Too often we rely on tutors, test prep programs, or special curriculum to raise test scores. These can help to give you a short term boost on one test. Most students find themselves exhausted and out of time (and money) trying to prep for state exams, SATs, ACTs, and more.
The biggest obstacle to our best test scores are mindset issues. By strengthening your mindset, you can maximize your results on ALL tests! Here are five tricks you can apply to raise your test scores on every test you take:
1) Practice pressure. Sit in the front row of your class. Participate, especially when you are not 100% sure of the answer. Every class is an opportunity to increase the pressure you put on yourself so you can get used to dealing with the nerves and anxiety associated with it. The more competent you become in handling pressure, the better you will perform on a high-pressure standardized test. At least 40% of people miss questions on standardized tests due to anxiety over the pressure of the test. It is crucial to practice your skills in handling and overcoming anxiety in moments that have less pressure so you are prepared for the high-pressure exam day.
You can also practice pressure outside of the classroom. Ask your crush out. Learn a new skill. Speak in public. Anything that stretches you beyond your comfort zone will help you understand your response to anxiety and pressure, which will help you overcome it consistently.
2) Relax on test day. We’ve all heard the advice before. “Eat a big meal on test day! Go to sleep early! Study every second you can before the test!” The results tend to be the same. We crash study, go to bed early and toss and turn, then eat a bigger than normal breakfast. This leads to an upset stomach during the test, a groggy feeling that clouds your thoughts, and a boatload of information racing around your head that gets stuck on the tip of your tongue.
Keep good habits and just continue them on test days. Don’t change your routine. Change alerts your body to increase its levels of anxiety and nervousness. Having a calm, relaxed feeling on test days comes from continuing a regular routine and treating it no differently from another day.
3) Consistency, not bursts, of motivation. When the test is upcoming, the motivational speeches and pep talks start coming around. Many students go from being extremely unmotivated to having a burst of inspiration, only to crash again. This is not a winning model for test success. It is like an athlete who eats a ton of sugar before a competition and has an extremely energetic beginning of the competition, only to crash and underperform by the end.
Learn how to self-motivate and make a regular practice of it. Do not wait for a big moment to try to find inspiration and don’t hope that motivation will just strike you. Find sources of passion and inspiration and utilize those sources to keep you motivated on classwork, studying, and other challenges that come your way. Find ways to make productive steps every day towards studying and preparing for the test – no cramming!
4) Set healthy routines. An underrated part of testing success is your health and wellness. It is difficult to focus on a test if you are feeling ill or uncomfortable. Proper diet and exercise can make you feel more comfortable and energetic. This plays a huge role especially in long test days. The SAT exam for instance may last 3+ hours! You cannot perform at your best (no matter how much you have mastered content knowledge) if you are hungry, deprived of energy, and uncomfortable sitting in your desk for a long period of time.
Likewise, sleeping, rest, and recovery can help you score higher on tests. If you have ever taken a big test with a headache, or felt groggy from lack of sleep, you know how difficult of a barrier that is to overcome. It feels like you are testing with a storm cloud in your head, crashing with thunder and flashing lightning interrupting your every thought. Your routines can make a huge impact on your scores!
5) Match priorities to time management. Most students have a tendency to cram. We cram study, cram our homework, cram every last minute activity we can into each day. Time management is a great predictor of success. The more accomplished you are at efficiency and managing your time, the more you will accomplish (while conserving more energy and effort). The largest barrier to time management is a misalignment between time and priorities.
We all have an ideal set of priorities in our head; things that we find most important in our lives. This can be anything from family, faith, friends, school success, work, athletics, and a wide variety of other ideals. However, our time is often spent away from our priorities (playing video games, watching movies, sleeping in, playing on the phone). To better our time management, it is a simple process of writing down your ideal priorities and committing your time to your highest priorities.
Why is this important for testing success? If you have a goal to reach on a standardized exam and it is a high priority in your life, you will reorganize your time to spend regularly on studying, prepping, and advancing your knowledge in the subjects you will be tested on. Instead of cram studying, which shows time and time again to be ineffective, you will be able to budget your time and study regularly. This adjustment can not only improve your test scores, but can also improve your health and happiness as your time will be more carefully managed leading to healthier habits and routines. It’s an all-around win!