It is certainly not uncommon. When it comes to taking tests and improving test scores, most of us go into a kind of short-term, high-anxiety mode.
The secret to doing better is to turn bad stress into “eustress“ or good stress. Simply put, getting better grades on tests starts with making stress work for you—not against you.
Here’s a list of the best ways to prepare for tests, complete with an easy-to-remember mnemonic acronym: PREP.
- Prepare. Ready yourself both mentally and physically. First, know the material by learning to study more effectively. Self-test, too. Repeated test-taking relieves anxiety and is shown to be a powerful method for retaining information. Second, take care of yourself. Consistently eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. Studies show that these things really do make a difference come test time.
- Relax. Let go of pent-up tension. Researchers found in an MRI study that stress unquestionably worsens memory. The more stressed you feel, the worse you’ll perform. And the worse you perform, the more stress you’ll feel. Break the cycle through stress-relieving measures like deep breathing, clenching and relaxing your fists, listening to music, laughing, visualizing your success and/or reciting a few positive affirmations.
- Engage. Focus all your attention and senses on taking the test. Now is not the time to worry whether your stomach is growling (it shouldn’t if you followed Tip #1). Set aside your mental to-do list, family issues or work deadlines. Tap into what’s been called your “interactive voice.” Author Chris Tovani coined the phrase in her book I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, referring to the inner voice that makes connections and inferences about what you read. Read test questions carefully, allowing your brain to talk back to the text with your interactive voice. You’ll understand the question better and be able to recall the answer more quickly.
- Pace. Use your allotted test-taking time wisely. Ever hear the adage “haste makes waste”? Definitely true when it comes to taking a test. Slow down. Start by scanning the number of questions. Do a quick, in-your-head estimate of how long you’ll have to answer each question then get to it. Don’t agonize over any single answer. On the flip side, don’t rush to finish first either. Slow and steady wins the test-taking race.