Get Enough Sleep
Getting 6 hours of less can put you into what’s called a sleep deficit, or lack of sufficient sleep. Having a sleep deficiency can actually make you less sharp mentally, which can negatively affect your performance on tests, even if you spent those missed hours of sleep studying. So it’s very important for you to get all of your studying done so you can get a good night of sleep before your big day. (If stress is making it difficult to sleep, you need to read this article on getting quality sleep when stressed.)
Being organized with your studies can help you keep from pulling all-nighters to get all of your studying in and blowing the test because you’re exhausted (see above). How do you study ‘smarter’? Make a list of the most important things you need to learn, in order of importance, and hit the items at the top of the list first. (That way, if you run out of time, you’re mostly covered.) Make a list of all the work you have to do, estimate how much time each item will take, and compare that with the amount of hours you have available; this will tell you if you can carefully read (or just skim), how many times you can afford to revise papers, and other ways to pace yourself so you can get everything done. (If you’re pressed for time, it’s important to check your perfectionist tendencies at the door.) Oh, and turn off the t.v. as much as possible until your tests are behind you.
A great way to build your confidence as you fall asleep each night is to visualize yourself taking the tests and doing wonderfully. Detailed visualizations can help you feel like you’re really experiencing something, and visualizing yourself doing well is a way to ‘practice’ success in a way that can actually help you perform better. (Being confident as you take your exams can keep you from choking because of the stress.) Visualizations can also help you to remember facts: you can create detailed scenarios that involve the information you’re trying to remember, and this can help cement the facts in your memory.
Because stress can impair your memory, it’s important to stay calm before and during tests. While that’s easier said than done, there are several stress relief techniques that can help you calm down quickly whenever you feel overwhelmed. For example, breathing exercises has been shown by research to reduce test anxiety, and can be extremely effective in helping you relax and reverse your stress response in a variety of situations: just take deep breaths, expanding your belly on the inhale, and let the stress come out with your exhales. (For more ideas, read this article on how to calm down quickly when stressed.)
For more on dealing with school stress, visit the Student Stress section of this site. Good luck!
Sources: Paul G, Elam B, Verhulst SJ. A Longitudinal Study of Students' Perceptions of Using Deep Breathing Meditation to Reduce Testing Stresses. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, Summer 2007.