How to cope with test anxiety
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It’s natural to feel stressed around test day. In fact, a little bit of stress can be good for you! (It keeps your brain sharp and can help keep you from making careless mistakes).
What is NOT good for you is test anxiety, where you have an overwhelming feeling of stress or anxiousness on or around test day. Test anxiety can make it difficult to focus and make you feel like you just totally ‘blanked.’
So what can you do about it? Here are a couple of ideas…
Reframe your focus.
For some students, test anxiety is all about fear of the unknown.
“I’m not good at conditional probability. What if it comes up? What if I don’t understand a reading passage?”
This sort of fear is all about control. You’re afraid of things you can’t control, so you forget about all the things that are in your control.
One thing that can help with this sort of test anxiety is reframing the test.
Instead of focusing on all of the things that could come up that you don’t know, think about all of the things that you have learned and have gotten better at.
A great way to do this is by making a test-day checklist the night (or morning) before your exam.
On it, write down all of the strategies you’ve learned (like “look both ways” 👀 on the SAT Writing & Language section) and all the things you want to remember to do on test day (like showing your work).
You don’t know exactly what questions and passages the SAT is going to put on the test. You can’t control that, just like you can’t control whether they’re going to suddenly start asking questions about medieval Russian history (they won’t, don’t worry!).
But so much more is in your control: you control whether or not you’re wearing your lucky socks, whether you eat well and exercise the week of your test, whether you show your work, and whether you use the strategies that you worked so hard to learn using Everydae.
Remembering that you have power can help to disarm that kind of anxiety. So if you find yourself getting worked up about things that are out of your control, try and stop those negative thoughts and refocus your attention on what you know and can control.
You got this!
Take a deep breath.
For other students, one of the biggest problems is panicking during the test.
Maybe it’s because all you can think about is running out of time. Or maybe because you realize that halfway through a reading section you have no idea what you just read.
A lot of panic and anxiety manifests physically. In moments like these, your brain might feel fuzzy, your heart might be pounding, or you might feel like things are swimming on the page in front of you. The solution here is physical too.
Stop. Close your eyes, and do a quick breathing exercise.
There’s a great app called Headspace that has several different kinds of exercises you can use to practice in the days leading up to your exam. Check it out and see which one works for you.
One option is an abbreviated noting exercise. With your eyes closed, count your breaths, one as you inhale, two as you exhale, all the way up to ten. Note any thoughts that arise as “thinking” and any feelings as “feeling,” but try to really focus only the breath in that time. Then go ahead and open your eyes and get back to your test.
You might feel stretched for time, but taking ten seconds to do a quick breathing exercise now means that you will be more efficient (and therefore save time) overall.
Have a plan.
No matter what the source of your anxiety on test day is, the best way to deal with anxiety is to have a plan, even if you think you aren’t going to use it.
Know what you’ll do if you’re zoning out or what to do if you’re playing the “what if” game a few minutes before the test starts. Create a plan and you’ll have won half the battle already.