People sure do seem to hate tests! Whether it’s the SAT, the ACT, or just a regular ol’ exam, tests are a constant source of terror to students of all races, genders, and levels of preparedness. But this need not be the case! Contrary to nearly-ubiquitous belief, a test—even a really hard one—can be a fun, exhilarating, and even memorable experience for a student with the right mindset and preparation! Over the years, I’ve come to look forward to tests, and I’ve accumulated a certain set of patterns that make the process enjoyable, patterns that I’ve organized here into those which much take place before, during, and after the test itself.
This ought to go without saying! This article is written under the assumption that you have spent time studying the material and otherwise preparing for the test in various ways. If you want advice on that, there are tons of other articles on this very site! For example, here is an article about 5 deadly mistakes you must avoid while studying, while over here are some great ideas for snacks! But now you’ve done all that, and it’s time for the big day itself:
Have a Morning Routine: Sleep, Eat, Jam Out, Get Hype!
My sophomore year of college, I had two very difficult 8am classes with equally difficult exams. In order to help myself succeed, I developed a highly-specific pre-test routine. First, I made sure to get a full night’s sleep the night before, even if I thought I needed a bit more studying! Second, I woke up with plenty of time before the test. I wanted to be fully awake and psychologically prepared by the time the test started, which wouldn’t happen if I had to rush to the classroom! Third, I ate a tasty and healthy breakfast, specifically a sesame seed bagel with strawberry shmear from the nearby Einstein Bros. Bagels with either an orange juice or iced coffee. And fourth, I did what an athlete would call GETTING PUMPED (the all-caps are necessary) by putting on my most uplifting and pumpin’ jams! That year, it was “Come Find Me” by David Crowder. Listen to your jam while you eat your jam and tell yourself “I CAN DO THIS. I AM [insert name here], DESTROYER OF TESTS. THIS TEST IS TERRORIZING THE CITY AND I AM GOING TO MURDER IT AND TAKE IT TO THE TAXIDERMIST AND HANG IT OVER MY FIREPLACE.” The important point here is that a vague “get ready for the test” morning routine is insufficient; instead, develop a specific routine full of things you like, to get the day off to the most positive start possible!
This is the most important tip on this page. If at all possible, ask your friends to sign up to take the test on the same day as you! If they’ve already taken it, or were planning on taking it later, tell them to take it again—it’s wise to take it multiple times anyway. Even if you have to twist their arm, do not neglect this step! You will see why it’s important in just a bit.
You might think that the act of test-taking is itself some sort of challenge. However, this is a misleading way to think! It’s not a challenge, but rather a performance, a demonstration of the knowledge and skills that you have acquired over the preceding weeks, months, and years of your life. Remember that you have already done the work. Just like a master pianist pounding out a perfect rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in a concert hall, you’ve already done the hard part, and now you’re simply showing the fruits of your labor. Sadly, there won’t be an auditorium full of fans clapping for you when you get a hard question right, but test-taking really is just showing off in the same way as that pianist.
Focus on Your Successes
While you’re taking each section of the test, it’s natural (and frankly, unavoidable) for a small portion of your mind to be preoccupied with self-analysis, evaluating your progress and score as you go. You can’t stop this from happening, but you can direct it in a positive way! Instead of focusing on how many problems you’re missing or how much time you have left, focus on the tough questions you got right; it’s okay to feel good about yourself! If you finish the section with time left over, you might even want to go back and count the number of “100% positive” correct answers. The number will probably be higher than you think! And of course, many of the answers you aren’t 100% sure about will also probably be correct as well. By doing this, you can avoid the trap of negativity.
Share The Pain
Remember those friends that you totally convinced to take the test the same day as you? This is what they’re here for. Of course, you can’t talk during the test, but having friends in the same room as you, facing the same challenge, instills a sense of camaraderie and warmth into the air around you, and it really does help! During breaks, offer each other encouragement and support before you go back into the fray. If you get stuck on a problem or simply need a (small) breather during one of the longer sections, take a moment to look around the room and see your friends hard at work, experiencing the same pressure as you are. You’ll be amazed at how much more at ease you’ll be when you’re not alone.
Talk about it… but just a little!
The second the timer goes off to end the test, it’s over! And there’s nothing you can do. This thought fills some people with dread, but it ought not to. And while it’s totally natural and healthy to “debrief” with friends and family after such an ordeal, be wary! It’s easy to psyche yourself out and think you did worse than you actually did. As I’ve mentioned twice already, the key here is to share your victories, not your defeats. Don’t say to your friend “I totally couldn’t figure out problem 23, it was too hard!” Instead say “problem 24 was super hard, but I TOTALLY NAILED IT!” and then give your friend a high five.
After you’ve had your tiny debriefing, go do something fun! If your afternoon is free, maybe go see a movie or hang out at a friend’s house. If you’re tight on time, a quick trip to get ice cream will do the trick. The idea is to get your mind off the test and onto Literally Anything Else. If possible, decide on this post-test reward ahead of time, so you have something to look forward to! Even if you’re really bummed about the test because you think you did badly (which is probably an over-exaggeration), don’t neglect this step! Speaking of which…
Forget About it!!
I’m serious. Stop thinking about the SAT. Stop it! Are you still thinking about it? Stop thinking about it! You’ve got dozens of other things—academic responsibilities, relationships, that concert next week—that are infinitely more deserving of your mental energy than a few sheets of paper. Fretting and frittering won’t change the marks on that answer sheet, so just get on with your life until you get the scores back. You’ll be glad you did.
I have a confession to make: I’m a total nerd. I like academia, grades, facts, and rules. Plus, I really like videogames, board games, sports, and other challenges, so it’s easy for me to see a test as just another type of challenge! But even if you’re not a nerd like I am, you can still learn to enjoy tests by following these steps. Over the years I’ve accumulated many pleasant test-taking memories: the first exam of Discrete Structures or the second of Data Communications in my computer science degree, my American Literature final, and even my own SATs! And I firmly believe you can do the same. Also, if you have any tips of your own, or would like to share a story about a time you had a great time taking a test, please leave a comment below! Good luck!
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