Rocking Your Test Day with No Stress
In today’s lesson, you’ll learn how to put on your best performance on the test day, all while keeping a cool head.
Test Day Logistics
For your big day to run smoothly, you should prepare for it in advance (I know that I probably sound like your mom, but I’ll take that risk!). Getting a good night’s rest for at least several days leading up to the test should be non-negotiable. You won’t be able to compensate for the lost sleep in one night if you spend a week frantically studying and staying up all night. Prepare the supplies that you’ll need during the test, including your IDs, several pens, a calculator with a spare battery, your regular medicine, earplugs, several layers of comfortable clothes, and of course, snacks and water. Write a checklist with these items and stick it to the front door. As for snacks, go for something energy-dense and brain-stimulating, like nuts or dried fruit. Hydrate and eat before the test. Plan your route to the test venue and arrive early. Apart from not being late, you’ll have time to get comfortable and adjust to the room temperature or noise level.
Don’t discount the importance of these simple preparation steps. Take care of these little details beforehand, and they’ll take care of you when you need to focus on the big task.
Managing Test Day Anxiety and Stress
Test-related stress and anxiety can significantly hamper your performance  and is a common challenge that test-takers face. Luckily, there are a few effective approaches to stop worrying and keep the stress at bay.
We all dislike uncertainty and have a fear of the unknown. This is where all the effort you put into studying and figuring out what you can expect from the test will pay off: The better prepared you are, the lower your anxiety will be. On the morning of your test day, remind yourself of your skills and knowledge, and realize how well-prepared you are. Don’t give in to any panic that your classmates or fellow test-takers spread—be confident in yourself (hopefully, you’ve developed a fair amount of confidence by practicing a lot). Even if during the test, some questions take you by surprise, don’t worry too much, as they’re likely difficult for others, too, and were made hard deliberately.
You can also ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” What if you fail this test? Will you be able to retake it? Will you be expelled from the university or lose your job? Will this matter in five years? Once you’ve answered these questions, calmly accept the worst-case scenario (which is probably not that catastrophic), and think of what you could do to remedy the situation. Embracing the worst will lower the stakes and diminish the significance of the outcome. This is a mindset we want to cultivate.
Another simple but powerful technique was designed at the University of Chicago. Right before the test, take ten minutes to write down your worries. Describe them in as much detail as possible. You can even add the sentence, “These are only my fears,” at the end. Worrying is a taxing activity for your brain; getting the worries out of your system by “offloading” them to an external place frees up the mental resources needed for focusing on the test tasks. A Chicago study demonstrated that students who participated in this exercise increased their test performance .
One more approach: Visualize yourself acing the test. It works like a placebo and helps you change your attitude, reduce anxiety, and improve test performance, studies have shown . There’s nothing esoteric about this visualization practice—the secret is that your brain has no way of differentiating between real life and imagination . What you imagine carves a new pathway in your brain, which in this case is, “I perform well on the tests and there is nothing to worry about.”
Daily task: Prepare a list of anti-anxiety techniques (described above) to bring with you on test day.
Tomorrow is our last episode, where we’ll review what we’ve learned in this course.
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