Anxiety can often feel like an indestructible creature of mythical strength. If it is not enough that students must learn five hundred vocabulary words, spend hours drilling algebra (everyone’s idea of a fun Friday night), and learn to identify hidden grammatical mistakes, students must also fight the dragon of anxiety which paralyzes with its powerful breath and leaves students feeling defeated before they even begin. Anxiety is a mighty beast, but there are ways to combat this force and slay the dragon of fear so that you can focus on what really matters: answering the questions on the SAT correctly.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR ANXIOUS FEELINGS. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it something that should be discounted. If a student feels anxiety, is best to acknowledge that feeling so that it can be addressed properly. See if you can identify what specifically is causing the feeling of anxiety. 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 of the SAT? 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. 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. TAKE A BREATHE. If you find yourself feeling anxious on the test take 30 seconds to close your eyes and counting internally to eight on each inhale and exhale. Try to focus solely on your breathing and on what your body is feeling. If you feel tension in one area of your body, attempt to breathe out the tension as you exhale, literally think, “Breathe out that tension,” as you breathe. This is useful to do any time you feel overwhelmed by a thought or emotion.
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 the proper amount of sleep, your body can go into sleep deficit 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 STUDY TIME. This involves doing tasks in the moment rather than worrying about the future. Create organized study schedules that address whatever concerns you have and help to build the skills that you feel you need the most. 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 the reading sections.
5. VISUALIZE SUCCESS. 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. Avoid the voice in your head that says, “You are not good at…”. You are good at whatever it is! Constant self-flagellation will create a belief that you are bad at things. This is not the case! You are successful so start believing it!
With these strategies in mind, you can allow yourself to focus completely on the task of conquering the SAT instead of spending all your energy fighting the dragon of anxiety. So fight on test takers!
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.