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Test-taking Tip #2


We often reveal our worst selves when we are running out of time to complete an important task. When we need to be thinking most clearly to find solutions, thoughts of failure or feelings of panic cloud our thinking. Especially on a written test, when we leave the hardest problems until the end, we need to be thinking most lucidly in the final moments. The next few steps should help you regain your state of clarity when you’re running out of time.

1. With 5 minutes left in the test or timed section, stop (even in the middle of a question). Put down your pencil.

2. Take a slow, deep breath. After holding it for a second or two, exhale slowly. Slow breathing exerts a calming function on your body, preventing you from panicking, and helps you to center yourself and think clearly. Many find that closing their eyes during the breath adds to the pacifying effect. Others get drowsy, so try this technique to see what’s best for you before you show up on test day. If you find that you have already started to become anxious, you may need several breaths to calm you down.

NOTE: If the timed test or section is longer than an hour, a more appropriate time to pause before the end might be 10 minutes or more.

3. Immediately bubble in all unanswered questions. Unless you are familiar with the test-makers’ strategy for assigning answers, picking the letter you’ve chosen the least so far may be as optimal an approach as any (more on this in another article). The point here is not to maximize correct answers, but to help prepare you for the remaining five minutes by relieving stress in two ways:

A. You won’t have to scurry at the end to fill in unanswered questions, and thus won’t be thinking about doing so, and

B. Psychologically you will experience a small sense of relief that you have finished the test and are now simply fine-tuning your answers.

4. Assess how you are doing on the exam and decide what needs to be done. (In later articles, we explore exactly what to do for particular test types or sections of a test, like the SAT, LSAT, certification tests, etc.).

5. Refocus and make the last five minutes your best!

Of course, at any point in the test that you feel anxiety deep breathing helps to ward it off. But at the end, slow, deep breaths and refocusing can provide the energy boost and motivational fuel you need to squeeze those last few correct responses out of your head and into those big, black circles on your paper.


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