Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • March 4, 2015

7 Mistakes the Night Before a Big Test You Will Never Make Again

You have studied and reviewed for months now in anticipation of exam day. There are stacks of index cards on your nightstand, notated study guides in your briefcase and over-highlighted textbooks covering your kitchen counter. You are ready, eager and confident, but there is still one more thing left to do - and it may be the most important of all.

Have a plan in place for what to do the night before your test. You want to take your exam feeling refreshed, not burnt out. Regardless of how hard you worked to prepare, simple mistakes the night before a final exam or exam for credit can impact your performance when it truly counts. The wrong activities can leave you anxious and stressed and you may not even realize it.

If you are making any of these mistakes the night before a big test, you have a few changes to make to your plan. Here are seven mistakes that may be influencing your grade much more than you know. 

1. Cramming

Cramming is a stressful and (for many students) ineffective study tactic. In fact, most students do not retain much when they try to cram new material at the last minute. These short, hectic study sessions do not allow your brain enough time to move information from your short-term memory bank to your long-term one - the memory responsible for accessing and retrieving information for later use. Instead of cramming, space out your studying into several short sessions to boost your long-term retention and reduce any test anxiety.

2. Changing Your Diet

Your diet affects more than weight. If you drastically change what you normally eat in the days or night before your exam, you could impact your ability to focus. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should continue to eat your daily donut the day of a test. Eat healthy, but within the parameters of your usual diet. Try brain foods known to keep you alert and promote brain function so you can power through any test without distractions.

3. Pulling an All-nighter

A good night’s sleep isn’t just necessary before the day of your test; it’s crucial that you get enough sleep in the days prior. Fatigue can set in after missing one night of sleep, impairing your short-term memory and leaving you unable to focus. Whether you are studying the next day or taking the test, an all-nighter can put you at a serious disadvantage. Instead, improve your learning ability and memory by maintaining a regular sleep schedule that meets your studying needs.

4. Going in Unprepared

There is more to proper test preparation than studying, and that includes having the right items on hand. Find out what you need to bring or have ready during your exam. Perhaps you need a calculator for a math exam, or you are allowed a textbook for another text. Failing to have either item can seriously hurt your chances of passing. Or, even worse, should you forget to show proof of identification or a test confirmation, stop you from taking the test altogether. So to avoid any test-day roadblocks, gather the items you will need the night before. If you are taking an online exam, ensure the testing software is compatible with your computer. Stay on top of your exam requirements so you do not encounter any surprises. 

5. Panicking

How many times have you made a good decision in a panic? Most likely, slim to none. Anxiety can cause a restless night’s sleep, distressing you enough come exam time to confuse questions and make poor choices. Quell your fears the night before with a short study session, or take the time to relax by playing a game - a well-known brain boosting activity - to feel refreshed and calm on exam day. 

6. Intense Workouts

Activities that leave you tired, sore or with heavy physical strain can divert your focus during a test. Yes, exercise is great for memory improvement, but strenuous exercise can cause more harm than good. Opt instead for low-impact physical activities like yoga or walking that won’t put your body into a painful recovery mode the next day.

7. Caffeine Overload

There is a big difference between one cup of coffee and five - or more. Too much caffeine will increase your adrenaline levels, only adding additional stress and disrupting your focus. So to keep your productivity high and distractions low, nix coffee the night before and limit it on exam day. Or, even better, water is a safe and always reliable alternative to stay awake. Stick with what you and your body know best. 

What do you avoid the night before a big exam?

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

Subscribe to the Thomas Edison State University Blog and get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox.

!-- start Main.js DO NOT REMOVE -->