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How to take a test and take on the world: Tips for boosting students’ confidence and lowering their stress

When it comes to getting ready for tests—or other high-stakes events such as interviews, presentations and the like—preparation is key. Paying attention in class, reviewing materials outside of class and studying are a given. After all, the more a person knows and the more they practice what they know, the more confident they’ll be. But that’s not all of it. There are other, less common tactics for increasing confidence and lowering stress that are scientifically proven to help. 

Here are a few tips to share with your students to help give them a boost in your class—and beyond:


  • Visualize success—What does success look like on a personal level? What does it feel like? Being able to imagine success and draw a mental picture of it in your mind’s eye can boost confidence and improve results. Visualizing the desired outcome helps the mind more clearly focus on achieving it—and it increases the likelihood of actually doing the work it takes to make it happen.
  • Use affirmations— Much like visualizations, which are mental pictures, affirmations are a verbal way to help manifest a desired outcome. Affirmations are usually written and either read or vocalized repeatedly to impress a desired situation or goal on the subconscious mind. They can be very broad (“I work hard and do well as a result.”) or very specific (“I’m going to ace my accounting midterm this Friday.”).
  • Chew it over—This technique is based on our senses being closely tied to memory. Simply pick a flavor of gum that’s unusual. Chew it in class and while studying then again during the exam. Doing so can help strengthen and increase recall because it gives the brain one more point of reference to aid in finding the desired information. (Since smell has the strongest connection with memory, this can also be done with a specific perfume or cologne, but gum is cheaper and typically easier to always have on hand.)


Flip the script—Another interesting way to help increase the impact of studying is to do it in a different font. Studies have shown that we’re more likely to scan copy that’s written in an easy-to-read font and that we tend to pay more attention to words that are written in more challenging fonts. So try changing the typeface that notes are written in before reviewing them. I’ll make the brain work harder to read them, which will also help it retain the information its reading. 

Get there early—Whenever possible, getting to the destination where the test or presentation is being held early is a good call. Ever heard of a home field advantage in sports? This is based off of the same principle. Arriving well in advance allows a person to get their bearings, get set up and familiarize themselves with the space. Feeling comfortable and not having to rush also help to relieve last-minute stress. 

Superman pose—Stand with head up, chest out and hands on hips, like Superman. This is also referred to as power posing and studies show that just two minutes of doing so can actually make people feel more powerful, assertive, confident and relaxed. The greatest effects can be seen when done for two minutes every day, but even a one-off session can give anyone a quick boost. Most everyone knows what Superman’s stance looks like, but a quick Google search for “power poses” will turn up several other options. 


  • Breathe—Obviously. But in addition to regular breathing, try a few rounds of deep breathing. Sit back and focus on breathing. Inhale for 10 seconds then exhale for 10 seconds. The focus on the breathing helps clear the mind from excess chatter. The deep breaths tell the body to relax. It’s easy to get worked up or stressed out when the pressure is on. Think of it as nature’s pressure release valve—for clearer thinking and better performance.
  • Do seated stretches—Sitting in a chair for long periods of time, or even just not being able to get up during a test, can be challenging. Seated stretching, like deep breathing, is a simple and easy way to reduce stress and tension while increasing energy. The neck, back, shoulders and legs tend to hold a lot of stress, making them good options. They’re also ideal for testing because they don’t require a lot of space or any large attention-grabbing gestures to do.
  • Don’t be afraid to suck— Peppermints aren’t just for after dinner. Why not enjoy one during a test? The scientifically proven benefits are ample. Sucking on a peppermint not only soothes nervous tummies, it also eases tension headaches and stimulates thinking. Having something to fidget with also helps the brain focus by giving it an outlet for nervous and excess energy. 

Thirsty for more? Find additional, more traditional tips in the Students’ Guide to: Mastering the SAT within the classroom resources section of Start Here, Go Places (under printed materials).