Got an exam, test or interview coming up? All set to ace it? It’s all too common to feel unprepared and overcome with nervous dread before an important day but there are some simple steps you can take to wrestle back control over the situation and put yourself in charge, increasing your chances of success. Whether it’s a math test at school, a university entrance exam like GMAT or IELTS or an interview for your dream job, here are some tips to enhance your performance
Before the exam
Don’t cram - sure, you may think that the material will be fresh in your mind the closer to the exam you leave it, but unless you are supremely confident, there will be things you will have missed and not have time to read up on in time. Also science shows that sacrificing sleep for last minute studying will not do you any good. Sleep helps memory retention.
Get a good night’s sleep - following on from the previous point, if you are up all night studying you won’t be able to rest properly and your brain simply will not perform as well as if you get an early night and relax, ready to be fresh in the morning
Everyone has different ways of learning and remembering information, but regular periods of preparation over a longer time is better than trying to digest a lot of information quickly all at once. Preparing flashcards with the most important points, rereading all your notes several times, getting friends and family to test you, doing past papers are all good techniques [link to another article on this]
Aside from learning the material, make sure you know the structure of the exam and familiarize yourself with any techniques on answering the relevant type of question.
Eat well beforehand - not just in case your stomach rumbles embarrassingly in the silent exam room- but because you body and mind need fuel to perform well. No junk food either. Do you think Usain Bolt stays up late eating pizza before an Olympic race?
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. You know this. So don’t neck four cups of coffee or high energy drinks in the morning before a test in the pretence that you need it to wake up properly or in place of eating. You could end up shaking or with a headache which is going to distract you. Drink plenty of water instead. Have a coffee or a Red Bull afterwards if you want.
Make sure you know all the important information about the test itself in advance. Where will it be held? If you don’t know the place or how to get there, if possible check it out in advance so you don’t have to worry about not finding it or not leaving enough time to get there. If you can actually visit the place of the exam, even better because being able to visualize the situation and being familiar with your surroundings when you actually sit down to start, will make you much more relaxed. Don’t forget to be sure you know the time it starts, how long it lasts and if you need to bring any special equipment with you make sure you get it all ready the night before to avoid scrambling around and worrying at the last minute.
On the day of the exam
So you are all set. You are fed, watered, rested and you have studied all the material. Now the day is finally here and you’ve picked up the brand new pen you bought (and tested to check it worked!). How can you optimise your approach to the test? It depends on the format of the test of course, but here are some things to think about.
Read all the questions carefully. Repeat, if necessary. It sounds obvious, but so many marks are lost by not answering the question. Also check any other special instructions. It would be devastating to write ten pages in blue ink to then find out only pencil was allowed. Similarly plan out how much time you can spend on each question so you don’t find yourself running out of time.
Remember that the teachers want you to do well and it’s in their interest that you succeed because it’s their job to help you learn the material. Don’t think they are out to “trick” you or make things harder for you. This kind of negative thinking will set you back.
Don’t panic if you don’t know how to answer a particular question. If you don’t know the answer, move on to the next one. That way you won’t waste time and you will ensure you will have the time to answer the questions you are strongest on. In fact, you may want to read the whole test paper before starting and pick out the easiest questions and get them out of the way first before going back to the trickier ones.
If you are still nervous, take deep breaths. Try to relax and untense your muscles. Take a moment’s rest before getting back to it
Writer’s cramp. This is very common when writing by hand during a long period of time. It can be exacerbated by tension, by holding the pen too tightly or pressing down on the paper too hard, or by bad posture. Like before, take a moment to try to relax the muscles in the hand and arm, checking your posture at the same time.
Don’t do a postmortem. Go straight home afterwards or have an activity planned to take your mind off it. Don’t sit around with fellow students discussing your answers, it will only make you fret more. When you put down that pen, it’s over, you’ve done your best and its time to move on to the next thing.