Written by Kate McGunagle, Master Tutor & Word Wit for Enhanced Prep
Tests are an inevitable component of high school curricula and college admissions.
Millions of students take the SAT and/or ACT every year, hoping to attain those scores that will ensure a competitive college application. Beyond mere acceptance, SAT and ACT scores can influence scholarship eligibility and athletic recruiting.
Given the significant role standardized tests play in college admissions, it’s no wonder that some students struggle with test anxiety. For some students, this anxiety can be so severe that it impacts performance.
It can even cause some test-takers to avoid testing situations altogether, regardless of their necessity!
Luckily, test anxiety is manageable, and you can start tackling it today. Here are some of our best tips for staying calm on Test Day.
Demystify the test itself
Test anxiety can stem from a fear of general failure or of negative test results, especially when such results hinge on something larger (college acceptance, for example, or a class grade).
With standardized tests, students may also feel a certain helplessness, especially if they believe they have little control over performance.
One of the best ways to mitigate anxiety from the outset is to demystify the test itself! With respect to standardized tests, it is possible to know what is on these tests and it is possible to prepare for them.
Knowing what you’re walking into is the first step to visualizing a test as a manageable, achievable thing.
Understand what the test is evaluating.
Students are more likely to suffer from test anxiety if the test itself is evaluative. In other words, it’s easy to get nervous about an exam that evaluates specific abilities, knowledge, and performance.
However, it’s even easier to assume that a test is evaluative of something larger, such as general intelligence or even college readiness! This is one of the most common misconceptions we see in our students here at Enhanced Prep with respect to the SAT and ACT.
These tests are not designed to measure general intelligence, and “smarter” students don’t necessarily perform better on them. The only thing the SAT tests is a student’s ability to take the SAT.
Yes, the SAT itself may require knowledge of triangles, complete sentences, or data analysis. But it does not evaluate general intellect!
Figure out what your big test is actually testing to alleviate anxiety ahead of time.
Take care of yourself
Test anxiety is a physiological as much as it is a psychological challenge. It can induce nausea, sleeplessness, a racing heart, an upset stomach, and/or headaches.
Understand how your test anxiety affects you physically, and then take appropriate steps for managing these symptoms.
Begin by observing how test anxiety manifests in your body. How do you feel the night before a big test? What happens in your body when you walk into that testing center? What’s it like to feel anxiety surface while you are taking the test itself?
Answering these questions can help you build a toolkit for tackling anxiety before, during, and after a test.
Meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet can create the foundations for managing test anxiety effectively. In the moment, deep breathing, hydration, and positive visualization can give students the tools they need to navigate any testing environment.
Give yourself the gift of preparation and practice
Test anxiety is more likely to lose its power if you’ve prepared adequately for the test in question. Give yourself the benefit of time and effective study so that you can walk into that testing room with confidence.
Consistent practice is especially important when preparing for standardized tests, as practice can build stamina, reinforce content and strategies, and train your brain to perform well under pressure (including timed conditions).
If you find that test anxiety still surfaces despite those hours of preparation, it’s time for some new self-talk! Remind yourself as you’re testing that you have prepared exceedingly well, and now it’s simply time to apply what you’ve learned.
Here at Enhanced Prep, we are here to help ease your anxiety and work towards the score you deserve on the SAT, ACT, PSAT, GRE, and beyond. Call us today to get started!