Beating SAT Anxiety: 7 Ways to Ace Test Day
There’s no way around it: standardized tests can bring with them more than their fair share of anxiety. While the tests themselves are designed to lend insight into your aptitude, their ramifications are commonly far reaching. Strong test scores can qualify you for scholarships, prove your abilities on college applications, and even earn you a place in top summer programs across the country. There’s no doubt about it; standardized tests are important.
For students who struggle with test anxiety, this fact is all too clear. If you’re one of them, you can rest assured that you’re far from alone. In fact, recent studies suggest that as many as 20% of school-goers will experience severe test anxiety at some point. More importantly, though, test anxiety is not impossible to beat. With the right knowledge and skills, you can tackle test anxiety with grace. In this post, we outline seven ways to beat test anxiety and maximize your performance on the SAT.
1. Set a Realistic Goal
The first step towards standardized test success is defining what success looks like for you. Many students set goals based on how their peers or siblings perform. Many others set goals based on target scores for specific colleges. Putting this kind of pressure on yourself is completely unproductive and unreasonable.
Instead, you need to define what success looks like for you according to your own abilities and goals. To get started, you’ll need to take a formative assessment. This gives you a realistic starting point. Then, considering what you know about your own skills, commitment, and long terms goals, set a target score that is realistic for you. The best way to avoid disappointment and undue stress is to be realistic.
Read more about setting a realistic target score in our post 10 Tips to Improve Your SAT Score.
2. Make a Plan and Stick To It
Once you’ve set a target score, you can make a study plan that’s also realistic for you. Take into account your existing commitments and work out a schedule well ahead of time that allows plenty of leeway.
Your study plan should set aside a certain number of hours per week dedicated to SAT prep. As each week nears, make a daily schedule to accommodate these hours. You can also find ways to fit studying into your fringe time. By downloading study apps and vocabulary builders, you’ll also be able to capitalize on unexpected free time, like when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or for a ride after school.
For more information about making a realistic study schedule, see these CollegeVine posts:
3. Create a Personalized Cheat Sheet
As you begin to study in earnest, you’ll notice that some strategies and tips seem to stick with you better than others. While there are many SAT strategies, few work for every single student. You’ll need to find the ones that are most effective for you.
Try out different strategies using practice questions. Then, decide which are most effective for you under specific conditions. Using what you know about which strategies work best for you, create a personalized cheat sheet. This should provide a visual reminder of which strategies to use when, how to apply them, and what to do if they don’t work.
Having a visual flowchart to refer to can be a big help during the earlier stages of studying and will help these strategies to eventually become second nature. For tips on what your cheat sheet might include, see our collection of SAT Info and Tips.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Knowing how to prepare for the SAT is only half the battle. You’ll also need to keep yourself focused and calm during the test itself. One way to accomplish this is by practicing mindfulness.
Recognizing the physical symptoms of your anxiety can help you to address them before they impact your performance. You can start a mindfulness program at home with just a few free minutes every day. To get started, consider The Mindfulness App or read up about mindfulness in the book Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.
Practicing mindfulness for as little as ten minutes a day can have a positive impact on your mental health. When test day rolls around, you’ll know how to calm yourself when stress levels rise.
5. Take Care of Yourself Physically
Taking care of yourself physically is another way to ensure that you’re in top shape mentally. You can’t expect to be focused and calm if you aren’t well-rested and properly nourished.
To make sure that you don’t experience any of the negative effects of sleep deprivation on test day, you’ll need to start going to sleep earlier a few weeks before test day. Many students believe that if they sleep well the night before the test, they will have nothing to worry about. In reality, though, sleep deprivation builds over extended periods of time and takes a long time to resolve if you don’t stay on top of it.
In addition, make sure that you’re eating healthy for optimal performance. Carb loading before the test can provide you with a quick burst of energy, but ensuring that you’ve had good protein and plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables will mean that you’re body is primed for top performance on test day.
6. Ignore Your Score
Alright, we don’t mean that you shouldn’t care about your score entirely, but we do mean that you should consider your score within a bigger context. Instead of obsessing over the numbers on practice tests, focus on what kinds of mistakes you’re making and how you can avoid them in the future.
Instead of focusing on how much you can improve your score, focus on avoiding the mistakes that were formerly your pitfalls. When you shift your energy away from the score and direct it towards productive problem solving, you’ll better manage the challenges in front of you.
7. Bribe Yourself
We make no bones about it—studying for standardized tests can be a long, exhausting process. At the beginning, you may feel as though the task before you is overwhelming. One way to manage its magnitude is to set shorter term goals and pair them with tangible rewards.
For example, if you’ve been looking forward to seeing a new movie that’s coming out soon, set a goal to study a certain number of hours per week in the weeks leading up to its release. When you meet your goal, reward yourself with a night at the movies, away from any test prep.
Studying is hard work both mentally and intellectually. By breaking your task down into smaller goals and bribing yourself for meeting them as you progress, you’ll stay focused on moving through the work in front of you and you’ll feel good about it, too.
Test anxiety is no small issue for thousands of students taking standardized tests each year, but there are some ways to tackle the issue on your own. If you find that you are still feeling overwhelmed or that you’re continuing to struggle despite practicing the tips above, don’t hesitate to talk to a parent, guidance counselor, or mentor about how you’re feeling. There are plenty of resources available for you.
For more about tackling your SATs, consider our consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s full service, customized SAT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors in the industry guide students to an average score increase of 140 points.
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