How to Avoid Distractions During a Standardized Test

Two Methods:Day Before the TestTest day

So you've been studying for weeks, probably months, for that hours-long, high-stakes standardized test. Much of your future will be determined by your performance. Perhaps your goal is college, graduate school, or a new career. Now that the big day has almost arrived, you'll want to know how to maximize your performance and avoid distractions. This article covers how to do that for both the day leading up to your test and the actual day of the test. You may need to purchase a few items discussed during the week prior.

Method 1
Day Before the Test

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    No more studying! If you haven't got it by now, one day of cramming is very unlikely to make a difference. In fact, it's more likely to actually harm your performance, as you try to overlap short-term information over top long-term information. Refuse the urge to keep your nose in the books.
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    Relax, Recharge. You've hopefully been exerting yourself a great deal as you've prepared for your test. Now is the time to spend the day relaxing, diverting your attention away from everything test-related. This may mean renting a few movies for the day followed by going out to dinner. Whatever it is you do to relax and recharge, do it (but avoid alcohol, see section below). If you feel your mind creeping toward thoughts of the test, re-direct it immediately toward relaxing and recharging.
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    Hydrate yourself. Men should consume roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women should consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups). In particular, adults should ingest approximately 35-50 milliliters of fluids per kilogram of body weight per day. (Use a fluid calculator). Optimize your fluid intake the day before testing. See the section below, "Fluid intake," for why.
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    Get a full night's sleep. Adult sleep requirements vary but average around 8 hours per night. Whatever a full night's sleep is for you, get it. Also, during the week leading up to your test day, buy a battery-powered alarm clock and use it. A late-night power surge has ruined many test days.

Method 2
Test day

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    Eat a light breakfast. Even if you are unaccustomed to eating breakfast, eat one on test day. However, don't eat just any breakfast. A small meal of complex carbohydrates is ideal, say, whole grain cereal with fresh fruit and low fat or skim milk. This will help maintain your energy throughout testing. Avoid a breakfast of fatty foods, such as eggs, meat, and fried potatoes. Such foods require extra energy to digest, which is better left for your brain.
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    Avoid an energy crash. Despite eating a breakfast as advised, you may still experience an energy crash. Avoid it by bringing a few "fun-sized" Snickers bars to your test. Just prior entering the testing site, including between breaks, eat one, no more. This will keep hunger at bay while giving your brain quick energy it can use to optimize your performance.
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    Fluid intake. Since you've optimized your fluid intake the day before, minimize it prior testing. You don't need the distraction of a full bladder half-way through your test. That said, don't minimize fluids so much you are distracted by thirst.
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    Lunch, dinner. Most standardized tests begin in the morning and finish around noon. If yours is on a different schedule, follow the same principles for lunch or dinner as described in the above section on eating a light breakfast.
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    Dress for comfort. Test day is not the day to dress to impress. You should wear the most comfortable clothes in your wardrobe. Loose-fitting jeans, casual loose-fitting tops (but see the section below), comfortable shoes, and nothing that overly constricts or pokes at you is ideal. The point is for you to not even so much think about what you're wearing while testing so you can avoid it as a distraction. Also, please don't be a distraction to others by wearing perfume or cologne. A morning shower and deodorant will suffice.
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    It's cold. Oh, wait, it's hot! Everyone's preferred body temperature is a little different. The room you will be testing in will probably be either too cold or too hot. It's ideal to dress your upper body in three layers. This may mean wearing a very light shirt under a button-down-the-front shirt under a light jacket. The point is for you to be able to avoid the distraction of room temperature by adding or removing a layer or two of clothing during the minutes leading up to test time.
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    Expect a noisy test room. On test day, there will definitely be room noises to which you are unaccustomed, whether from the person behind you who is constantly reading quietly aloud, or the person across the room with a frequent, barking cough. If you are easily distracted by room noise, or even if you are not, consider wearing ear plugs. Most pharmacies have them. You want the kind that you roll between your fingers and insert into your ear canal. If you think ear plugs might help you avoid room distractions, first get used to them during the week leading up to the test. All you'll hear is yourself breathing!
    • Who are all these people? Some people dislike being in new large rooms full of strangers with whom they are unfamiliar. If that describes you, remind yourself that everyone is there for the same task as you. The situation is little different from being in a movie theater or shopping mall. You'll be fine. It may help to stop by the testing site during the week leading up to your test and ask to see inside.
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    Avoid a caffeine crash. If you normally drink one or more caffeinated beverages each morning, you should make provision for yourself to avoid the inevitable "caffeine crash" several hours later. Consider over-the-counter products that contain caffeine, but be very careful not to overdo it or use Guarana, especially in its whole form, as the caffeine source. Getting overly wired on caffeine is just as bad as a crash in the middle of 40 math problems. Your goal should be evenness.
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    Avoid a nicotine fit. If you routinely use tobacco in any form, avoid even the possibility of experiencing a "nicotine fit" while testing. Consider getting some nicotine lozenges, available over-the-counter from most pharmacies, and let one dissolve slowly in your mouth while testing. Don't wait until after you start experiencing nicotine withdrawal, because by then the agitation has already distracted you and affected your performance. Again, your goal should be evenness.
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    Alcohol. Don't take the above advise to "relax and recharge" as encouragement to drink in excess on the day before your test. Either avoid alcohol altogether or drink no more than one ounce during the 24 hours before your test. Detoxification requires your body to focus energy in organs other than your brain.
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    Make a list and check it twice. The people who make your test will inform you of items you must bring on test day. This will always include a state-issued photo I.D., such as a driver license. During the week leading up to your test, make sure the I.D. you plan to bring will be acceptable. You may also need to bring some sharpened #2 pencils, ink pens of a certain color, and a calculator. There may be other items you must bring, plus items you should not bring. Whatever the items are, make doubly sure you arrive for your test exactly as directed.
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    Electronic devices. The people who conduct high-stakes tests have figured out that hand-held and other electronic devises, including watches, can serve as modern "cheat-sheets" and test copying mechanisms. That's why they've created absolutely un-bendable policies to completely prohibit them from their testing rooms. If you have such a devise in your possession, expect to be mercilessly expelled, period. You'll have to reschedule and repay. No, the test proctor absolutely will not watch or hold your devise for you. Leave it outside the door of the testing room. You've been warned.
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    Don't be late! Plan on not only arriving early, but encountering a traffic jam and getting a flat tire on your way to the testing site. Give yourself a very large buffer on your arrival time. The people who administer your test are un-yieldingly serious when they say late-comers will not be admitted.

Sources and Citations

  • J Blanchard and S J Sawers, “The absolute bioavailability of caffeine in man,” European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 24, no. 1 (1983): 93-98.
  • University of Washington Medical Center (1997). Clinical Nutrition: A Resource Book for Delivering Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition for Adults (pp. 4-8). Seattle, WA: University of Washington.

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams