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Dealing with Test Anxiety
If you suffer from test anxiety, you are not alone. Many other students of all ages experience the same thing. As a high school student, you will find yourself faced with numerous tests, including midterm and final exams for your classes, AP or IB exams, and the SAT or ACT, especially when you are a junior or senior. So how do you cope with test anxiety when you are faced with having to deal with taking so many tests at once?
Test anxiety is a very real thing; it is no small issue, especially when you sit down to take your test and your mind goes blank, no matter how thoroughly you’ve prepared for it. If test anxiety is something that affects you to the detriment of your scores and grades, you will need to address it sooner rather than later. If you try to ignore it in hopes that it will go away, it may impact you to the point at which your health suffers and your stress becomes unmanageable. In this guide, we will look at some ways to address and reduce test anxiety. However, it is also important to remember that your test scores do not define you—and in fact, there is a growing test-optional trend for admissions, because colleges understand how detrimental test anxiety can be for students. (However, the popularity of this trend may be a bit misleading and comes with a few caveats. For more information, read The Reality of the Testing-Optional Trend.)
Sources for Help at School
There are many resources to help you cope with your test anxiety available to you at school; you just have to know where to look.
If the anxiety is about a specific subject area on a test, try asking your teacher or another teacher in the subject for help. Teachers usually appreciate when students take the initiative to approach them for extra help; it shows that you understand your areas of weakness and want to improve. Your teachers want to see you succeed just as much as you do, so they will probably be more than willing to give you advice or direct you to someone else who can. If he or she agrees to meet, ask for study tips related to the specific problems you’re facing and strategies for approaching each type of problem. That way, when you get stuck on a test, you can think back to your teacher’s advice and work through it.
If your anxiety concerns multiple subjects or tests in general, it may help to talk to your guidance counselor. He or she can act as liaison between you and your teachers and help them understand your problem as well. Additionally, your guidance counselor might be able to direct you to outside resources, such as tutors or books, to help you deal with your test anxiety. It may also be helpful to talk to your guidance counselor about what kinds of scores you will need to achieve for your target colleges, so you can work towards specific numbers and goals and measure and track your progress, as opposed to have an undefined and seemingly unattainable figure in mind. Having a concrete goal will help make it less overwhelming. For more tips on how to work with your guidance counselor, check out How Often Should I Meet With My Guidance Counselor and How to Build a Relationship With Your Guidance Counselor.
Sources for Help Outside of School
It is a good idea to at least start with the resources you have at your disposal at school, but if your guidance counselor directs you to external resources, or you feel like you problem goes beyond the help your school can offer, it may be time to look outside.
One possibility is to enlist the help of a tutor. As mentioned previously, your guidance counselor may be able to help you find one, either in or out of school. A tutor may be able to help you come up with test strategies specific to your needs. Be sure to address the problem directly, and ask for specific tips on how to cope with tests, so you don’t spend needless time on material you already know.
Another strategy is to download a test-prep app or subscribe to an email newsletter that sends you a new test question every day. This guide to the new SAT describes a free SAT-specific app that can help you practice regularly. This kind of practicing will make answering these questions less nerve-wracking, since it will become a normal occurrence in your life, as well as better familiarize you with the kinds of test questions you will be asked to answer on a real exam.
If your anxiety is truly crippling, to the point at which your grades are suffering and it is affecting other aspects of your life, you may want to see a mental health professional who can assist you with other academic and college-related stress in addition to general anxiety. Additionally, if you have a diagnosed disability, you may be able to receive special testing accommodations, as outlined in this guide. There are a number of therapists who specialize in seeing children and young adults, and your school may be able to help you find someone. Your pediatrician may also be able to refer you to an appropriate therapist as well.
Other Strategies to Help With Test Anxiety
There are a number of small steps you can incorporate into your regular routine to ease your overall stress. For instance, exercising regularly can help relieve nerves and improve your overall mood. Doing so before a test day can be especially helpful, but make sure your body is used to it so you don’t throw it out of whack. It is also best to avoid exercising a couple hours before bed, because this can interfere with your ability to sleep. Instead, leave at least three hours between exercise and bedtime.
Sleeping regularly is also very important to your overall well-being. Be sure to develop a good sleep schedule so you are well-rested for at least a week before a test. Sleeping well is important for optimizing brain function, as well as your mood.
Take plenty of practice tests outside of school and keep a log of which types of questions cause your anxiety to flare up. Then concentrate your studying on those specific questions until you no long notice your anxiety. You should also keep a steady and consistent test prep schedule so that testing seems more natural.
Listening to music, practicing a specific catchphrase or mantra, or performing some other confidence-inspiring activity may also help. This is about whatever helps you boost your confidence individually. It could be a yoga pose, meditation, or something else entirely.
Remember that you’re not the only one experiencing test anxiety, and it is natural to be nervous for these kinds of tests. Our suggestions may help you, but if you feel like test anxiety is taking over your life, it is important that you talk to a mental health professional for help concerning your specific issues.
If you do suffer from test anxiety, but feel like it is something you can work on yourself or with the help of some of the resources we’ve described, get started now, so you have time to figure out what is most helpful for you.
Finally, remember that test scores are important, but they not all-important: they do not define you, and you have a lot of other ways to demonstrate your knowledge and skills on your college application.
Looking for individualized assistance in preparing for standardized tests? Our personalized tutors can help you develop studying strategies to ace the SAT, ACT, or AP and SAT Subject Tests. These tutors have received top scores in the tests they teach, and will help you do the same. Click the links to find out more about our programs.