Fact: Taking tests is stressful. Combine this with the college application process, and test-taking anxiety tends to take on a stronger presence than ever before. A certain amount of anxiety leading up to the SAT or ACT is normal. But beyond a certain point, anxiety can hinder your performance. Don’t let your stress get the best of you. There are tons of measures to take to reduce your anxiety.
Using these 7 stress management tips to reduce test anxiety will ensure that you get through your test as anxiety-free as possible.
1. Create a test-taking plan
Before you go out and purchase a big test-prep book, take a step back and make your test-taking plan. Creating a plan and knowing what you're working towards will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. It is a good idea to create this plan with a counselor or parent; someone to help you stay organized and accountable. Your test-taking plan should answer questions such as:
- Which test am I taking? SAT or ACT? - Which test dates am I working towards? - How do I plan to prepare? - When do I need to register for the tests by?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but preparing for the test is the best way to know what to expect and to go in feeling confident. Don’t cram; give yourself a few months’ time to prepare. The SAT and ACT don't consist of curveballs or surprises; if you prepare, you will know what types of questions you will encounter, the topics being tested, and the level of difficulty you should expect. The more you familiarize yourself with the tests, the less anxious you will feel. Remember that preparing doesn't mean exclusively taking full-length practice tests. To effectively prepare, you need to first identify your weaknesses and learn/re-learn the concepts.
3. Stay organized, specially the week of the test.
This will ensure that you’re not scrambling and panicking the night or morning of the test. Follow these tips to ensure you are on top of everything in advance of the morning of the test.
On Friday night, pack everything you’ll need in one place. Make a checklist of what you will need. That way you’re not second-guessing whether or not you remembered to pack something. This list should include:
Your admission ticket
Your photo ID
Two sharpened No. 2 pencils
A good eraser
An approved calculator (with extra batteries)
Snacks (for the break)
Also make sure that you know exactly where the test site is and get there early.
4. Exercise & practice deep breathing
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which reduces feelings of anxiety and leaves you feeling good. Whenever you feel stressed, go for a run, do some yoga, jump on your bike—whatever appeals to you. While you’re taking the test, stretch whenever possible, and during the breaks, get up and move.
Deep breathing is an excellent way to calm your nerves. Breathe in and out through your nose. Feel your diaphragm expand as you inhale and feel it sink as you exhale. Breathing works wonders for your body and your mind. It helps keep yourself centered and gives you the focus needed to rock the test.
5. Be your own best friend
If your best friend were feeling anxious about the upcoming test, what would you tell him or her? You’d probably tell your friend that she’s smart and she can do it! On test day, be your own best friend.
Anytime a negative thought tries to enter your mind, kick it out and replace it with a positive thought. If it helps, repeat a mantra to yourself in your head. This can include “I am calm,” “I am smart,” “I know this material,” or “I’ve got this!”
6. Focus on yourself
There will be other people in the room with you when you’re taking the test, but they don’t matter right now. Only you do. As much as you can, try to block the other people in the room out and focus on the task at hand. Don’t worry if they finish before you do. Just worry that you do finish. You’re not trying to outscore them—you’re just trying to do your best.
7. Keep things in perspective
Yes, the SAT and ACT are certainly important tests and you should take them seriously, but they are not the be all and end all. First of all, if you’re not happy with your scores, you can take the test again. Pain in the neck? Sure. End of the world? Not at all.
Secondly, remember that your college application also comprises your personal statement, your grades, your recommendations, and your resume.
Finally, remember that it’s only a test. Your scores on the SAT and ACT do not determine your self-worth. Keeping it all in perspective helps take much of the pressure off.