Testing anxiety is a complicated phenomenon felt by many students. Its reach is vast, and its grip is chilling. It can cause even the brightest test takers to freeze up on exam day.
This is especially true when it comes to students taking the ACT or SAT exam. The higher the stakes, the greater the pressure — and the stakes don’t get much higher for a high school student than the ACT or SAT.
Factors such as parental expectations, college entrance implications, and academic validation can cause serious anxiety on test day. And, for many, when anxiety rises, confidence drops — an environment in which the frosty breeze of anxiety begins to blow.
If you’ve felt anxious while taking a test, you’re not alone. The American Test Anxieties Association (Yes, there is such a thing.) reports that 16–20% of students have “high test anxiety,” and an additional 18% suffer with “moderately-high test anxiety.”
But just because testing anxiety is common doesn’t mean it can’t be cured. A windbreak can be built to block the strongest of winds, and you can learn to block every gust of testing anxiety too.
Here are three-and-a-half ways to overcome test-day anxiety:
ONE: TRUST YOUR PREP
Hall of Fame tennis player Arthur Ashe once said: “An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” This is true not only in tennis but in every area of life — including education.
Confidence comes with practice and preparation. If you’ve done the necessary test prep ahead of time, you will feel bold and secure on the day of your high-stakes exam.
The best test prep for the ACT or SAT will contain these three things: challenging questions (that mirror your exam), detailed explanations (clear rationales to help you master the content) and real-time performance tracking (to identify and target areas of weakness).
The battle with test-day anxiety begins well before test day. If you’re willing to study, practice, and prepare in advance, you’re more likely to be immune to the insecurities less-prepared students may face.
[If you’re a parent of a student preparing for a test, there are ways you can help.]
TWO: PREPARE YOUR BODY
You’ve prepared your mind with the necessary practice and preparation, but it’s important to prepare your body too. Testing anxiety is a psychological condition that can come with physical implications, including sweating, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, and nausea.
When you approach your ACT or SAT exam day, do so with a more complete, holistic point of view. Though the test is a mental exercise, it taxes your emotions and body as well. For this reason, the ADAA recommends you stay healthy on test day:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before your exam
- Eat a nutritious breakfast that morning
- Try to get some light exercise before you test
If you prepare yourself, mentally and physically, you will be better equipped to stave off testing jitters and hit your target score.
THREE: IF NEEDED, TALK TO A COUNSELOR
It is extremely common for students to feel nervous on test day, and it is relatively common for those nerves to transcend to a feeling of anxiousness, but if you deal with debilitating anxiety on test days (or any day), don’t hesitate to speak with a professional counselor.
You are not the only person who is dealing with this trauma. Mental health professionals have walked through this issue with other students, and they can do the same for you. Whether it’s through coping techniques, behavioral intervention, or medication, a qualified mental health professional can help you when anxiety feels overwhelming.
I think Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist and a New York Times bestselling author said it best: “The only mistake you can make is not asking for help.”
THREE-AND-A-HALF: KEEP IT POSITIVE
Hope for the best. Have an optimistic attitude. Remember how far you’ve already come. You’re going to get through this. It’s just a test. There are great things out ahead of you.
At UWorld, we do more than just prepare you for the test, we prepare you for success. High-stakes exam takers are raving about our product because it increases retention, raises scores, and builds confidence. Let us help you hit your target test score with a new attitude — a bold, energetic, reassured peace of mind.