Boo! It’s Halloween, which means trick-or-treating with ghouls and goblins roaming about. While these may be scary and worrisome creatures, what is even more terrifying, at least to some students, are admissions tests: frightening because there are consequences attached to how well you perform. See, we know they’re spooky not only because of what is being tested but also, of the haunting knowledge that good scores hold the keys to opening educational doors.  So to celebrate the holiday and your ability to overcome your fear, we took some creative liberties with “tricks or treats” to share some ways to optimize your study so you can fully enjoy Samhain!

Trick or Treat #1: Content Mastery!

Learn the content then make sure you understand ‘how’ your test asks questions because it’s not always straightforward. Typically, admissions tests require reasoning and critical thinking to answer questions correctly. Therefore, include in your study arsenal material written by those who produce the tests, known as ‘official guides.’ Then, to ensure you understand and have integrated content, strategy, and reasoning, include taking official diagnostic tests regularly.

Trick or Treat #2: Optimize your Pace!

Don’t be surprised on test day about test timing. Evaluate whether your pace allows you to finish your test in the time provided. If it doesn’t, pick up the pace. Here are three ways that can help you.

  • Track your Time. Keep track of the time it takes for you to answer each question when doing homework and on timed quizzes and tests. Then, use a timer and set up a specific length of time to answer each question. This step allows you to familiarize yourself with how the duration actually feels, building up your ‘spidey sense.’ To use an official average time for each question on your test, divide the time allotted in each section by the number of questions therein. For example, the SAT Reading section is a 65-minute section with 52 questions, so you have about 75 seconds per question (but less because that doesn’t include ‘reading’ itself). On the Writing and Language, the 35-minute section has 44 questions, so you have about 48 seconds per question (again, less because of the reading).

After working on each question, you can also get used to ‘blocks of time’ by multiplying the time per question by a group of questions, say, 5 – 10 questions. Some questions require less or more than the average time per question so this cumulative approach can even out the time.

  • Practice Mindfulness. When studying, being mindful can help you stay present, especially when your mind drifts away from a question. The practice of returning to your task at hand, central to mindfulness meditation training,  lends itself to the art of refocusing rather than thinking about a question you already answered (or left blank) or being distracted by random thoughts, like what you might do after you complete the test.

    There are many ways to practice mindfulness. To begin, take 2 minutes to observe your breath in and out or gaze at a flickering candle flame or leaves blowing in the wind. When you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to whatever you’re witnessing. As you become more able to stay present, increase the time you’re ‘sitting,’ even up to a half or full hour. You’ll notice that the time you take to slow down and meditate, actually changes how you experience the time when you’re not in the act of meditation. This practice is calming and helps ensure that you won’t burn out. There are meditations and mindful exercises on the Mindflow platform as well as various apps.

  • Accelerate your Reading Speed. Whether you’re reading slowly or worrying about your speed, take the opportunity to improve your skills and outlook. The simplest way to remedy this is to read faster with optimized comprehension. This provides more time to ‘think’ and ‘answer’ questions. Learning how to read faster and effectively makes your process and performance more efficient! MindFlow Speed Reading training is all about this.

Learning how to do this is not enough you must also practice. MindFlow contains ample exercises to practice and improve your reading chops: it trains you to increase the number of words read per minute without sacrificing comprehension. You’ll be able to answer general questions about the passage with greater ease and refer back to the passage for specific questions. With these tools, you can transmogrify stress in a witch’s cauldron and cast a spell of success on yourself. 

Trick or Trick #3: Reduce your Jitters
While it’s important to amass test knowledge and improve your test-taking and reasoning skills, there is a limit to how well you can perform when your mindset is compromised. On a macro level, you can reduce anxiety through lifestyle adjustments. Science data reports that when you eat healthier, sleep better, and are active, you feel better, more balanced, and will perform better. In addition, here are some effective ways you can reduce your anxiety: 

  • Create a schedule. Whether you procrastinate or want to feel more organized and in control, scheduling time for study gives you a system to move toward your performance goals. Include fun, social, downtime, and meditation in your schedule, too. When your time is planned out it will diffuse any pressure or hyper-focus on your study. Time ‘away’ from study allows your mind to integrate all you’ve learned. Review your schedule each morning and then at night to adapt as needed to make it a successful tool. We’ll be posting an article soon about creating an effective study schedule.

  • Embody a Growth Mindset. Rather than feeling static, discouraged, or unable to change when you make mistakes, consider the perspective that your learning process is an opportunity to grow and improve, instead. When you believe you are capable of performing better, even if not always perfect, you embody a “growth mindset.” This can prompt you to feel more hopeful, optimistic, and positive. Having self-limiting beliefs can have a negative domino effect, whereby you can lose even more time and perform worse whereas a growth mindset invites better mental states with a will to progress.

  • Remove Stress Contagions. Ever feel more on edge or breathe faster when a friend or colleague complains about a problem? This is because as you listen, adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that mobilize the flight or fight response, increase. Instead, surround yourself with people who help you feel calm and study in places where your nervous system feels regulated. When you’re feeling jumpy or uncomfortable, remove the stimuli–or remove yourself–from the environment or people who are triggering such reactions.

Even if this season feels scary and spooky to you, you can still experience tests differently by studying smarter. You alone can choose and curate your study and test-taking experience: it could either be like going through a haunted house or an invigorating stroll on a crisp autumn day. Simply imagine you’re wearing a ‘costume’ of success, engage in positive practices regularly, build your skill sets, stick to a schedule, and craft a mindfulness practice and in no time you’ll be chasing the terrors out of the night, succeeding on your upcoming test, and scarfing down the sweet taste of test-taking victory! On Halloween or any day.