How to Stay Sane During Testing Season

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As you’ve probably noticed, we’re nearing the end of AP and IB testing season. Maybe it was your teachers reminding you to study incessantly, the fact that you’ve had it marked on your calendar for months, or the telltale sign of countless students hauling around their Barron’s or Princeton Review books constantly that tipped you off to the fact. But if your friend group is anything like mine, the mass panic and constant studying at lunch were probably a bit of a reminder as well.

Luckily, most of us are sophomores and only had one or two AP exams, which we’re finished with now. But the weeks leading up to our AP exams were very distinctly not fun. Frenzied last-minute cramming. Panicked declarations of our oncoming failure. Absolutely no reprieve whatsoever from the impending doom of our exams. It was all we talked about.

It’s over now, but it’ll happen again next year when we’re juniors and have even more tests, and unless we do something differently, we’ll devolve into that state of group panic for several weeks once again. There’s a sort of mass hysteria that we created where all of our stress and anxiety regarding the exams was projected onto each other and was multiplied exponentially. I know that this is a phenomenon that also exists outside of my honors student/overachiever/perfectionist group at school, and there’s no way that this stress is really productive for anyone. Without further ado, here are a few tips I think can help us all stay sane during our tests next year:

1. Use the opportunity to be constructive, not destructive

At times like this when everyone’s at a high stress level, including yourself, it can be hard to avoid encouraging your friends to continue thinking about and obsessing over their exams because you’re doing the same thing. Sometimes it can be helpful to acknowledge the pressure you and your friends are under and to get your stress out in the open.

However, the other thing that can happen — which I got to witness many times firsthand two weeks ago in the days leading up to my AP Euro exam — is a situation in which one person goes: “I’m going to fail. I’m going to get a 2 on this. I don’t know anything.” Then, rather than reassuring her of her capability, several other people pitch in to declare that they, too, are going to fail regardless of how much studying they do, culminating with someone shrieking: “We’re all going to fail!” This is pretty obviously not productive. I don’t think we even realized we were doing this.

So, instead think about what you’d say to a friend who’s worried about a regular, in-class test that you personally weren’t taking. You’d be encouraging, reminding her she’s smart and prepared and has it completely under control, and you’d wish her luck in studying for it. Why should it be any different for a test you’re taking as well?

2. Put things in perspective

Tests — whether they’re AP exams, IB exams, SATs, ACTs, regular finals and tests, or whatever else you might have — are really just not that important. There, I said it.

Many other high school students might disagree with me on this point. These tests can seem to take over our entire lives, and everyone makes such a big deal out of them, so how can they be unimportant? Well, they’re not unimportant per se, but if you don’t do well, it’s just not going to affect your life as much as you think. Maybe you won’t get college credit, or it’ll look bad on your applications, or it’ll lower your GPA if your school uses them to determine semester grades. Oh well. You’ll still get into a college or go somewhere that will still allow you to be immensely successful in life.

Those are a lot of potential effects, though, you might encounter. If these tests can have so much of an effect on your academic success, how can they not be incredibly important? It’s because of a pretty simple tenet of life that we all seem to forget most of the time, even when it’s not testing season: Academic success is not the most important thing you can achieve. Your friends and family are more important to your life. Your character and personality are so much more important in making you a worthwhile person. There are most likely activities that you genuinely enjoy and that bring you more real happiness than test prep.

3. Distract yourselves and make time for other activities

I’m not saying you should stop studying altogether or that you shouldn’t try to do your best on your exams, but don’t let studying take over your whole life. Take care of yourself. Remember to eat at normal times, try to get a somewhat healthy amount of sleep, and don’t spend every waking hour thinking about your tests.

Studying with your friends — a completely separate matter entirely than stressing with your friends — can be one of the best review methods as long as you try to have fun with it. Use everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to your advantage. Someone remembers chapter 15 in the review book really well? Someone has nearly encyclopedic knowledge on the European Renaissance and none at all on World War I? Let people explain and summarize to the group what they know best and share any mnemonic devices that they’ve used so you can avoid having to review certain topics and remember them all on your own.

Finally, after the test, make sure you do something social. You might be tempted to go home and sleep for hours (I certainly was) and then wake up and proceed to Google the answers to every single multiple choice question you remember (okay, I still definitely did this); but, please, please, please try to make time to do something with your friends. After my AP Euro test, I went to get frozen yogurt with my friend while making an attempt to talk about non-test-related subjects, and although I didn’t do anything much after AP Art History, I took time to talk to several of my friends who are not in the class about how it went. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those conversations are probably the majority of the reason why I’m not having a nervous breakdown right now as I wait for my scores.


I’m going to make a concerted effort next year at this time to avoid the pitfalls I made this AP season, and I hope some of these thoughts are applicable to your own life and friend group! Testing season, and school in general, is really stressful most of the time, but remember that it doesn’t have to be.

Susannah Sherwood
Susannah Sherwood is a biochemistry major at Seattle University with a deep love for writing, reading, music, and coffee. She dreams of a future in which she can pursue her passion for science while making time for the causes and people she cares about.



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