Build Unshakable Confidence For Exam Day

We’re all familiar with the classic test day horror story. The story about the person that spends three hundred hours studying, enters the test room nervously to take the exam, encounters a question they can’t answer, and freezes up. They let one question sabotage the entire test.

There are a number of things that happen in a situation like this. The person in our example spent a ton of time studying, so he probably knows most of the information required to pass. Why, then, is he unable to process that information under pressure?

He didn’t spend enough time building his test-taking skills. He took few, if any, practice tests. He figured, “Oh, the only thing I need to know is the information. Then the test will be easy.”

He didn’t take the time to build unshakable confidence.

“I was super laid-back. I was super calm. I was obviously ready to do something that nobody had ever done before… and nobody was going to step in my way, nobody was going to get me off track. I was…focused on what I needed to do, and I was going to get the job done.”

-Michael Phelps, Washington Post

Phelps demonstrates a similar confidence to the people who do extremely well on exams. The ability to remain calm, keep your brain in check, and execute your skills/knowledge is what separates those who score extremely well from those who freeze up with nervousness.

There are no tricks or shortcuts to developing this confidence level.

The only thing you need is hard work, discipline, and direction. We can’t force hard work and discipline upon you, but we can give you the direction you need to develop unshakable test-taking confidence for your actuarial journey.

With that said, let’s dive in. Building your test taking confidence boils down to two essential actions:

  • Learn how to stimulate an exam environment
  • Practice, practice, practice.

As we briefly mentioned earlier, there are no tricks to developing the confidence level you’re looking for. The only way to do it is to practice the test so many times that the real test becomes second nature. “Just another test day.”

Looking back to our example, the reason why the person froze up despite hundreds of hours of studying was because, while he prepared for the tests information, he failed to prepare for the test itself.

Simulating an exam environment

People who do well on exams understand that there are two parts to an exam. The first is the test content; The information that you need to study. The second is the test itself; The patterns, the layout, and the format.

As a result, not only will you be tested on your knowledge, you’ll be tested on your ability to work under pressure, meet deadlines, and quickly come up with solutions to problems that you don’t know the answer to.

The best way to prepare for the test’s tricks is to simulate a test environment. In addition to what we talked about above, doing this will:

  • Help you overcome the adrenaline, anxiety, and nervousness you may feel on test day.
  • Familiarize you to working with no help and no second chances – on the real test, you only get one shot at scoring well.
  • Teach you the grit and endurance you need to sit down and take a test for three hours.
  • Allow you to recognize your “zone” – the set of conditions in which you do your best work.

Now that you understand the benefits of simulating a test environment, let’s move on to the details.

You’re going to want to begin this practice about three weeks out from the test date, doing at least one exam per week, but preferably more. This gives you enough time to learn what you need to know, but doesn’t allow enough time for you to burn out, forget what you learned, or become complacent.

Basically, when you practice, you have to simulate real test conditions to the best of your ability. When you sit down to take your test:

Avoid interruptions.

Make sure you practice during a time period where you know that nothing is going to interrupt you. If you’re taking an hour long section, you should there for the entire hour and take the test. Also, make sure you’re working in a quiet place. Turn off your phone. Turn off the TV. Rid yourself of all distractions and interruptions.

Practice Honesty

With yourself and your time. Enforce the test rules on yourself. If the test is three hours, stop taking it at the three hour mark. Do not give yourself extra time to finish sections of the test. If the test says you can’t go back and check/revise answers, don’t go back. This can only work against you. Remember, you’re not trying to memorize the test’s content, you’re trying to get good at taking the test.

Don’t fear test pressure, embrace it.


Get used to not having sufficient time to answer the questions. This is called working under pressure. The more you practice, the better you’re going to get at answering questions within a small chunk of time.

You also get good at quickly assessing the difficulty of a question, which will help you determine whether you should answer it or skip it.

Question skipping is a powerful technique that we’ll talk more about next.

Practice your test-taking strategies.

Don’t just blindly take the test to get it over with. Consciously practice your strategies. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Elimination for multiple choice questions – before looking for the correct answer, eliminate the choices that you know are incorrect.
  • Question ranking – Before taking the test, quickly scan through each question and rate their difficulty on scale of 1 to 3, from least to most difficult. Then, answer all of the easy questions first to build confidence.
  • Question skipping – This ties directly with question ranking. You’re racing against a time limit. In most cases, the time you spent answering one difficult question could have been spent answering 5 easy questions. Answering easy questions first will also give you a confidence boost for tackling the harder ones.
  • Establishing and practicing your system for returning to questions that you skipped. On a pencil/paper test, you can simply return to questions that you marked / circled. But on a computer-based test, things get a little more complicated. You’ll be able to “mark” a question, but you won’t be able to gauge its difficulty. One technique you could employ would be to write down more information about the questions you skip to a notepad.

Expect Surprises

What would you do if the first question on a test is one you cannot answer? If you don’t prepare for surprises, situations like this can negatively affect your performance for the remainder of the test. In this case, you’re taking a hit before you even start.

If you expect things like this to happen to you, you’ll be able to keep your confidence levels at their peak.

Going all out

Some of you may see these exam practice strategies as overkill. However, we believe you should you utilize every practice method you can get your hands on.

  • Simulate the exam’s actual size. Typically, paper exams come in the (approximately) 8”x11” size. This is the same size as standard printer paper. You can even staple, or hole-punch/tie the papers together to make a booklet, just like the real test.
  • Practice using a #2 pencil. Avoid mechanical pencils, separate erasers, etc.
  • Don’t use a calculator with a cover on it. Many exams don’t allow calculators with covers on the back, either. Practice with your cover removed.
  • If you’re going to wear headphones or earplugs during the real test, practice with them too. Remember, our goal is to help you simulate the real test day to the best of your ability.
  • Practice during the same time that the real test will be. If your test is at 8AM, make sure you take your practice tests at 8AM. Your mind runs at different frequencies during different times of the day. You have to acclimate your mind and body to taking the test at a specific time.

Conquering test day like a warrior

On the actual test day, you want your mind and body to be running at peak performance. This means that you should only feed your body the healthiest of foods. Fruits, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, and lean meats. Most people will only clean up their diet for the breakfast of test day, but ideally, you should clean up your diet right when you first start studying. (If your diet isn’t already clean.)

You’ll also need optimal amounts of sleep. As with a diet, most people will only ensure that they get proper sleep the day before the test. But you should really enforce a strict sleep schedule when you first start studying.

Stay hydrated, but don’t over-hydrate. You don’t want to be getting up to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes. You especially don’t want the pain from the urge to urinate to block your mental processes.

Meditating and deep breathing exercises are proven stress relievers and can seriously help you before and during the test. Don’t neglect to use them!

Feed your body with only the highest quality fuels and train your mind. You’ll enter that test room with unshakable confidence.

Wrapping it up

We’d like to bring it full circle to what we said in the beginning; There’s no trick or shortcut to achieving an unshakable test-taking confidence. Hard work, discipline, and a sense of direction is all you need.

Encompassing every idea of this article into one sentence is easy:

The best way to become confident for a test is to simulate the test and its environment.

Now that you’re equipped with real, actionable strategies for simulating a test environment, you’re going to become unstoppable!


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Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?