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By Sydney Stokke

For high schoolers, spring signals the end of the year, which means summer break. But first students must pass finals. Every year, high school students cram for their AP exams and finals. They get stressed because they want to do well, but might not know the best way to study. Every person has their methods, but mental preparedness is not the only factor that improves testing ability.

When finals are mentioned, stress can be considered a synonym. A final exam may just be a packet of 80 or so questions and an answer sheet, but along with it comes hundreds of anxious students, unhealthy amounts of coffee, and definitely not enough hours of sleep.

A good night’s sleep is a good way to be physically ready for a test, but many students put that second as they stay up all night studying.

“While often I adopt the policy of very limited eating and sleeping (all-nighters, basically) during finals week, it has its negative effects,” said sophomore and AP Euro student Ivy Flessen. “Most people should not follow what I do, and should get a proper amount of sleep a night. Sleep lessens anxiety, and heightens your potential on the exam.”

Although students may not fully understand the importance of sleeping before a test, teachers and counselors know that it’s essential for a healthy student and a good test score.

“High school students need about 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night,” said BHS counselor Arlene Sweeney-Schmidt. “Although many teens sleep less than this, during finals it is important that you get enough sleep to have the energy and focus you will need while taking your exams. We can’t really make up for lost sleep, so stay away from staying up late trying to cram the night before a final.  It will just leave you feeling fatigued and having difficulty concentrating.”

According to the Nationwide Children’s Association:

Adolescents are notorious for not getting enough sleep. The average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between 7 and 7 ¼ hours. However, they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours (studies show that most teenagers need exactly 9 ¼ hours of sleep)….

Most adolescents are very sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation will impact on many aspects of your teenager’s functioning:

  • Mood. Sleep deprivation will cause your teenager to be moody, irritable, and cranky. In addition, she will have a difficult time regulating her mood, such as by getting frustrated or upset more easily.
  • Behavior. Teenagers who are sleep deprived are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking, driving fast, and engaging in other dangerous activities.
  • Cognitive ability. Inadequate sleep will result in problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity, all of which are important in school.
  • Academic performance. Studies show that teenagers who get less sleep are more apt to get poor grades in school, fall asleep in school, and have school tardiness/absences.
  • Drowsy driving. Teenagers are at the highest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is the most likely to occur in the middle of the night (2:00 to 4:00 AM), but also in mid-afternoon (3:00 to 4:00 PM).

On top of that, eating quality breakfasts each morning can improve a student’s health and mental state before a test. It’s much harder to focus on a test when you can only think about how hungry you are. Writing an essay can suddenly become a lot more difficult when you’d rather be eating a slice of pizza or snacking on your favorite foods. Testing without eating a healthy breakfast, or any breakfast at all, contributes to a lack of energy and focus.

Other ways to maximize physical health for test-taking include drinking a lot of water, working out, spending time with animals, and going outside to exercise or get fresh air.

“Your physical health is important to avoid fatigue and to stay focused,” said Sweeney-Schmidt. “Your best physical self contributes to your best mental self for test taking.”

A good way to offset anxiety and stress is with confidence, according to AP European History teacher Mr. Joseph Franz. Having confidence in your abilities can do a lot to calm nerves, whereas self-doubt can just bring on more anxiety.

“Have confidence,”  Franz said. “If you don’t think you’re going to do well on a test, then you most likely won’t. If you study well and know the materials, however, you’ll do fine; the more prepared you are, the less stressed you’re going to be.”

It’s important that you know your materials and understand what is going to be on the test. Not studying or preparing for a test is, obviously, a good way to make sure you do poorly on a test.

“If you have done everything, or most everything, that you should have been doing throughout the year, there is no reason to be stressed,” said Latin teacher Lisa Walls. “Your grade should reflect what you know, not what you crammed the night before.”

As for methods of actual studying, it’s important to maximize your productivity by taking breaks in between. You can look over your notes, make flashcards, ask your teachers for help, or study in a group. There’s not one specific way to study the best, and as long as you know the materials on the final, you will be fine.

“Remember, you have taken finals before and survived.  Also, remember summer is right around the corner. You have worked really hard all semester and you will be absolutely fine,” said Sweeney-Schmidt. “You’ve got this!”

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