Test-taking, at any point in life, whether for a job, a driver’s license or in school, is a stressful time. One of the most common questions we get asked is “How can I do better on tests?”. There is no one simple answer, since everyone has different reasons why they might have done poorly on an examination. Here, we’ve put together a few tricks which can help before (and after) a test.

1. Try to relax before the test. Do not think about the negative (information you did not have time to review, how little time you had to study because of…, etc.) and instead think about something positive and relaxing (how much you have learned about …, “your happy place”, etc.). Some people listen to music before the test; others arrive right on time and just enter the room; it really depends on how you keep yourself relaxed.

2. Don’t forget to breathe. It can seem intimidating, especially in a post-secondary institution when you walk into a large room filled with tables, but it is important to take deep breaths. Breathing deeply will help calm you down and will allow you to better focus on the exam in front of you.

3. Get a good night’s sleep in before the test. This might be difficult to do if you think that cramming a bit before the test will make it better. Chances are it won’t. One of the best things you can do before a test (whether you’re prepared or not) is to get a good night’s sleep.

4. Do not let group panic influence you. Especially before a large test or exam, you might feel a nervous tension in the waiting room. Do not let this influence you as it doesn’t do you any good. You can be the best-prepared student there and still do poorly because of this general feeling of panic.

5. Be confident in the knowledge you do have. Sometimes, students need to prioritize certain subjects (try to avoid doing this as it can lead to it becoming a habit with “less important” subjects, but sometimes, it is necessary) and can feel guilt at not studying the current subject enough. Unfortunately, if you have not studied enough, there is not a lot you can do right before the test. If this happens, you should trust in the knowledge you do have and try your best. You can be surprised how much better you can do when you take the nervousness away.

6. Try not to second-guess your answers. This should be considered point 4a, since this is not something you should do when you have not had enough time to study. Second-guessing your answers when you have had time to study is a great way to see whether you made any mistakes. Second-guessing your answers when you have not had enough time to study may cause you to change some correct answers to incorrect ones.

7. Find your favourite test-taking strategy. This can take time to find the one that works best for you, but some of our favourites include: doing all the easy question first then moving on the harder ones and doing the test in the order of how it is formatted. If you know ahead of time the format of the test, you can choose which questions you would like to do first (multiple choice, short answer, etc.).

8. After the test, don’t stress about those questions you might have answered incorrectly. This doesn’t do you any good, and there is nothing you can do about it at that point. Instead, focus on the upcoming tests that you still have time to do and study for. There will always be some questions that do not “sit well” with you. There is no reason to keep dwelling on them.

9. After the test, try not to talk to your friends about the answers. This can be a difficult thing to do, since those are the hot topics. Again, this does you no good, and often, students forget or misremember the answers/steps/questions on a test. They are all discussing the same question, but they do not all remember it in the same way. Another reason to not discuss the test with your friends is that some teachers have different versions of the same test (to prevent cheating). That is, question 7 on test A might be completely different from question 7 on Version C, or the data might be completely different. If you do the test online, the software itself can change the order of questions and answers. 

10. Don’t forget to relax. Yes, we have already given this as a tip, but it is a very important one, so we’ve added it again.

Taking a test is a very stressful time. Therefore, it is very important to figure out the causes of your stress, be they internal or external, and try to minimize them. As mentioned, there are also strategies which can help you do the best job on a test, but it might take time to figure out the test-taking strategy that works the best for you. Most importantly, take the time to breathe, do not let group panic/stress affect you and do your best.



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