That First Test of the Year

First test of the year coming up? Most kids start off a new school year with the resolve to do better. For a little while, at least, it’s not difficult to get them to go to bed at a decent hour, get up on time, do their homework, and study. Now is the time to reinforce these wonderful habits by offering praise and recognition and some guidance, too.

If your children are old enough to go to school, they are old enough to learn about best practices regarding nutrition and sleep and study. And guess what? As their parent, it’s your job to teach them this stuff.

After the long summer vacation, however, you may be out of practice, especially when it comes to preparing for tests. Tests can be stressful. That’s one good reason a student facing a big test or exam needs extra help and support. Having a plan of action in place can help relieve some of that pre-test anxiety. So in case you need brushing up after the long summer vacation from school, here are the talking points you should probably cover with your school-age children.

pencil, sharpened pencil
You want their minds as sharp as their pencils, which are hopefully, um, sharpened.

Eat a good dinner including complex carbohydrates the night before a big exam. Yup. Just like football players. Athletes bulk up on carbs to give them energy for big games. Students are no different. The brain needs fuel to do its best. Whole grains are an excellent source of brain fuel. Think whole wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, and baked potatoes. You’ll be sharp as a pencil (you sharpened it, right?).

Don’t cram–Don’t even study. Cramming the night before a test causes fatigue and poor performance. Instead, study in the days leading up to the test, and the night before the big day just get a good night’s sleep. You read that right: don’t study the night before a test.

cramming, test, school, fatigue
Cramming causes fatigue

Did someone say sleep? Yeah. Getting lots of rest the night before a test is one of the smartest things you can do to ensure excellent marks. Sleep restores cells. The night before a test, sleep is more important for your brain than study. That is, assuming you studied in the days leading up to this point in time.

Stick to your usual morning routine. Don’t do anything different or out of the ordinary, thinking it will give you a boost. For instance, don’t have a cup of coffee before the test if you normally would not do so. Sticking to a routine is what keeps you from stressing out. Stress is what keeps you from getting good marks on a test!

students, classroom, writing
Stick to a routine. It’s calming.

Gotta eat breakfast. Because by now, everyone knows that eating a good breakfast is the foundation of nutrition and well-being. Skipping breakfast is dumb. You’ll be left with a noisy rumbling tummy for the duration of your test. If you eat well before school, on the other hand, you’ll have taken a huge step toward improving your mood and memory, and your concentration span, too. Whole grains are once again the favored choice for long-lasting satiation and energy.

This is what a healthy breakfast looks like
This is what a healthy breakfast looks like

Have a snack on hand. If the test will be in the last hour of the day or just before lunch, hunger and fatigue may threaten your performance and keep you from doing your best work. A quick and healthy snack can help extend your store of energy and stave off distracting hunger pangs, too. Make it something healthy like a granola bar and a bag of baby carrots.

Stay well hydrated! Classrooms can be stuffy with dry air, especially in the colder months when the heating system kicks in. Our bodies are mostly water and when we begin to dry out, our brains are the first to feel the effects. The primary cause of brain fog is dehydration. Bring a bottle of water to school and make sure to drink between classes.

Wear layers so that you can adjust to the temperature of your classroom. Too warm? No problem, remove the sweater. Too cold, put on the sweater. You see? Easy-peasy to stay comfortable if you plan ahead and dress in layers.

Psych yourself to success! It’s been proven that mental preparation has a huge effect on test scores. Students that used visualization techniques or gave themselves a mental pep talk did better than students who did neither of these things. Imagine yourself as all-knowing. Tell yourself you know all the answers and that you are completely ready to take the test. You’ll find yourself living up to your own expectations.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

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