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Stress-Free Eating Tips for Exams

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: November 21, 2019

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: November 21, 2019


Got a big test coming up? Whether it’s a standardized test, final exam, or a weekly class test, you’ll want to make sure you are in the best shape possible to maximize your potential score. Getting a great test score isn’t just about how much you’ve studied or understand the material — your grade will be reflected by how well you ate, slept, and your mood as well. We’ve got you covered for one of those important pieces to the high score puzzle: food! Learn what to eat and what to avoid, including what to eat the night before a test.

Stress-Free Eating Tips for Exams

Student holding watermelon stress-free before a test

Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash

General tips for healthy eating apply here as well. Getting your brain in the best shape possible for study should be a long-term goal, but if you’re just starting now, have no fear! There are many things you can eat the night before and day of the test to improve your performance.

Try to eat healthy in the days before a test and don’t snack on junk foods while studying, as tempting as it may be. Make sure to drink plenty of water and green tea while studying. Coffee is a great concentration booster, but it can be dehydrating so make sure you’re combating that with plenty of water and green or herbal teas.

Foods to Improve Memory and Concentration

1. Fatty Fish:

For brain health and memory. Try to eat fish once per week for great brain health.

2. Gum:

Chewing gum helps test performance. According to a study done on gum and test performance, a 10% alertness score increase was found. So get chewing!

3. Coffee:

The beverage you already know and love helps with alertness and concentration for studying.

4. Dark Chocolate:

Yum! Another reason to love chocolate: for memory and concentration. This study showed increased brain activity when eating dark chocolate. Make sure it’s dark though, you need the benefits of cacao, which is higher in dark chocolate.

5. Green Tea:

Sipping on green tea while you study will give you alertness, higher performance and better memory. Think about replacing your second cup of coffee with tea instead.

The Night Before the Big Test

Healthy dinner prepared for the night before a test

Photo by Jer Chung from Pexels

The night before the test is an important one for making smart eating choices. Even if you’re nervous, try to eat a full meal with protein, carbs, and vegetables. A good idea is to go for fish, greens, and healthy carbohydrates such as rice or whole wheat pasta. Try fruit or dark chocolate for dessert.

Even if you’re doing some last-minute studying, avoid drinking coffee late as it will affect your sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. And for goodness sake, no alcohol the night before! Save the celebrating for when you’ve finished the test.

Here’s an important tip: Don’t try any new foods the night before a test. You don’t know how your stomach might react to a new food even if it seems safe. The last thing you want is to spend the night before a test with an upset stomach, or having to head to the restroom often throughout the test. In some cases, it may not even be allowed!

Finally, the day before the test, make sure you are eating throughout the day. That way you won’t overdo it at dinnertime, which can lead to bloating, uncomfortable feelings of fullness and unhealthy food choices.

The Morning of a Test

Student cutting fruit in preparation for test day

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

For the morning of the test, it’s best to stick with what you know. Don’t try something new — make foods you typically eat for breakfast, but try to get in protein, carbs, fruits and vegetables.

If you are running late, worried about traffic, or generally aren’t a morning eater, it is still a good idea to eat something small, such as banana or apple and some nuts, or a few vegetables with cheese or hummus.

The age old question: Coffee before the exam? Some say no, it can increase heart rate, make you nervous and cause you to have to use the bathroom in the middle of the test! However, if you are in the habit of drinking coffee, have your morning fix — the last thing you want is a caffeine headache in the middle of the exam.

Best Snacks for Test Taking

Arrangement of nuts set aside for test day snacks

Photo by Marta Branco from Pexels

On the day of the test, you will be allowed to have snacks in your locker or backpack for breaks or for after the exam. A good idea is to have dark chocolate or nuts on hand. Try making your own trail mix of chocolate chips, your favorite nuts, cereals and dried fruits. You can also bring along some granola bars for a quick snack on the way to the test.

Be sure to bring plenty of water! You may be allowed to have a water bottle on your desk, but you might not be able to refill it in the middle of the test.

Sample Exam Diet Plan

Make things easy on yourself with our simple meal plan for the night before a test and day of a test:

1. Dinner:

Oven baked salmon with roasted broccoli, zucchini and brown rice. For dessert, make a fruit salad with whipped cream or cream cheese dip.

2. Breakfast:

Quick scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast with peanut butter and berries. Get some veggies in the morning with carrot sticks, or add spinach and red peppers to your egg scramble. Have your coffee now, or on the go. If you don’t drink coffee, try some green tea.

3. Test Snacks:

Homemade trail mix with cereal, dark chocolate chips, dried cherries or raisins, other dried fruits, and nuts. Bring along a granola bar, banana and a water bottle as well.

Foods to Avoid

  • Alcohol
  • New foods
  • Greasy, fried foods
  • Overload of carbohydrates
  • Foods with not enough calories (today is not the day to start a diet!)
  • Sugary juices and sodas

Other Tips for the Day of the Test

Shoes, clothes, and other necessities set out to prepare for test day

Photo by Mnz from Pexels
  • If you are testing at a new place such as a test center, make sure you check out where it is beforehand.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to arrive. Rushing = Stress.
  • Get enough sleep the night before so you are at your well-rested best.
  • Let yourself have a normal morning routine; anything unusual might increase anxiety levels.
  • Pack your bag the night before and make sure you go over your checklist of what to bring before you leave.

One last tip — don’t bother trying to get any last-minute review in. If it makes you calm, go for it, but don’t expect to increase your score from studying the morning of, or on your way to the exam. Still feeling stressed? We have a whole guide on how to cope with exam stress.

With the right foods, you can increase the likelihood of doing well on your upcoming exams. Following our tips to eat right, avoid unfamiliar or unhealthy foods, and get enough stress-free rest are guaranteed ways to have you on your way to a great score!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.