6 minute read
Many students have experienced test anxiety before, during, or after a major test. To help students create their best possible testing experience, we’ve put together some strategies to make students feel more in control when faced with a period of anxiety related to test-taking.
What is test anxiety?
Test anxiety is when feelings of worry and self-doubt negatively influence students’ test-taking ability by distracting them and influencing their performance. Students may have sweaty palms, an upset stomach, headaches, or other symptoms related to stress.
Can a student get rid of test anxiety?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic word that can completely erase students’ test anxiety. (Also, a little stress before a test can actually be beneficial because it can sharpen our minds and focus our attention.) But students can anticipate its arrival and use self-soothing strategies to prevent it from taking hold.
Studying and test prep are great ways for students to prepare for standardized tests and feel more comfortable when taking them. We’re also going to look at a few other methods to use in the weeks before the test, during the test, and after the test.
A Month Or More Before the SAT/ACT
Minimize external pressure
Many students state that they feel pressure to perform well on standardized tests from their parents, but frequently parents don’t even know that they’re adding extra stress. Open communication between parents and students is key throughout the college application process, and parents can start by communicating expectations around standardized tests. Here are a few conversation starters:
- No matter how the SAT or ACT turns out, parents will still be proud and supportive of their student.
- Colleges look at many other factors besides the SAT and ACT when considering a student for admission.
- Parents can agree to not share their student’s scores with others if that is the student’s preference.
- The student will do their best on the test, and then parents and students will discuss together if the student should take the test again.
In the Weeks Before the SAT/ACT
Scope out the test landscape
Students should take a look at the test as a whole and rank the parts of the test from least to most stressful, including the instruction period at the beginning, the breaks in the middle, and the moment of closing the test at the end. Then, during the test, students can remind themselves that periods of less stress are coming throughout the day.
Choose a mantra or affirmation
Many folks who meditate find that having a mantra (some kind of memorized and repeated phrase) helps them to stay focused. Students can prepare a phrase to remember and repeat in their head while taking the test. Here are some simple (but positive) examples:
- “This is tough, but I am tougher.”
- “This test doesn’t define me.”
- “I am smart and capable.”
Choose an intention, not a score
It’s okay for students to set a goal score, but it’s kinder to themselves to set a general intention. Instead of “I’m going to get a 20 on the ACT,” students can think “I’m going to try my best on the math section and fly through the reading and science sections.” A simpler intention might be, “I’m going to try every question on the test and push hard to do my best.”
During the SAT/ACT
Customize the testing space
Students aren’t allowed to have many personal items on their desks when they take the test, but some students find that neatly organizing their extra pencils, having a cute eraser, or taking off any rings or bracelets helps them relax a bit. (Some students even like to slip off their shoes to let their feet be free.)
Take a few deep breaths
When we are stressed, our blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase, so taking slow and deep breaths can calm everything down and put us more at ease. While students may feel like taking 30 seconds to take a few deep breaths isn’t an effective use of their limited test time, in reality, they’ll be able to think clearer and quicker afterwards.
During the Breaks
Students should take advantage of breaks to really stretch out their bodies. Stretching makes muscles feel less tense, and it also tells our brains to slow down on the stress hormones, so students will be more focused when they begin the test again.
Don’t forget the munchies
Stress hormones make our blood sugar drop, so students may be tempted to bring sugary snacks for testing breaks. But those foods could cause a blood sugar spike, which may mean more stress! Students should bring healthy snacks to give their bodies (and brains) fuel to keep going.
After the SAT/ACT
Release the stress
Stress causes a lot of tension in the body, so it’s important that after a stressful event (like a 3-4 hour test!), we find a release. Students may want to nap right after finishing the test, but they should plan an activity for later that engages their mind and body like creating art, having a solo dance party, or laughing at a comedy special. Any activity that promotes joy and release (even a healthy cry) will work.
A Note About Anxiety
Most students experience some form of occasional anxiety, but if parents notice that anxiety is having a major impact on their students, they should talk to them about it. A good conversation about mental health is non-judgemental, caring, and gives everyone space to speak honestly. The sooner an anxious student starts building coping skills with a mental health professional, the sooner they can feel more balanced in all parts of their lives.
When it comes to standardized testing, prepared students are calm students.