Go from surviving to thriving during exam prep

High School study skills test anxiety test prep

There’s no question that preparing for standardized exams can take a toll on our emotional and physical well-being if we are not intentional about our approach. To reach your highest potential on a standardized exam, you must take your wellness schedule as seriously as your exam prep schedule. But what should you focus on? The following 5 pillars are based on personal experience and supported by research. 

1. Sleep 

  • Poor sleep can negatively impact every aspect of our lives including our memory, mood, energy, productivity, and creativity: all things necessary for an excellent exam! 
  • Long-term memory formation depends on high quality sleep, which gives neurons an opportunity to shut down, repair, and reinforce critical connections. 
  • Tips: Create a simple, yet effective nighttime routine. Create a cool, dark, and quiet environment. If possible, try to avoid screen-time for 30 minutes before bed. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep each night. Your brain will thank you! 

2. Physical Activity 

  • The benefits of exercise on our brains and mood are endless. Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other crucial brain growth factors, enhancing learning, memory, and attention. It also increases serotonin and dopamine, creating powerful effects on our mood. 
  • Even a 10-minute walk or dancing session can increase your creativity and focus by up to 60%. 
  • Tips: Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity movement 5 times a week. Pick something you love or explore something new such as dancing, walking, hiking, running, weight-training, swimming, cycling. The options are endless! Try to make time for a short walk mid-day to get your neurons fired up and moving. 

3. Growth Mindset (coined by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.)

  • Cultivating a growth mindset means seeing each piece of new information, success, or mishap, as an opportunity to grow and improve. 
  • This means seeing each missed question as an opportunity to improve your performance on test day and each challenging concept as an opportunity to push yourself. 
  • Tips: View each study session as a its own science experiment. Learn from everything. Separate your performance from your worth as an individual. Use each piece of new information is just information that will allow to come back better the next time.  

4. Nutrition 

  • We all know that a colorful, varied diet improves not only our health, but also our mood and energy levels. 
  • We also know that test preparation can leave us exhausted at the end of the day reaching for a frozen meal for the fifth day in a row. 
  • Tips: Cut up your favorite fruits and veggies at the beginning of the week for easy snacking, try to incorporate complex carbs into your meals for sustained energy, focus on adding in nutritious foods rather than taking anything away. Stay hydrated! Fill up a water bottle and keep it on your desk so that it’s easy to sip throughout the day. 

5. Variety 

  • Our brains crave variety, and it keeps things fun and interesting. 
  • Tips: Try out a new study spot or sit at a different table in the morning vs the afternoon. Try out a new workout class in your area or take a new route on your daily walk. Try out a new recipe or check out a new restaurant. 


Remember that no singular day will be perfect. One day, you may need to set aside extra time for additional sleep. Another day, you may choose to set aside time for cooking a new recipe with a friend. Making time for yourself during exam prep will not only boost your overall well-being but will pay off in higher scores!  

Alexis is an MD Candidate at Harvard Medical School with a passion for teaching and helping others find what makes them thrive. She previously graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University in 2019, where she received her BS in Neuroscience.


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions writing LSAT strategy GMAT GRE physics chemistry math biology graduate admissions ACT academic advice interview prep law school admissions test anxiety language learning MBA admissions premed career advice personal statements homework help AP exams creative writing MD study schedules Common Application test prep summer activities computer science history philosophy organic chemistry secondary applications economics mathematics supplements PSAT admissions coaching grammar research 1L law statistics & probability psychology ESL legal studies CARS SSAT covid-19 dental admissions logic games reading comprehension engineering USMLE Spanish calculus mentorship parents Latin case coaching verbal reasoning DAT PhD admissions excel political science AMCAS English literature French Linguistics MBA coursework Tutoring Approaches academic integrity chinese medical school Anki DO STEM Social Advocacy admissions advice algebra astrophysics biochemistry business classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics letters of recommendation mechanical engineering mental health presentations quantitative reasoning skills study abroad technical interviews time management work and activities 2L IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs adjusting to college algorithms art history artificial intelligence athletics business skills careers cold emails data science first generation student functions gap year international students internships linear algebra logic poetry resume revising science social sciences software engineering tech industry trigonometry 3L AAMC Academic Interest DMD EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python Sentence Correction Shakespeare Step 2 TMDSAS Taylor Series Truss Analysis Zoom acids and bases amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing art art and design schools art portfolios bibliographies biomedicine brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem centrifugal force chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum dementia demonstrated interest dental school dimensional analysis distance learning econometrics electric engineering electricity and magnetism enrichment escape velocity european history evolution executive function finance freewriting fun facts genomics graphing harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law induction infinite information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intermolecular forces intern investing investment banking lab reports linear maps mandarin chinese matrices mba medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis music music theory networking neurology neuroscience object-oriented programming office hours operating systems organization outlining pedagogy