Secrets to EPPP Success (Part 2): Your Exam Day Routine

Earlier this month, I gave some big-picture advice about how to know when you are ready to begin studying for the EPPP, and also how to know when you are prepared to actually take the exam. Suppose you have gone through the various items on my check-list and you conclude that you’re finally ready to take the EPPP – what then? What can you do on the actual day of the test itself, to make sure you are adequately equipped do put in a winning performance?

Don’t Cram at Night – Get Plenty of Rest

Let’s begin with what not to do. Don’t stay up the night before cramming. You have nothing to gain by tiring yourself out with anxiety and sleep-deprivation, but much to lose. We have observed before that lack of sleep can cause the mind to slow down, and may even result in causing one to forget crucial material.  Hence, prior to your exam, be sure to get plenty of sleep. This focus on getting plenty of sleep should begin two or three nights prior the exam, since the night directly before is probably going to be a bit restless.

Fuel Your Body to Keep Energy Levels Up

When you wake up in the morning of exam day, the first thing you should think about (after reminding yourself “this is the day on which I will successfully pass my EPPP”) is getting enough to eat. In the stress of the day and all the things that will likely be on your mind, eating a good meal is probably the last thing you will think about. Nevertheless, getting adequate nutrition is crucial for maintaining proper energy-levels during a high-stress experience.

The advice I give people about keeping up their energy levels is based on my perspective from years of working with athletes. An athlete shouldn’t even think of going into a sports game without fueling up by eating an adequate meal. Taking a test is no different. It is unreasonable to expect yourself to stay alert and energetic during a long exam if you haven’t given yourself sufficient nutrition and calories beforehand. This is especially true when we consider that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, consuming 20% of the body’s total energy.

Research shows that just keeping your brain at base level—what is sometimes referred to as “housekeeping”— requires a lot of calories and glucose. Although the research is still inconclusive, at least one study even suggests a correlation between cortical metabolism and intelligence.

An article that appeared in Scientific American explained how many calories the brain using up:

If we assume an average resting metabolic rate of 1,300 calories, then the brain consumes 260 of those calories just to keep things in order. That’s 10.8 calories every hour or 0.18 calories each minute…. So a typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts—a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt lightbulb. Compared with most other organs, the brain is greedy; pitted against man-made electronics, it is astoundingly efficient. IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jeopardy! champions, depends on ninety IBM Power 750 servers, each of which requires around one thousand watts.

In short, keeping your energy levels up for peak performance is largely the result of good eating. If you don’t pay attention to this, your EPPP performance can suffer.

The Pre-Event Meal

Let’s get specific about the pre-test meal.

Two or three days before exam-day, make sure you have all the food on hand for your pre-test meal and for the snacks that you will take with you into the testing center. Preparing this food beforehand is crucial, because the last thing you want to do is to wake up on exam day and find you are having to rush to the grocery store, or that you don’t have time to eat a meal and all and end up grabbing a snack on the way out the door.

In terms of specific foods that are best, I’d like to share advice gleaned from my experience working with athletes preparing for the “big game” and what I have gleaned from the NSW Academy of Sport Nutrition Guidelines.

  • Eat the pre-event meal about 2-3 hours before your EPPP.
  • This meal should top-up your blood sugar levels after a good night’s rest (remember, your most important night’s sleep is two nights before your EPPP, as your sleep the night before the exam could be a bit restless).
  • The meal does not have to be large, but should fill you up for the next few hours.
  • High-carbohydrate foods are the best options: e.g., bread, cereals, fruit, pasta, rice, etc.
  • Ensure that the meal is low-fat as this speeds up digestion.
  • Have a drink to optimize hydration: try sports drink, juice, or a liquid meal.
  • Avoid the caffeine in cola drinks, coffee, chocolate, and tea – it is dehydrating.
  • Practice with your pre-event meal prior to your test day to fine tune your eating strategy.

Top-Snack to Eat During EPPP Breaks

During the EPPP, you are allowed to take breaks. Although you probably won’t feel like eating and drinking during these breaks, it is important to eat a little to keep your energy levels up. I recommend you take some of the following:

  • Snack fruits (small cans of fruit) or canned baby fruits
  • Bananas
  • Fruit that is peeled and cut up (easier to eat this way)
  • Plain bread rolls (white bread may be less heavy) – try pita bread
  • Fruit buns (e.g., hot cross buns) or raisin bread
  • Plain or fruit scones
  • Homemade low-fat fruit muffins
  • Rice cakes (you can top them with honey, jam, or banana)
  • Peanut butter and jelly and honey sandwiches
  • Sports drink (contain carbohydrate to boost energy as well).
  • Water

Other Things to Take With You During Exam Day

Snacks are not the only thing you need to take with you to the testing center. Here are a list of other items that are essential. You should prepare these in a bag two or three days before exam day. This will not only give you adequate time to purchase any items you may be missing, but will help alleviate the stress that comes from last-minute planning.

  • Make sure your cars gas tank is full, or you’ve made arrangements to be dropped off;
  • Lay out your clothing: Layer your clothing in case PES testing center is cold/hot;
  • Have an easily carried cooler to pack your food and fluid in;
  • Pack earplugs if desired;
  • Pack your ID and PES testing info!
  • Consider taking a trip down to your PES testing center to familiarize yourself with it’s location, parking, registration process, and maybe even take a quick tour of the testing room.

Exam Day Preparation and Routine

  • Give yourself time to dress and pack in a relaxed fashion.
  • Allow extra time for traffic and any unintended travel situations (e.g., flat tire).
  • Arrive a half-hour early of your schedule test time.
  • Use the extra time to engage in some “power posing” to instill in yourself a sense of confidence.
  • Minimize talk with other testers, as this can create anxiety.
  • Do breathing exercises for 5 minutes by yourself before entering testing room.
  • Once in the testing room, choose a good spot and make sure you have enough space to work, and listen to instructions.
  • Stay relaxed and confident.
  • Keep a good attitude.
  • Remind yourself that you are well-prepared and are going to do well.
  • If you find yourself anxious, take several slow, deep breaths to relax.

The First 10-15 Minutes

On the paper provided, do an “Information Dump.” Write out all the information you’ve been keeping in your working memory, e.g., scores for bell-shaped curve, developmental theories, etc. This frees you to focus your energy during the test, and allows you the ability to return to these notes when a related question occurs.

Breaks During the Exam

Often students study or attempt to read for too long of a period without stopping for a rest break. On this blog we have already had frequent occasion to share the neurological benefits of rest (see our recent post ‘The Do’s and Don’ts of the EPPP Study Break.’) This is based on the Principle of Neurotransmitter Depletion.

Neuro-scientists have developed techniques to monitor activity (usually defined as electrical impulses) and chemical changes in the brain during study or thought processing. The monitoring of brain activity and chemical changes indicate that studying/reading too long results in a depletion of chemicals in the brain cells necessary for efficient processing of information. Based on this Principle of Neurotransmitter Depletion, we recommend the following break schedule during the EPPP exam:

You have 4 hours and 15 minutes to take the Exam, which breaks down to 68 seconds per question. I would recommend not trying the marathon approach to test-taking, where you work until you feel tired. Make and take planned breaks, as this will keep you fresh and focused through the test.

I recommend you decide ahead of time how you will take breaks. There are two types of breaks: mini (3-5 minutes) and full (10 minutes). For mini-breaks I recommend choosing one of two strategies: decided on a number of questions to complete before a break is taken, e.g. every 25 questions, or, a period of time to work before a break is taken, e.g., 25 minutes. During these mini 5-minute breaks stand up, move around, stretch, and breathe. Full 10-minute breaks can occur after an hour and a half period of work. During this full break grab some fuel and fluid, use the restroom if necessary, and stretch and breath. Make sure you take these breaks even if you feel or think you don’t need to!

Breathing during the Exam

If you have gone through the TSM test-preparation system, you should be prepared to face the EPPP without a lot of anxiety. Don’t forget all that desensitization work you did with those 4000 practice questions! Nevertheless, you should still take measures to stay calm and limit anxiety. In particular, monitor your breathing throughout the test.

Before each test question take one big, slowly inhaled diaphragmatic breath through your nose, holding it for a count of two and then slowly exhaling through your mouth. During this exhalation, mentally recite a positive self-statement, e.g., “I can do this!” This will help “recalibrate” your focus, purge any tension, and prepare you for your next question. They will also lower your heart rate, your blood pressure, relax any muscle tension, and provide a sense of calm and control!

Further Reading


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