Managing test anxiety

examination stress

The spring semester is testing season! Whether students are preparing for the last administration of the current SAT, the February ACT, or the new SAT in March, test prep and performing well come test day is on the minds of many students this January. Outside of the changes coming to the SAT this spring, there’s another factor that may impact students this testing season: test anxiety. From simple nervousness to crippling dread, test anxiety can seriously hurt students’ performance on in-class tests and college entrance exams. Since grades and test scores are two of the most important factors in the college admissions process, test anxiety can have a huge impact on students’ futures.

According to the American Test Anxiety Association, about 18% of students have at least moderate test anxiety and around 20% suffer from more severe test anxiety. Test anxiety can come in many forms and can manifest before, during, or after the exam. For many students, test anxiety causes them to “freeze up” during their test, either forgetting the information they know, confusing information, or questioning their reasoning and knowledge. This can cause students to perform about half a letter grade below their non-or low-anxiety peers – even if they know the information being tested equally as well.

These exams tend to already be high-pressure for college bound students, without the added stress of test-day anxiety. Luckily, there are concrete steps students can take to help ease the stress of exams and prepare to perform their best on test day. Our expert tutors have provided tips below to help students can combat and manage their test anxiety.

Prepare!
A lot of test anxiety can stem from students simply feeling unprepared. Students should keep track of test dates, both for regular courses and college entrance exams, develop a test-prep strategy and stick to it! Give yourself ample time to learn the material and quiz yourself with mock exams, flash cards, or other methods. Ample preparation can help students feel more comfortable going into a test – whether it’s a simple classroom quiz or the ACT or SAT.

Practice test-taking techniques.
On multiple-choice tests, knowing how to approach questions and problems strategically is key to earning an elite score. This is especially important for those preparing for the SAT or ACT – you need to take practice tests under timed conditions to get used to pacing, utilizing testing strategies, and to get a realistic idea of what to expect on test day. Make sure to practice techniques like process of elimination, answering the easiest questions first, knowing when to answer or skip a question, skimming passages for key information, and more.

Our team of expert tutors helps students master test content and utilize test-taking strategies to maximize their performance on test day. When completing the writing section of the SAT or ACT, or taking an essay-based exam, read the prompts carefully, consider all information provided, and plan out your essay before writing. These strategies will not only save time and energy, but will also help you go into a test feeling confident and prepared, helping to alleviate some test-day anxiety.

Create a test-day routine.
The anticipation of a test can create a lot of stress and nervousness the day of. By creating a routine for the night before and day of the exam, you can start to conquer your exam fears. First, make sure to eat a good dinner the night before and get plenty of rest. Filling yourself up with junk food for dinner can leave you feeling sluggish when you get up the next day. Rest will help you feel alert and refreshed the next morning. Get up early so you’re not rushed, and eat a healthy breakfast to wake up your brain and keep you nourished throughout the exam. Take a minute or two to review a couple of practice questions or information to get your brain going. Also, don’t forget to pack an energizing snack to eat during an exam break.

Learn to tune out distractions.
Staying focused during your exam is key to managing test anxiety. Distractions like looking around the room at other students, honing in on strange noises, or just paying attention to anything other than the test can not only eat up valuable time but also exacerbate test anxiety. Learn to tune out distractions and focus on the task at hand. Practice this when taking practice tests under timed conditions so you know what to expect and how to redirect your focus to the test when your attention is taken away. Taking full practice tests can also help build “test stamina,” which aids students in learning to focus on the actual test day and push back exhaustion and prevent lack of focus.

Practice relaxation and calming techniques.
Test anxiety can cause students a lot of mental, emotional, and physical distress. If you find yourself fidgeting, panicking, or moving anxiously in your seat, practice some calming techniques like taking deep, slow breaths, relaxing your muscles, and thinking of something calming and positive. Learn to counter your physical and emotional responses to test anxiety with calming practices that will bring your heart rate down and allow you to focus on the exam.

Maintain Perspective
It’s hard to stay positive in the face of anxiety, but a positive attitude can make all the difference. Remember, your self-worth doesn’t hinge on a single exam. While the pressure to make good grades and get into a good college is prevalent, focusing on the “what if I fail” scenario will only make your anxiety worse. Instead, focus on the positive. Imagine yourself succeeding. Reinforce your confidence by reminding yourself how you prepared, studied, and are going into this test ready to tackle it head-on.

Know your options.
For many students who perform poorly on the ACT or SAT due to test anxiety, it’s important to know that this doesn’t spell the end of their college dreams. Students should look into test-optional colleges, which are schools that either do not require standardized test scores, or deemphasize them in the admissions process. For those whose anxiety might stem from a learning difference, make sure to explore options for the SAT and ACT accommodations like more time to take the test, alternative testing locations, and more. Seek help for severe anxiety by talking with a counselor.

Test anxiety, while a real and prevalent problem for many students, shouldn’t impact their confidence or chances of getting into their best-fit college. By utilizing some of these techniques, students should be able to effectively manage their test anxiety and perform to the best of their ability come test day. Our tutors aren’t just subject experts, they’re also guides who help students not only learn the material, but develop effective test-taking strategies and stress-relieving exercises to minimize test anxiety come time for the big exams.

If you need help preparing for an upcoming exam or the ACT or SAT, our expert tutors can help you master the material, implement test taking strategies, and help manage any test anxiety you may be experiencing. For more information on our tutoring and test prep services contact us today!

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