Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Imagine yourself surrounded by a soothing quiet and the low hum of the heating unit lulling you into a toasty sleep… but there’s one problem… you’re supposed to be taking a test right now. Testing rooms are the worst combination ever: they’re full of sleep-inducing elements while the test requires your full attention. This is especially true for AP and SAT exams that are spread out over a few hours and are set during prime nap time. But the only way to get that awesome score is to beat the sleep! Here are some tried and true techniques, some of them scientifically proven and others more likely placebo that will keep you up.


While a lot of people will guzzle that cup of coffee in the hopes of achieving the perfect caffeine buzz to get them through the test, caffeine is an art form that takes experience to get right. Unless you’re used to a cup of coffee in the morning, having one before an exam without being a habitual drinker isn’t a great idea. You’ll be unaccustomed to its effects and this might hurt your performance. Additionally, the amount of liquid itself as well as the fact that caffeine is a diuretic will have you putting down the pencil to go to the restroom too many times to be safe during an exam. I recommend 5-hour energy for the caffeine experts (those who regularly have energy drinks and espresso to keep them awake) and skipping the cup of coffee in favor of chocolate (naturally contains caffeine) or apples (a healthy and more stable source of energy) for the newbies.

Keep your body moving

Staying still for long periods makes your body naturally sleepy, and coupled with the silent environment of the exam room, your body will be super sleep-inclined! It’s a good idea to keep your body moving even in small ways to stay alert. Try crossing and uncrossing your legs and ankles, moving both legs in counter-clockwise circles, or flexing your foot constantly. Obviously don’t go crazy with the motions as the other test-takers and the proctor might get a little suspicious. Try the same exercises with your fingers and your arms! Even these small movements will help remind your body that sleep is not an option. Plus, you’ll basically be getting in your leg day all while acing an exam. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.


In the same vein as the leg and arm movement, gum is a great way to keep your jaw moving and maintain concentration. According to the Scientific American, chewing gum increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and makes concentration and staying alert easier. But make sure to be a silent chewer unless you want to risk the wrath of everyone else in the room. Break out that extra-long lasting pack of gum and you’ll be set.

Wear the right outfit

The key to the perfect exam day outfit (yes, this are very important) is striking the right balance between comfort and utility. It’s important to feel comfortable during a test, but too much comfort will lull you into complacency. Wearing your pajamas or your favorite over-sized fluffy sweater is tempting, but they’ll also put you in a mood for a nap. Wear something that feels good but won’t induce sleep like a simple T-shirt and something thin like a cardigan. The advice is always to wear layers so the heating or AC won’t affect you, but being cold keeps you much more alert than being too warm.

Cold water

A proven way to keep awake is keeping hydrated and taking small sips of cold water. The temperature is very important in jolting the brain, so make sure to grab a water bottle from the fridge or even better stick it in the freezer about an hour or two before the exam so it’ll hit the perfect balance of icy without worrying about it getting lukewarm later.

There you have it! Hopefully you find a combination of these tips that works for you. In the end, you are not alone in your sleepy test-taking.

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the author

Jilliann Pak hails from the suburbs of SoCal but is currently attending school across the coast at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not complaining about the cold weather or sleeping in the library, she’s probably eating, cuddled up into a blanket burrito, or watching Parks and Recreation, preferably all at once.

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