We’ve all had the experience of being nervous before a test, but sometimes the stress and anxiety can start to interfere with your performance on the test itself. This is called test anxiety (see part one of this post for more information on what test anxiety is and some preliminary ways to overcome it). Luckily, there are plenty of concrete ways to get over test anxiety and help you stay calm during the many important standardized tests you’ll take junior year!
1. Prepare thoroughly, far in advance.
Start studying way in advance. That way, you have time to break the studying down into smaller amounts that feel more manageable and won’t stress you out unnecessarily. Doing all of your studying the day before or day of the test is never a good idea— cramming will just make you more anxious. Even if you do feel that you are more productive right before the test, that means you are teaching yourself to need the stress and anxiety of the impending test as motivation to study. This approach isn’t good for you in the long run, as anxiety stimulates a fight or flight response in your body, sending blood to your hands and feet rather than to your brain. With less blood flowing to your brain, you’ll retain less information and will have more trouble learning.
2. Practice ahead of time.
One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to practice putting yourself through anxiety-inducing situations. For example, if public-speaking makes you nervous, one of the best ways to get over that fear is to talk in public. The same goes for taking tests— if test-taking makes you feel anxious, the best way to get over that anxiety is to practice taking tests. Luckily, there are plenty of practice tests out there for the SATs or other standardized tests. Try to set up your practice test as if it’s the real thing— adhere to time limits and other rules, and take the entire test at once.
3. Arrive to the test early.
Being late to a test leads to more anxiety, so it’s a good idea to plan on being early. This gives you a time buffer in case anything unexpected happens on the way there, and also gives you a chance to scope out the best space for you to take the test (if you’re allowed to choose). Think about where in the room you’ll be most comfortable— for example, do you want to be able to look at the clock or not? Does being too close to the door distract you if people begin do leave?
4. Have a plan for how to approach the test.
Luckily, there are tons of study materials out there that help you know exactly how various standardized tests are formatted even if you don’t know the specific questions. Think ahead of time about how you’ll approach each section of the test and the various types of questions you might see (after you’ve read all of the directions thoroughly, of course). For example, are you going to go through and answer all of the questions you know first and then go back to the ones you’re having more trouble on? Will you outline your essays ahead of time? (Hint: both of these are good ideas!) Having a plan of attack helps you know how to get started on each question right away without needing to stress about potential approaches first.
5. Avoid discussing the tests with friends or classmates, or focusing too much on others around you while taking the test.
Anxiety can be contagious, and sometimes talking to your friends who are stressed and nervous too can make your own anxiety even worse. It can be hard not to talk about upcoming standardized tests with so many people around you also thinking about them, but try to avoid talking to others about tests so you don’t make yourself even more anxious.
6. Take care of your body and stay healthy.
Taking care of your body will also help you learn and retain information better, and can work wonders in reducing your anxiety. Make sure that you’re eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and moving around a little bit each day—even if it’s just for a short walk. It's good to take care of yourself all the time, but trying to stay healthy especially before important tests will help you be less anxious.
For more testing-related guidance, visit Synocate.
For more information, check out these related articles: