Five Test Taking Survival Tips for Teens

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happy students group study in classroom

It’s getting to be that time of year for my high school sophomore – the end of the year means the prospect of summer coming, but before that FINALS and for the first time this year, an AP test! While she survived her first AP test, the end of the year always brings some stress.  For her, she doesn’t stress too bad, but for a lot of kids, tests can cause some serious anxiety.  

Regardless of age, studying then taking a test, comes with a lot of mental energy, worry and anxiety. For some, multiple choice exams are a breeze. For others, it’s an analytical mind-game leading to one’s head spinning over choosing a, b, c, d, none of the above or all the above. Others may prefer written or oral exams while others cringe at the thought of presenting and being judged. To provide some clarity, ease and focus we turn to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC based licensed clinical neuropsychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services. Dr. Hafeez offers these 5 test taking survival tips.

  1. Study a bit at a time instead of cramming. One of the first steps in feeling confident in test taking is really knowing the material. “Anxiety of any form comes from fear of the future. In this case, it’s fear of not being prepared for the exam. There’s a fear of failure. Allow ample time to fully process the material and at your pace. Understand how you or your child best interprets the information. Some people need to visualize concepts and internalize them so they are relatable,” explains Dr. Hafeez who specializes in evaluating college students with disabilities and advocates for accommodations in college and workplace standardized tests.
  1. Make it fun! Dr. Hafeez recommends gettingcreative and doing whatever it takes for the material to resonate with you. Inventing stories that include the concepts you are learning may help. Playing trivia games with a study group and creating an upbeat, fun learning atmosphere is a great way to remember key points easier. “Some students make up rap songs, other might draw a picture or diagram, others associate concepts to colors. The key is really understanding what makes a concept stick in your mind. Most people really learn when they process the material applying it to themselves,” she explains.
  1. Do some mental interval training. Use an alarm and go through material for 30 minutes. Then when the alarm goes off, review the material and write of which key points will most likely be a test question. “This helps the mind focus on the end goal which is being able to anticipate and answer test questions correctly. It helps people to learn in chunks and really retain information that is necessary, causing them to focus and drill down to what’s really important,” says Dr. Hafeez.
  1. Get physical. “You want to remain focused with blood flowing. Studying while lying down or hunching over a desk for hours on end will cause sluggishness, drowsiness, boredom and impairs retention,” cautions Dr. Hafeez. A learning technique that works for many is to study while standing. Get a dry erase board or easel with paper. Read aloud then at the end of each page write down possible test questions with answers on the board. Snap a picture of the board and make a slideshow of all the possible test questions you can review again later.
  1. Eat well and rest well. It is common for people to be so nervous before an exam that they tense up and lose their appetite. They may even lie awake going through all they learned in their minds. To prevent this be sure to have healthy snacks and drinks within reach. Opt for water or iced green tea and avoid soda. Processed high carb, high fat foods, and sugary high caffeinated drinks will give you a boost at first but then you’ll feel filled up and lethargic. Chopped apples and peanut butter, soups, and veggies with hummus are easy on the stomach and are brain boosting foods.

“If unable to sleep, lay down, breathe and listen to music, read or watch something unrelated to the exam. You want to wind down your mind and rid any anxious thoughts that may lead to insomnia. Ending the study time an hour or two before bed will give the mind time to switch off from studies and settle down for sleep,” recommends Dr. Hafeez.

“The key to making the grade is to really listen to yourself and get to understand how you or your child learns. Once that is identified, information is absorbed easily and fits like a puzzle piece in the mind,” encourages Dr. Hafeez.

About the Doctor:

Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is a NYC based licensed clinical neuropsychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center in Manhattan and Queens.  Dr. Hafeez masterfully applies her years of experience connecting psychological implications to address some of today’s common issues such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc…). In addition, Dr. Hafeez works with individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. Dr. Hafeez often shares her credible expertise to various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz. Connect with her via twitter @comprehendMind or 

How do you help your students take the worry out of test-taking?


  1. My Teen Guide says

    Getting enough rest and good food is very important. My parents helped me prepare for an all important test by feeding me brain food like eggs, peanuts, yogurt, and fish. They also made sure I took breaks at regular intervals to refresh my mind. No cramming. That does not help.

  2. Debra J Hawkins says

    My dad was always so good about making studying fun when I was in high school. It actually really helped the info stick more too!

  3. Emma Spellman says

    These are awesome tips. It’s been awhile since I was in school, but my son starts kindergarten soon so it will only be a matter of time and these tips will help.

  4. says

    I remember when I had to study for these exams it was always a stressful time but thankfully I practice similar tips you’ve shared.

  5. says

    These are the same tips I have been teaching my kids. Now that my so is i high school – I see nothing of what his assignments are – so I never know when he has a test – he always says he has it under control. All good habits I taught him, he tossed – (lia grief!)

  6. says

    These are really good tips. I was never good at studying for tests. I usually would cram everything the night before. I am going to try to change that with my son so that the information actually sticks in the head and he doesn’t lose it after he’s done with the test.

  7. says

    This is great to keep in mind. I have a teen and he does a lot of these before a big test. He has finals in about two weeks, so I always make sure he gets enough sleep and eats well.

  8. says

    I remember my kids learning their multiplication table with a rap song. It was fun and it worked. Making learning fun always worked well with my kids. All of these tips are great ways to help teens study.

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