Listen to Your Mom: A Guide to Overcoming Testing Anxiety
Are you an anxious test taker?
Maybe you have a stellar GPA, but can't figure out why your test scores don't represent that.
The reason students tend to panic about taking the SAT, ACT, or any other standardized test is because they feel completely out of control. After all, anxiety is a response to something we can't change.
I'm here to tell you: you don't have to let it take over your academic life! Tests are an inevitable, and frequent, part of high school and college. Performing well on any test, but especially a standardized test, is not a matter of finding the magic pill that's going to get you to your dream score. It's simply a matter of controlling as many variables as you can.
The variables you'll encounter on a test are things like:
How much you prepped for the content
The content you actually encounter
The strategies you choose to apply
How hungry/cold/tired you are
Whether your calculator has fresh batteries
Other testing conditions (the proctor, type of room, location of clock, etc.)
While there are a few things you can't control, many of them are things that you can! When you list out the factors like this, you can see how the actual content presented to you - the types of passages and math questions, for example - become just one item, rather than THE item to focus on. You won't be able to predict exactly what is thrown at you on exam day, but that's really not important in the grand scheme.
Let's consider which of the variables you CAN manipulate in your favor.
How much you have prepped is, of course, a big one. You could go in blind, but I don't recommend it. At the very least, you should have an understanding of the type of material you'll find in each section, how many passages per section, and how much time you have. It's not necessary to take a full-length practice test for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT in order to do well. Zooming in on the sections and really analyzing things like passage genre, question type, and answer choice combinations is more effective than just aimlessly completing tons of sections. Hours dedicated to test prep are helpful, but it's how you spend those hours that matters.
Although they tend to take second place, strategies are, in fact, more important than the quantity of prep you've done. The HOW of testing takes precedence over the WHAT. There are as many test prep strategies as there are tutors out there, so I'm not here to tell you there is a one-size-fits-all way. But it's certainly true that having a strategy is better than not having one. My test prep strategies are about being honest with yourself. That includes admitting when you need to move on and guess on a tough question, and managing your
Your physical state is entirely in your control, and makes a bigger difference than you might think. Your mom is right on when she says you should get enough rest the night before a big test, eat a solid breakfast, and take a sweater in case the room is cold. It doesn't matter how well prepared you are if you're feeling miserable!
Prep for testing conditions, not just with content practice. I suggest using the same pencils, erasers, calculator, and watch you'll be using on test day during all of your prep sessions. This helps you establish a routine, and minimizes the chances that something like an uncomfortably fat writing device could throw you off your game. Sounds ridiculous, I know. But these are the things that will stand out about your testing experience. You can't do anything about the person sitting next to you who sneezes through the entire test, but you can make sure that's the only distraction you encounter. So get those fresh batteries installed in both your watch and calculator, and use that lucky pencil!
Anxiety can be a symptom that bleeds over from your everyday academic pursuits into test-taking. If you begin by considering what you are in control of, and let go of the rest, the test becomes less of a monster.
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