multiple choice, essay, or some of each?  What topics will be covered?  How many questions are there going to be?  The more you understand what to expect on the day of the exam, the more comfortable you will be when you actually take the test.  If you can see old copies of a standardized exam, or see sample questions for your upcoming final, it will help you to realize that you are very capable of doing well.

There are study guides on Amazon that will help you prepare for the test, and it is usually well worth the time and effort to purchase the right study guide for the exams you are taking so you feel well prepared:

Quick link to Study Guides on Amazon

It may also help you to relax and feel confident if you spend a little time studying with a friend.  They may have somewhat different information in their notes than you do.  They will also have a different perspective on potential essay questions, which will help you think more creatively.  Discussing the study material with someone else will help the facts stick in your mind a little better.

Studying for an Exam

Study methods will differ depending on the type of exam you are taking.  Is the exam a final over material that you have been learning during the school year, or is it a standardized exam over general material that you are expected to be proficient in at this stage in your life?  Was the exam written by your own teacher, or is it a national exam created by a committee consisting of people who have not been involved in your personal education?

 In order to study for a final exam, first ask the instructor which information is the most important for you to review.  Often teachers will give you a study guide or will tell you if there is a specific unit of information that was covered during the semester that will be emphasized on the exam.  Make sure you review that information carefully.  If there is anything that you don’t understand, see if there is a time when you can ask your teacher to explain it to you.

In order to study for a standardized test, such as an SAT or state exam, find out as much as possible about the exam.  For example, is it better to guess or skip an item?  What are the topics that will be covered?  Is there an essay section on the exam?  What are they looking for in the essay?  Is content important, or are they more interested in punctuation and grammar?  Once you have a general overview of the test, look for free sample exams that you can practice taking online.  There are all sorts of free standardized exams online, including everything from the SAT to the California High School Exit Exam.  Taking the practice exams will help you find the areas where you need to brush up, and will also make you feel more comfortable and confident when it comes time to take the actual test.

Rest and Relax before an Exam

Try to get a good night’s sleep before taking an exam.  This is not the time to try to cram everything into one night.  If you haven’t learned the material by now, you are not likely to learn and remember it without adequate sleep.  Instead, sip a little chamomile tea while you review the most important facts.  The tea will help you get a good night’s sleep.  Then, when you feel tired, go to bed early and get at least 8 hours sleep.

Have a Healthy Meal Prior to an Exam

The morning of the exam, eat a good, high protein breakfast.  An omelet made with two or three eggs would be a good choice, along with a piece of toast.  Eating protein in the morning will help you feel satisfied for hours, and will help you avoid hunger pains in the middle of the test.  If you are going to be testing for a long time, you should probably pack a snack, such as a piece of fruit and a little yogurt.  If this is not practical, bring along an energy bar or a handful of nuts.

Other Ways to Stimulate Your Memory

There are many other ideas that some people believe will help you do well on a test.  One that I have used is to review anything like math formulas, or similar factual information, several times during the days preceding the test.  At least one of those times should be the night before you take the test, just before you go to sleep.  The last time you should review the material is a few minutes before you go into the room to take the test.  I like to make up my own flashcards.  Just writing out the information is a great way to remember facts.

After a good night’s rest, you may want to have a small cup of coffee or tea to stimulate your brain before taking the test, especially if you are used to having caffeine in the morning.  However, don’t overdo it or you could become nervous and jittery, which will have the opposite effect.  It has also been reported that sucking on a peppermint while you are taking a test helps stimulate the memory.  Teachers at the high school where I work frequently keep a bowl of peppermints on their desk during finals week.  Sometimes, a brisk walk, climbing a flight of stairs or a similar brief burst of exercise will help get the blood flowing to your brain.  Another suggestion I have heard is to take one aspirin before a test, because it relaxes the blood vessels and increases the blood flow to the brain.  However, do not take aspirin unless you have taken it before and know that your doctor approves its use.

Study, get plenty of rest, and eat before an exam and your scores will reflect your best effort.  In addition, try to relax and do not put too much pressure on yourself.  Good luck with your exam!

If you are interested in reading more about helping young people stay safe, and succeed in school, you may also want to read some of the following articles:

Teaching for Childrens Learning Styles

Financial Literacy for Kids

Investment and Money Management for Kids

Financial Advice for College Students

Skills for High School Success

How to Enjoy Middle School Success

Preparing Your Child for Elementary School Success

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If you are still having trouble with test phobia, this book will help you learn how to prepare for every exam you will ever have to take.


Feb 23, 2011 7:26pm
really good tips for taking an exam. Like you said, the more you understand what is expected, the less likely you are to freeze. Great article!
Feb 24, 2011 1:42am
Love this article with great information on all points to help anyone take an exam successfully:)
Mar 9, 2011 10:57pm
Exercising right before an exam can increase your mental acuity.
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