Featured Image

9 Weird Test Prep Techniques That Actually Work

These nine study techniques seem relatively outlandish, but they're for real!

Actors are superstitious. Maybe you’ve heard of the curse of the Scottish Play. I also have an actor friend who won’t even perform without Swedish Fish. (His reasoning came from a time that he gave a great performance after chewing on the gummy creatures, though he concedes that it might be the sugar rush that helps.)

Test takers have their totems too: lucky pencils, favorite T-shirts, and mantras like “I won’t mess up, I won’t mess up, I won’t mess up.” They swear by these systems because one time they got an A+ after using that pencil/T-shirt/mantra. It might seem silly, but is there anything to this madness?

Here are nine study techniques that seem relatively outlandish, but actually have basis in fact.

  1. Have a stick of Juicy Fruit. Or any chewing gum, actually, just before the test. The chewing increases blood flow to the brain, a study suggests. So chew, chew, chew your way to a better grade.
  2. Stop and smell the roses. Ever smell something that brought memories flooding back—your grandma’s kitchen, the high school auditorium, your time as a dog groomer? It’s well documented that smells can impact memory. So you might want to have the same scent both in your study area and on your person when testing. Just make sure you don’t lay it on so thick that you distract your neighbors.
  3. Study before bedtime. Common wisdom might be to study your hardest subjects early in the day, when you are most alert. However, it turns out that the opposite is true. You should actually study your toughest subjects last, right before you fall asleep. This is because sleeping helps you retain memories.  
  4. Hit the hay. In addition to studying before bed, you have to follow through by actually getting sleep, and lots of it, because memory retention is an action of REM sleep. The more sleep you get, the better—and pull an all-nighter at your peril. A lack of REM sleep wreaks havoc with your memory. So, when someone calls you lazy for going to bed instead of studying, just tell them you are working hard, retaining memories.
  5. Eat the right foods. Nutrition holds a key to successful studying too. Studies suggest you should avoid fatty foods and carbs that slow your metabolism in favor of fruits, vegetables, and protein. And make sure you have a hearty breakfast. You’ve heard of brain food? Go for blueberries in your yogurt; this superfood helped rats remember how to get through mazes and may help you retain the periodic table.
  6. Don’t study too much. Instead, get moving. Don’t have time to exercise because you are always studying? Perhaps you’d be better off taking to the treadmill instead of hitting the books so hard. It turns out that regular exercise slows the decay of the hippocampus (the brain’s . . . um . . . thingy . . . what’s the word? memory center).
  7. Sing out strong. Ever use a song to help you remember something, say all the 50 nifty states in the union? Music engages your brain and helps define specific pieces of information in more than one way. The more depth you have on a subject, the easier it is to recall. Not only that, those piano lessons in third grade might have helped you out more than just for playing “Chopsticks” at parties. Learning music at an early age helps with memory later, likely because of the challenging cognitive exercise that it requires.
  8. Sprechen sie Français? Polyglots rejoice! People who learn more than one language do better on tests. This is because they frame information more completely and have access to different points of view when assessing the same topic. So study a language and do better on tests.
  9. Find a happy place. If you have test anxiety, make sure you reduce the number of new or stressful factors in test taking. If you are taking a test somewhere you haven’t been before, try to visit the room prior to the exam. Familiarity helps reduce stress. Similarly, arriving early will help you remain calm and collected. But the most important stress-busting tactic might be a reframing of your testing mindset. Instead of thinking of the test as a terrible slog to be endured, look at it as something you enjoy that might also be challenging (but fun), like playing soccer or working through a video game. Just by changing their attitude, test takers improved their scores dramatically.

Looking for more test prep-help? Look no further!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

how to study standardized tests study hacks study tips studying test prep test taking strategies

About Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admission. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admission capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Makiyah Murray

Makiyah Murray

High School Class of 2021

The college application process has been a stressful one, but CollegeXpress has eased some of that stress with its readily available college resources. At the beginning of the process, I frequently used the college search feature, and now that I’m almost done applying, I’ve started using the scholarship search. Both of these resources have made it easier to find relevant information.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me organize the schools I wanted to choose from in one place, which then I could easily compare and find the school that was right for me!

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

College Matches