There are a number of ways that human beings self-sabotage. There are the obvious things that we do, such as making ourselves late or not trying to do things for fear that we will fail, and then there are the more insidious ways that we self-sabotage, such as telling ourselves that we “can’t” do or aren’t “good” at various things. It is certainly true that most human beings are not born with the ability to be rock stars on standardized tests, but that does not mean that the skills necessary to succeed on an SAT can’t be learned.
The truth is that saying, “I’m not a good test taker,” gives that statement truth, but no one is good at anything until they become good at it. So instead, change that statement to, “I’m going to be a great test taker!” and use the following strategies to take the fear of being bad at taking exams and transform it into the motivation to be great.
1) Acknowledge Your Feelings
Fear of failure is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it something that should be discounted. If a student feels anxiety, it is best to acknowledge that feeling so that it can be addressed properly. See if you can identify what specifically is causing the fear. Is it a specific section of the SAT? Is it the thought of time running out? Is it a worry that you will make arithmetic errors on the math section? All of these are valid concerns that can be approached with practical steps.
Remember, fear is essentially a projection of a negative outcome into an unknown (and unknowable) future! Think of something that you can work on right NOW that can help to address the particular source of your anxiety – for example, if you are worried about arithmetic, plan on doing some math problems that require a lot of arithmetic and be super specific about how you line up your equations and draw every single step. This will show you that you are capable of doing the task. Don’t live in the future, focus on what can be done right now!
2) Change Your Mindset
Changing one’s mindset is an active process that involves acknowledging thoughts that are not helpful and attempting to focus on other thoughts that are more helpful. Instead of being disappointed at your wrong answers, look at all the answers you got right. What are you already good at? Acknowledging that you have a number of skills that have already been developed not only gives you confidence, but also helps to focus your studying on the things that need the most work. These are not things you are bad at, these are things you are soon to be good at!
3) Allow Time For Sleep
Your body needs sleep. For most people 6-9 hours is an appropriate amount of sleep, but listen to your body. If you feel that you are not giving yourself enough time to sleep, your body can suffer from sleep deficiency which can reduce mental and physical acuity. It is worth mentioning that substances like caffeine have similar effects on the body to adrenaline, so it may be that avoiding coffee when you feel anxious will help to reduce the physical manifestations of anxiety like an increased heart rate and feeling of jitters.
4) Organize Your Time
This involves doing tasks in the moment rather than worrying about the future. Create organized study schedules that address whatever SAT concerns you have and help to build the skills that you feel you need the most help with. Create a list of the things you would like to work on in order of importance and then set aside time to practice each in turn. Over preparing is a great way to reduce anxiety – if you are truly prepared for an exam, you have very little to feel anxious about. Especially work on that vocabulary: knowledge of vocabulary will not only help with the completing the sentences questions, but will also help you feel confident in deciphering complicated reading sections.
5) Visualize The Outcome You Want
In general, approaching tests with a positive attitude has a tremendous effect on real outcomes. Numerous studies have demonstrated that positive visualization is associated with success in various pursuits. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to visualize yourself receiving the score that you desire on the test. This can go a long way to convincing yourself that you are capable of success.
The moral of this story is that telling yourself you are bad at things does nothing to actually accomplish anything practical, it simply affirms a destructive opinion and gives you permission to believe bad things about yourself. So acknowledge your feelings, then start working on practical things that will help you become the test taker you are capable of being. You can do it!
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.