diplomatic language services blog post about tips for test taking

Language Test-Taking Tips

Throughout our lives and careers, we may be required to take a multitude of tests. For many of us, these might be language proficiency tests. In many ways, sitting for a test is similar to lining up at the starting line of a race for which you have been training – the point at which all of your hard work, cramming, dedication, and – in many cases – literal sweat and tears come to fruition. There are a lot of factors that contribute to your level of success in a race, contest, or test: physical condition and comfort, anxiety and stress levels, relative ability to concentrate on the task at hand, and awareness of what specifically is at stake. While natural competitive and test-taking aptitude will always be a factor, there are also multiple factors over which we have a certain level of control.

If you have ever participated in a race, you know there is a recipe for finish line success: proper nutrition leading up to the race, quality sleep the night before, and successful management of starting line nerves. So, too, is there a recipe for test-taking success. The next time you are preparing to take an FSI test, the DLPT, an OPI, or any other proficiency test, keep in mind the following language testing tips.

Eat a Well-Balanced Meal the Night Before

You are what you eat! If you eat junk the night before a big test, you’ll come to the testing center feeling like…you guessed it…junk. So do your body a big favor and eat a well-balanced meal the night before the test. Make sure you get a good mix of carbs (whole grains such as brown rice, farro, oats, and bulgur), protein (lean meat, beans, tofu, eggs), and fat (good fats such as those found in avocado, nuts, and olive oil). If you’re a nervous eater, try to steer clear of too much sugar the night before, as it will only leave you feeling sluggish and unsatisfied.

Eat the Morning Of the Test

Put some gas in that tank! The morning of the test, make sure you eat something. Depending on the timing of your test, you may only have a chance to eat breakfast before you get started. Even if your stomach is a bundle of nerves and eating is the last thing on your mind, a satiated stomach will ensure you are at your maximum potential, and your brain will function far more smoothly. Whole grain toast with nut butter, a 2-3 egg omelet with sautéed vegetables, and oatmeal with banana and walnuts are all good options that will fill you up without weighing you down.

Get Enough Sleep

While there’s no guarantee you’ll get a good night’s sleep the night before a test – and, to be fair, the more pressure you put on yourself to sleep, the less likely you are to actually get rest – there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of quality slumber pre-test. Steering clear of caffeine and alcohol the night before a test, choosing a relaxing activity before bed (listening to music, doing some light stretching, or reading a book), and avoiding too much screen time right before bed can all increase the likelihood of you falling asleep straight away.

Stick to Your Routine

Don’t divert from your normal routine TOO much, or you may end up inadvertently causing yourself added stress. For example, if you usually exercise first thing in the morning, by all means, get up and go. If you really need that cup (or four) of coffee to get motivation for your day, drink up. If eating a substantial breakfast just really does not agree with you, keep it light – a banana or protein bar. Point being: the morning of a test, much like the morning of a race, is NOT the time to try to adopt new habits or switch up your routine. We are all creatures of habit, so the goal is to keep your fundamental routine the same but maximizing the healthy aspects of that routine. Make sense?

Avoid Cramming

Remember, pulling an all-nighter went out of fashion in 1999. Seriously, make sure you’ve done the bulk of your studying well before the night before a test. At most, glance over your notes and materials briefly several hours before bed. Cramming doesn’t work, and the later you stay up studying, the worse off you’ll be.

Be Ready Early

The early bird gets the worm… and the passing grades. Do yourself another big favor and allow a little extra time to get to your testing center. Feeling rushed, stressing about traffic, and arriving last minute will only stress you out before you even start the test. Or, if you are testing from home, make sure you are ready at your computer 5-10 minutes before your allotted time. Tardiness isn’t great in the best of circumstances, and being late to a big test will cast serious doubt onto your commitment to the class.

Test-taking is not something most of us enjoy, but it CAN be a not wholly unpleasant experience with a little thoughtful planning.

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By Kate Marden