Bad Test Takers Cheat Sheet

Many students claim to be just bad test takers. No matter how much they study or how well they understand the information, when it comes to taking the test, they can’t perform. Well, rest-assure that the problem probably isn’t that the student is a “bad” test taker, but that they let stress get the better of them. In 9 out of 10 students, inability to perform on tests is caused by stress and tension. Luckily, there are some test taking tips that will help any student conquer test apprehension.


All students should have a few of these secret ways to improve not only their test-taking abilities, but also their confidence and self-assurance on the day of the test. The following tips can make a big difference right before a test. Students should try them all to see which ones work best for them.

Special Advice to Students:

1. Use multi-sensory studying and memorization practices. When we study, we tend to focus on the visual, but actually, other senses can help us study even more effectively.

  • Kinesthetic study practices use movement to assist memory. Try writing vocabulary words in sand or a pan of dry rice. Or use a large paintbrush and write those hard to spell biology words with water in huge letters on the side of the house or the sidewalk. Large motor movements connect to a different part of the brain, and can help with memory formation. Some students may benefit from walking or dancing as they recite words or formulas that must be memorized. These methods are especially useful with students with dyslexia or learning disabilities.
  • When studying history passages, or other content areas that are not simple memorization, use smells as cues. Read the history passage while sitting on a freshly cut lawn, or while stirring a cup of hot-spiced cider with cinnamon. Then link the memory of the smell to the passage you want to remember by noting where you were and what scent you were breathing in when you studied. Imagining you smell that scent again will help with recall of the passage. Better yet, every time you pass a newly cut lawn and take a deep breath, your mind revisits that passage you learned sitting on the lawn. Smells trigger a primitive part of the brain that accesses memories without having to go through analytic or verbal thought. By linking to these ancient memory messengers, we strengthen verbal memories.
  • Create audiotapes of passages, formulas, or vocabulary you need to know, and then play them over and over, whatever you are doing.

2. Support the peace warrior in preparing for test days. A positive, self supportive attitude is critical for success. Students must be aware of negative self-talk ("I didn't study enough; I know I'm going to fail; I'm just not smart enough) and shut it down. Instead, students should take excellent care of themselves, and give themselves plenty of positive self-talk as they gird themselves to do battle with those challenging tests. Try the following self-care tactics:

  • Study two days before a test, instead of one. This practice, shared by a psychology professor, helps deeper memories to form, and also allows a good night's sleep right before a test. Review briefly right before the test to help your memory readiness and boost your confidence.
  • Use memory aids and mnemonic devices for last-minute memorization (see references below).
  • Exercise moderately the morning of a test.
  • Drink plenty of water or other non-caffeinated drinks, and take a water bottle with you to the test.
  • Eat a good breakfast with plenty of protein and non-sugar carbohydrates for a slower, steadier, release of energy. Make the following recipes ahead of time as brain boosters before the test and for breaks during longer tests.

In the end, students may realize that the Hydra they face is of their own creation – the heads represent anxiety, procrastination, fear of failure, lack of planning, a lack of confidence, and negative self-talk, among others. Good luck! Contact me if you need more help!


These tips will get your child on the right path. I've used them on 3rd graders to 3rd year college students!


Lakesha P.

Professional Homeschooler AND Certifed SES Provider

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