SAT Tip of the Week: 5 Ways to Conquer Test Anxiety

SAT Tip of the Week - FullThe SAT is often the first major standardized exam that many students take. It is their first footstep into the world of higher education. Because of the horror stories of the infamous SAT that circle around high school lunchrooms across the nation, fledgling juniors and seniors who haven’t taken the exam can feel a lot of pressure on test day. Here are 5 ways to get rid of that unnecessary stress:

(1) Don’t Think About the Second Hand

One of the biggest contributors to test day anxiety is the fear of running out of time. Because many students have trouble finishing sections of the SAT on time during practice exams, they will try to speed through problems on test day in order to make sure they do finish on time for the real test. Unfortunately, most students sacrifice accuracy by employing this strategy. Instead of taking the time to work out difficult problems, students will make their best guess and move on. Although students may finish all of the problems on the SAT, they certainly did not put enough thought into their answers, which results in a lower score. To avoid stressing about time on test day, focus on accuracy more than speed. Tell yourself that it’s okay not to finish the last two problems of any section as long as you’ve put in a sincere effort on the rest of the questions. By giving yourself this reassurance, you are more likely to not only get to the last two questions of every section, but also answer them correctly.

(2) Avoid Stimulants

Although you may think that taking stimulants on test day will help you improve your mental alertness, chances are they will have the opposite effect. Stimulants may cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase, which will cause you to become even more jittery during the test. Adding stimulants to your already high stress levels on test day is a recipe for disaster. I am speaking from experience when I tell students to avoid stimulants on test day. I personally am not a caffeine drinker, but for some odd reason I thought it was a good idea to take two energy drinks the first time I took the official SAT. I got so wired and my heart was pounding so fast during the exam that I was unable to focus. Needless to say, I did not score a 2400 on that administration.

(3) Treat Test Week Like Every Other Week

Students often change their entire schedule the week leading up to the SAT. They get less sleep, study for the SAT 8 hours a day, try to memorize hundreds of vocabulary words, eat unhealthy, and do other stressful activities. This shift in a student’s normal day-to-day activities will make the SAT seem like a much bigger deal than it is. One of the keys to avoiding test anxiety is to downplay the importance of the exam. If you normally get 8 hours of sleep, then get 8 hours of sleep during the week leading up to the SAT. If you normally do only one practice SAT section a day, then continue to do just one practice SAT section a day. By keeping your schedule the same, you are not giving the SAT any special attention. After all, the SAT is really nothing more than a bunch of questions that are similar to what you’ve already seen before (if you’ve been preparing).

(4) Don’t Advertise That You’re Taking The SAT

Tweeting or posting a Facebook status that says “I’m taking the SAT Saturday!” is not a good idea. By telling the world that you are taking a major exam, you are actually creating expectations that were not there before. And these expectations will cause you unnecessary stress. If things are not going well during the exam, your subconscious mind will be thinking about all of the people who you told that you were going to ace the SAT and how you’re now letting them down. Remember, the SAT is a one-person exam, so why let other people in? Sure, you can tell your close family and friends. But don’t worry about how outsiders will view your SAT score.  By not giving others the opportunity to belittle your SAT experience before it even starts, you will be even more proud to share your high SAT score after you receive it.

(5) Make a Calm Mantra

No matter how much you try not to stress out on test day, sometimes it’s just inevitable. You may come across a question that you know how to solve, but you just can’t think of the solution during the exam. Or you may see other students busily working away at the test while you are staring blankly at your test booklet. Situations like these can cause your stress level to increase. When this happens, have a “calm mantra” prepared that you can recite. Take 20 – 30 seconds to look away from the test booklet, and repeat the mantra in your head. Your phrase could be something like “be calm,” “it’s just a test,” or “it’s not the end of the world.” No matter what you’re calm mantra is, make sure that it brings you peace of mind. And whenever you find yourself getting anxious on test day, just repeat the mantra.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Shaan Patel, who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT, is the author of McGraw-Hill’s bestselling SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps and co-creator of Veritas Prep SAT 2400.