All Nighter

Exam Study Tips: Snooze It or Lose It!
The all nighter, sleep deprivation, and last minute cramming are all typical approaches to exam time, but brain research shows that a tired brain is an ineffective brain. By planning ahead,  studying over several days, and getting plenty of rest, your child’s brain will be primed for success.

During sleep the hippocampus takes everything the brain learned during the day and refires/reactivates neural networks over and over, consolidating information into long term memory. If networks are not allowed to refire and reactivate during sleep, they will weaken and information will be lost.
How does this apply to exam prep? More days of studying followed by more nights of rest translates into more information stored in long-term memory!How much sleep is recommended? 9.2 hours for adolescents, 7-8 for adults….you have to enter the REM phase for the hippocampus to work effectively.

What else does sleep affect? Creativity and emotions, even eating disorders (binge eating, obesity). Tired people also have trouble with impulsivity, attention, and perseveration (getting stuck on something).
Advance preparation is the key to being able to study effectively AND get enough rest. By having all materials gathered and organized, having tests and study materials corrected, and having questions about format and content of exams answered prior to actual studying, your child will be able to fit a good night’s rest into his or her study schedule.
To help facilitate advance exam prep, Marianne P. Sperry & Associates is hosting an Exam Prep Session on May 13 from 6:30-8:00 for grades 6-12 at their office. For more information call 356-6339 or go to

Exam Prep

Exam Prep Comprehensive Exams
Starting exam prep two weeks in advance may seem like overkill to your child, but advance preparation, organization and time management are essential to effectively study for comprehensive exams.
Two Weeks -One Week Before Exams:
  • Encourage your child to talk to his or her teacher about content and format of exams. Will the exam come from old tests? Will a study guide be provided? Will there be an essay? Will the test include fill-in-the blank, true/false, matching or a combination of these? Will the teacher emphasize overall themes or specific details? Knowing these answers will help your child study in a way that reflects the way he or she will be tested. If your child struggles when talking to teachers, you can help them create a checklist to use when talking to teachers.
  • Begin Gathering Materials Now! You do not want to wait until the night before to realize you are missing key study materials.
    • Go through backpacks, binders, lockers, desks, and books to find loose papers, old tests, important notes and worksheets.
    • Make copies of any missing papers
    • Make sure all important documents are CORRECTED!
  • Create an Exam Binder with a section for each class, so that you will have a central location for all of your study materials. Each section should have the following:
    • Review materials provided by teacher
    • Old tests/quizzes (corrected!!)
    • Important handouts/notes/worksheets
    • Any practice tests/flashcards/study guides used during semester
  • Create a Study Schedule
    • Prioritize your time…study the material from earlier in the year or the most difficult concepts first and then review them again later
    • Study in Manageable Chunks of Time. Studying smaller amounts of material in smaller increments of time (20-30 min) can be more effective than sitting down for several hours with a big stack of papers
    • Block out time to move, eat, relax…put it on your study schedule

Memory Strategies

When it comes to memory strategies there are a lot of opinions about what the best may be. Here are some we’ve found to be tried and true.

  • Repetition…Look at it, say it, write it, draw it
  • Association…Group info, relate to something you already know
  • Visualize…draw pictures to illustrate important points and vocabulary
  • Color code…use colored flash cards or highlighters to categorize info
  • Acronyms…great for memorizing lists Graphic Organizers-use charts, webs, and other visuals to organize info

Good Brain Food

Looking for some good brain food to help your child be successful in school and, in particular, be ready for taking tests? Here’s a nice list!

  • Green Tea (decaf)
  • Broccoli
  • Avocados
  • Oatmeal
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Oranges
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Walnuts
  • Multivitamins
  • Fish Oil
  • Flaxseed Oil

Adapted from Dr. Amen’s PBS Special, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Test Anxiety

The Amygdala is a part of the brain that is our “alarm system.” It is on patrol 24/7 looking for danger. It is constantly monitoring for potential harm. It will also remember stressful situations and will trigger when similar situations recur (certain classrooms, test anxiety, dental office). The Amygdala is where test anxiety comes from.

When the Amygdala is triggered, stress hormones are released in the brain. These hormones make it difficult to either learn something new or remember information you have learned previously. Your brain will start focusing on the stress instead of the learning task.

Your goal is to stop the flow of stress hormones as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips:

  • Flip the test over and start writing down simple facts you know about the material (formulas, math facts, acronyms, diagrams). This redirects your brain by focusing on data rather than emotion.
  • Think of something funny. Humor decreases stress and anxiety.
  • Smile. Your brain actually has a motor memory of facial patterns. You may be able to trick your brain into thinking you are happier than you actually are!
  • Water lowers levels of the stress hormone in the brain. Stay hydrated. Drink 5-10 minutes before a test.
  • Repetition of a phrase, mantra, scripture, quote, or verse can help to relax the brain. 
  • Sleep is essential for memory storage. 8-9 hours is needed. Less than 6 hours and your brain will be impaired the next day.

Adapted from Emotion and Learning Seminar by Kimberly Carraway. Kimberly is a local educational consultant who specializes in brain based teaching and learning strategies. She lectures in Nashville and around the country on how to practically apply the latest neuroscience research to student learning. For upcoming seminars and conferences, please visit