What should you do on test day?

2 weeks ago Terri Fleming Comments Off on What should you do on test day?


  1. Bringing things with you into the exam such as water and a snack like nuts can improve your grade the day of the exam.
  2. Believing that you can do well and avoiding negative ideas that you “can’t” to something are essential to success.

Studying can only take you so far but sometimes to get that extra few points added to your grade or just to realize your full potential you need some extra techniques for test day. This post is all about the most important and time-effective things that you can do right before or during a test to bump your grade up. These include things to improve your brain function on the day of the exam as well as ways to keep yourself calm and in control. While these tips are most helpful for the day of a test or exam, they can also improve your efficiency and effectiveness during studying.

  1. This first technique is more of a summary of a whole article that had 7 ways to improve your grades on test day, but since they were all pretty excellent, I thought I’d include them all here. In an article on HerCampus, they list listening to music or “fast-tempo music” as helpful increasing “cognitive performance” according to a study by the University of Dayton. Although you may only be able to do this while studying, you can always suggest that your professor play “clips of fast-tempo Mozart, which increased speed of spatial processing” during the exam. The article also talks about food and the importance of both eating a good breakfast (as a lover and aficionado of breakfast sandwiches I am all for this) and of cutting fast food out of you diet especially the day before the test. Another thing that I find both interesting and very true in my own experience is the importance of exercising due to “the connection between cognitive ability and exercise.” It can also help clear your mind and just help you relax. Some endorphins are always helpful to keep your happy and avoid stress. Finally, the number one technique to help you succeed on exam day is chewing gum which apparently stimulates your brain function. I personally am not a big fan of gum because I hate when it loses taste but I can definitely see how chewing would improve your brain functioning and help you on a test. Here’s what the article had to say about it…

“You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s no urban legend. Baylor College of Medicine did a study in 2009 where students chewed gum during a standardized math test. The gum chewers scored better than the non-chewing control group. Chewing gum improves cognitive performance in adults because it stimulates the brain by increasing blood flow, according to the researchers. The best part? You probably already have a pack at the bottom of your purse. If you’re allowed to have gum during your test, start chewing to raise that score! Chewing pre-test may also help.”

(“7 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Get Better Grades” by Katie Naymon on HerCampus)

  1. The second tip is something that is mentioned in the article above but here I found a much more in depth discussion of the benefits of drinking water during an exam. I used to be really bad about drinking water regularly or taking it with me to classes. However, this past Christmas my dad got me a pink Nalgene bottle and I bring it with me everywhere. While I’m not sure if having water with me more often has directly impacted my test scores and performance in class, it does help keep me alert. I especially love putting a slice of lime or lemon into the bottle which gives the water a little extra taste and makes it that much more refreshing. In an article on DailyMail.uk, they cite research that found students who bring a drink into an exam do on average about 5% better and up to 10% better than those who do not. Apparently caffeine and sugar in the drink did not change or effect this number. While I definitely can see the power of bringing water or a similar drink into an exam with you, caffeine or super sugar drinks can sometimes lead to a crash during the exam if you have been drinking a lot of them or you can get jittery and lose your ability to stay calm. Here’s what the researchers have to say about their findings…

“Researcher Chris Pawson, from the University of East London, said: ‘The results imply that the simple act of bringing water into an exam was linked to an improvement in  the students’ grades.’ Dr Mark Gardner, of Westminster University, added that it was not clear why the greatest improvement was seen in new students.

However, it could be they were the most anxious, or having newly left home were more prone to wild nights out and so in greater need of hydration.”

(“How to do better in your exams: Drinking a glass of water can boost your results by a grade” by Fiona Macrae on DailyMail.uk)

  1. This next technique is all about foods that will increase your brain function and help you do better on a test or just in school and life in general. In an article by CampusTalkBlog.com, they list a series of 10 of the top “brain foods” to improve your mental functioning. The article argues that “eating certain foods can improve your ability to focus, retain information, and remain mentally alert in order to get you through the most grueling of study sessions.” The list as is follows: fish, nuts, whole grains, apples, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc), dark chocolate, spinach, berries, legumes and, interestingly, onions.  Some of these foods in particular are perfect for a snack right before, or even during, an exam such as nuts, berries or an apple. You can try and eat these foods the day and night before a big test to improve your brain power although consistency would probably yield better results. This list can also be helpful as foods to draw from when you are looking for a study snack. I mean who doesn’t want to eat chocolate all of the time and even better is berries are included. The food that I found the most unusual was the onion, but here’s what the article had to say about its power…

In Eastern culture, onions have long been revered for their ability to improve important brain functions like memory and focus. Red onions in particular can help you achieve better grades, especially when combined with a program that teaches you how to study better using memory-boosting strategies. The compounds in onions, namely anthocyanin and quercetin, have even been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

(“Top 10 Brain Foods that Help You Study and Get Better Grades” by Guest Blogger on CampusTalkBlog.com)

  1. This next technique is both a little bit silly and really only applies to right when you are taking the test. Most people if not everybody get at least somewhat nervous before taking a test or exam. Even if you are completely prepared for it and feel comfortable with all of the material, there is something about the moment of getting the test or waiting to get it that invariably carries some anxiety. Now there are a variety of ways to help control the natural anxiety that you might feel before taking a test. One of the most important ones is taking regular, slow and deep breaths into your stomach and not just into your chest. Breathing alone can help calm nerves. Staying comfortable and relaxed are also important during the test. Taking a minute to stretch can help you get rid of tension throughout you body. Other things to avoid include talking or listening to people who are nervous or worried about the test which might lead to their anxiety washing over you. Once you have done all of these things and are sitting at your desk trying to stay calm and get rid of those last bits of nerves, there is one more thing that you can do. According to an article on About.com, you can flex your muscles and release any last nervousness. They do not cite any specific studies or research that shows this to be true, but apparently flexing allows you get rid of the extra bit of stress. I personally have never really tried or even thought of trying this before during an exam but this semester during finals I’ll have to give it a shot. Here’s what you should do…

“Yes, I do mean flex your muscles. No, you don’t have to do the whole, “Which way to the gym?” bicep flex. Just clench and unclench your fists, calf muscles, quads. Anything you can flex and unflex sitting down. By bunching and releasing your muscles, you’ll rid yourself of any remaining anxiety leftover from your calming activities before.”

(“What To Do the Day of the Test” by Kelly Roell on About.com)

  1. This last trick for tests and I guess schoolwork in general is a bit cheesy but actually pretty effective. In an article on USNews.com, they call it “believe in number one.” While I’m going to attempt to say it in a way that sounds a little bit less silly, my idea is basically the same thing. Believing that you can do something is incredibly effective to actually doing it. Many students get bogged down in various myths or misperceptions about the “kind of student they are” or what they can or can’t do. Just because you didn’t do well in math in sixth grade does not mean that you “don’t get math” and “can’t do it.” For many people, experiences in elementary school right through high school and sometimes even college can negatively shape your view of what yourself and what you can do. Something that one teacher told you in third grade doesn’t have to and should continue to haunt  you years later. If you let yourself fall into the myth that you just “aren’t a math person” or “don’t get languages,” then you are setting yourself up to fail before you’ve even started. I used to believe that I was a terrible speller and that it was something that I couldn’t change. Most of that way due to the fact that I read very quickly and rarely look at the whole word and, therefore, don’t remember the letters in a word very easily. However, just thinking that I was bad on it negatively affected my performance on spelling quizzes. Today I know that I sometimes completely misspell words but I’m actually pretty decent at spelling compared to most people and the majority of my trouble happens when I don’t really pay attention.

Allowing yourself to belief that you have certain inviolable limits that can’t be broken regardless of what you do, restricts both how much you do to work past that and your overall potential. There may be some things in the world that are pretty much impossible for you to ever achieve such as becoming an Olympic gymnast but only starting to train in your twenties (every Olympics I completely want to start believe I could be a gymnast). However, the vast majority of things, even potentially the Olympic gymnast dream, can be accomplished if you believe you can do it and put the work in to achieve it. Instead of approaching a test or a class or really college as a whole with the belief that there are limits to what you can do, decide what you want to achieve, figure out what it will take to get there, and believe you can do it. Here’s what USNews has to say about believing in yourself…

“A large part of good grades is good attitude: believing—really believing—that you can do it (and then doing it). Do not let family myths—”you’re just not that good a student,” “you have trouble in math and science,” “your sister is the smart one”—undermine your confidence. Your college took you because they thought you could do well. Prove them right.”

(“15 Secrets of Getting Good Grades in College” by Lynn F. Jacobs & Jeremy S. Hyman on USNews.com)

Next time you take a test or exam try these tricks and let me know how they work for you. You can also do a test run and try a few of them while studying, although I’m not sure if the whole flexing your muscles will be that helpful for studying.