Overcoming Test Taking Anxiety

Test Taking Anxiety
The Night Before
The Morning Of
Five Minutes Before the Exam
During the Exam
After the Exam

Anxiety, in most instances, stems from the fear of the unknown. We may be afraid to try a new sport because we don’t know if we’ll be good at it. We are afraid to go away to college because we don’t know what it will be like. We’re afraid to hand in a paper because we don’t know what the teacher will think about our writing. Well in this case, you’re in luck! You know exactly what to expect from the SAT. You know how the test is set up, how the questions run from easy to hard, how long you will have, how the sections are divided, and what knowledge and strategies you can use to better your chances. So right off the bat you have the upper hand. There are still things you can do to prepare the night before and the day of the test to make your experience as easy and stress-free as possible. It just takes a little preparation.

The Night Before

The night before the test is just as important as the day of the test. You want to do everything possible to prepare yourself for the next day. You have already actively done your best to prepare for this test by taking this course, doing the homework, memorizing vocabulary etc. Pat yourself on the back for that already. At this point you shouldn’t feel the pressure to try and cram in everything you’re afraid you won’t remember. Trying to cram the night before a test like this can actually hurt your chances rather than help them. Here is an easy checklist for you to follow the night before you take the SAT:

 A bit of light studying the day before (reviewing vocabulary words) is okay, but other than that, I would advise taking it easy. Don’t overwhelm yourself with last minute studying; it will only confuse you or make you nervous.
 Plan to relax the night before: watch a funny movie or be lazy with friends. Do something that takes your mind off worrying about the next day.
 Get a good night’s sleep. Make sure to get to bed at a decent hour. Do not drink caffeine or eat anything that may upset your stomach or that will keep you up or prevent a good night’s sleep. Lay out all the things you need the night before to bring to the test: sharpened pencils with erasers, a calculator, your registration card. If you are taking the test at a different school, make sure you have a ride or directions to where you are going. If you arrive late, chances are they wont elt you take the test.

The Morning of the Test
Hopefully you have prepared some things the night before in order to prevent rushing around in the morning. There are still some things you can do the morning of to prevent your anxiety from snowballing. Make sure you:

 Give yourself enough time. A huge cause of stress the day of the test is rushing to get there. If you are not a morning person and are afraid you may wake up late, set an alarm and ask that your parent or sibling make sure you are up at a certain hour.
 Even if you don’t tend to eat breakfast, make sure you eat something on test day, even if it is small. Studies have shown that your brain functions best when you have food in your system. Also, bring a snack or a drink to the test. You will be stuck in the test room for over four hours, and a growling stomach will not make concentrating easy for you or anyone else.
 Before you leave the house, double check that you have all the tools you need to take the test. Don’t forget a few sharpened pencils, a calculator, and your registration card.
 Arrive a few minutes early to be sure you are in the right building, the right room, and also so you can find a good seat. If you are easily distracted by what is outside, don’t sit near the window. If you are constantly checking to see who is walking by in the hallway, don’t sit by the door. Also, don’t sabotage yourself by sitting near friends who may distract you.
 Do not talk to your friends or anyone who is trying to ask you last minute information. This could stress you out or confuse you about what you already know. If anyone asks you last-minute questions, just tell them you don’t know or don’t want to worry about it until you are taking the test.

Dealing with Anxiety: Before and During the Exam
You hands start to sweat. Your breathing becomes shallow and you squirm in your seat. Your stomach is full of butterflies. You start thinking that you don’t remember anything, you don’t know anything, and that you wont even fill in your name right. Anxiety is often a downward spiral of negative thoughts that create physical reactions that make it difficult to think clearly. The goal is to either stop these feelings in their path to prevent further anxiety, or to use these feelings to your advantage, and turn them into a positive method for test taking. There are methods to stop anxiety in its tracks.

Breathe. When you become stressed your breathing becomes shallow and your chest becomes tight. The first thing you should do when you feel this way is to focus on evening out your breathing. This is a powerful tool to refocus and alleviate the physical symptoms of stress. The best breathing method I have found is the 4-7-8 method. You want to inhale for four counts, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. Do this three or four times. Some people also find just taking slow, even deep breaths helps also.

Close your eyes. Sometimes external stimuli can make you feel chaotic. If you just take a minute to close your eyes, you can pull your focus back to the test. If you feel overwhelmed by your surroundings, try and picture a blank wall or just the darkness when you close your eyes.

Use positive statements. Don’t bully yourself! You wouldn’t let a friend walk into the room and tell you that you were a terrible test-taker and that you’re going to fail, so don’t allow yourself to think these things. Believe it or not, letting these hurtful, sneaky thoughts into your head can cause a negative, physical response. Each time you think a negative though, turn it into a positive thought. Tell yourself you are the superstar of the universe if you have to, just anything positive. Tell yourself positive things like, “I am well-prepared and have done my best to prepare for this exam,” or “I am a smart and competent student, and will try my best,” or “I have studied hard, but the results of this test do not determine my entire academic future.”

Visualize. Visualization is one of the most successful preparation tools for professional athletes. You can use the same method to promote your own success. You can use this method before the test, or as far in advance as you’d like. Picture yourself taking the test, calmly answering each question with enough time. Imagine finishing the test, handing it in, and feeling great about what you’ve just accomplished. If you freeze up during the test, close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere familiar and comfortable. Or visualize yourself breezing through the questions carefully and confidently. If you feel swallowed by your anxiety, there is a funny little trick you can use to combat it. Imagine your anxiety (the nervousness in your stomach, your sweaty hands, the tightness in your chest) as some type of monster: a shark, a werewolf, some big green scary thing. Imagine you are in a battle with the monster, and by whatever means you want (magic powers, laser beams, a baseball bat, a big, sharp pencil) imagine yourself defeating the monster. You can pretend he is blocking your way to all the information you need to get to in order to take the test. If you visualize defeating him, you now have full access to all the information he was hiding from you.

Make yourself laugh. Laughter is an immediate anxiety reliever. Think of something ridiculous you’ve seen, or something ridiculous you’d love to see. Think of a funny moment you have had with a friend or family member. You could even recruit a friend beforehand and find something that makes you both laugh, and remind each other to think about it if you become nervous taking the test.

Put things in perspective. Not doing as well as you would have liked on the SAT is not the end of the world. It may feel like it at the time, but in the realm of life, it is not the first step of your ultimate demise. You may have already thought something like, “Well if I don’t do well on the SATs then I wont get into the college I want and if I don’t get into my first choice college then I will never study or enjoy myself and ultimately never get a job or will be condemned to a life of licking the bottoms of other people’s shoes while my friends find high-powered jobs in large cities and make millions of dollars and spend their weekends on 70-ft yachts or riding horses in the surf.” Thoughts like that are enough to drive anyone crazy. And I guarantee, doing well on your SATs is something to be proud of, but if you don’t do as well as you would have liked, it will not prevent you from

Set reasonable goals. If you tell yourself you accept nothing other than a perfect score, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. It is great to think positive, but if you are unforgiving in your expectations for yourself, you will only create anxiety. Perfectionism is positive reinforcement at its most extreme; being kind to yourself and allowing room for error results in a better attitude overall.

After the Test
Congratulations! You finished the SAT, and now you’re spent. If you haven’t done so in advance, plan something fun for yourself. Hang out with friends, watch a movie. Whatever you do, don’t dwell on the test. What’s done is done, and no matter how you think you may have done, you can’t really guess your score. I had a friend who insisted they didn’t get a single question right, and she ended up with a great score. So essentially, there is no sense in worrying, since there is nothing else you can do but wait. Do something to reward yourself for getting through a grueling four-hour test.

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62 Responses to “Overcoming Test Taking Anxiety”

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