How do you feel about taking tests. For some, just the thought makes their hearts race and palms sweat. Maybe it is due to some awful childhood memory. Or perhaps the fear of being judged for what you know or don’t know. Whatever the reason, many people see test taking about as pleasurable as doing taxes or pulling a yard full of weeds.

Of course, for some, tests are unavoidable, even necessary. They may determine placement in advanced classes, secure a college admission, or certify you for your career. When tests have the power to impact your future, you want to make sure you take every step to shift the balance in your favor.

So how do you get over the anxiety of taking a test? What strategies can actually help you do better at tests? Use this guide to help get you the test results you desire.

Why are Tests So Stressful?

If you think about it, tests are almost designed for the sole purpose of stressing you out. After all, they take a week, month, school year, or even lifetime of information and distill it into a set of questions designed to challenge and show what you’ve learned. In addition, these tests often rank and compare you to others who may not have the same learning abilities.

Stress, of course, is doing nothing to help you succeed at these tests. In fact, it could actually make you to do worse. When the body is under stress, it releases certain chemicals that can actually affect the brain’s ability to learn.

So how can you get this stress under control and successfully prepare for you next test?

Successful Test Preparation

Next time you face a difficult test, consider these strategies:

Maintain Balance in Your Life

While you may think replacing hours of sleep with cramming information is the best answer, you’re probably wrong. Sleep deprivation will make it harder to concentrate, focus, and think clearly. All that information crammed into your mind during the wee hours of the night may just be a jumbled mess nearly inaccessible to your memory.

In the days before a test, devote time to studying. But, maybe more importantly, make sure you dedicate time for sleep, exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet. Instead of working harder, work smarter. When your brain and body is running at an optimal level, your test performance will benefit. In addition, proper sleep and physical activity helps reduce the effects of stress.

On the day of the test, give yourself extra time to get there. There’s nothing worse than running late, cursing every red light, and rushing to the classroom with seconds to spare. It may actually undermine all the self-care you did leading up to test time.

Start Studying Early

Procrastination won’t do any favors for your test score. Studying early and often is the best way to retain and easily recall information. Still, many people choose to procrastinate. But why?

Actually there are a few reasons. Some people fear failure, so just putting in the effort to study causes anxiety. On the flipside, others fear success. Instead of excelling in what they do, they rather stay in a safe zone without higher expectations or responsibilities. And then there are those who crave perfection. If they feel they cannot achieve the perfect score, they put off studying. Whatever the reason, procrastination breeds a vicious cycle of anxiety, avoidance, and shame. As a result, your test scores suffer and the activities you do to procrastinate aren’t even enjoyable because you have a dark cloud of guilt hanging over your head.

How do you overcome procrastination? Fight through the initial anxiety of your test and begin studying as soon as possible. The more comfortable you become with the information you need to know, the less anxiety you feel. If you’re dealing with irrational thoughts like perfectionism, try to talk yourself out of it. Remember: most tests don’t require perfect scores, just you doing the best you can do.

Make Study Time a Routine

The mind works best when routines are set in place. Try to schedule your study time at certain times of the day after specific activities. For example, after taking a short jog, devote an hour to studying. If you do this routinely, your mind will associate the end of a jog with the beginning of your study hour. It may help you focus quicker.

Create a Distraction-Free Environment

Now, more than ever, we live in a world where distractions can creep up on us at any given moment. A simple ding of your smartphone can lead you down a time-consuming rabbit hole of scrolling through social media, messaging friends, or clicking related links. This does no favors to your concentration. In fact, after you check your phone, it may take your mind up to twenty minutes to return to the task you’re working on. That’s a lot of time wasted.

When possible, silence your smartphone and do your best to eliminate any other distractions. If you need something in the background, put on some soft, soothing music that won’t result you breaking into dance or belting out the final chorus.

Use Memory Hacks

Have you ever been in a music class and heard the phrase, “Every good boy deserves fudge” or “every good boy does fine”? These phrases helped several budding musicians learn the notes on the lines of a treble clef. Known as a mnemonic device, it helps boost the memorization of facts by using a sentence or phrase. And it’s not just for musicians. In fact, it can help you memorize just about any list or series of facts such as the planets or parts of the body. Not sure how to make your own mnemonic device? The internet has you covered with a mnemonic generator

In addition, you could use images to help you remember facts. These can be very personal images to make it even easier to remember. For example, if you wanted to remember George Washington was rumored to cut down a cherry tree, you can use a very vivid image to remember it. Say your grandmother used to live on Washington Street. You could picture a president in your grandmother’s living room with a handful of cherries. Commit that image to memory and you will easily recall the cherry tree answer.

Flashcards are also very useful to those who are visual learners. Just being able to picture the flashcard in your mind may make it easier to recall facts.

Some Final Tips

You studied hard. You got enough sleep. Now it is time to take the test. Here are some things you could do during the test to help boost your score.

  • Listen to the instructor and read directions carefully. Sounds obvious, right? Well, some people are so eager to start the test they fail to make sure they are doing it right. This simple mistake can cause major problems for your test score.
  • Answer all the questions. Even if you have no idea how to answer the test question, give it your best shot. Leaving it blank ensures you missed the question. Guessing at least gives you the potential to get the question right.
  • Use strategy when unsure. This is especially true for multiple choice tests. Eliminate the answers your know are wrong. It may be less overwhelming when you have to pick from two answers instead of four.
  • Always review the test before you hand it in. Make sure you answered every question. Check your grammar and punctuation. And of course, make sure you followed the exact directions of the test.

While taking tests may not be your favorite thing to do, using these strategies may make it a little easier. And, hopefully, it will help you get the grade you need. Best of luck on future tests!