Test Prep

3 Tips to Tackle Test-Taking Anxiety

The Princeton Review/YouTube

With an important exam coming up on your schedule, it can be easy to lose yourself in the worry about what it could mean for your future if you don't do as well as you'd like. But thinking about the future beyond the test day can often prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy — one that only brings about bad results because you've convinced yourself they're all you'll achieve. In order to get past those premature concerns, here are three tips to help focus on the here and now and tackle the task at hand.


Tackle Your Imposter Syndrome

First off, get out of your own way. Self-doubt isn't just a distractor, it's also a stressor. One of the most common forms is known as Imposter Syndrome, which is often unidentified by those who suffer from it. Essentially, this happens when you start doubting your own abilities, thinking you only got where you are now by some coincidence — or even by some mistake. Does that sound familiar?

Regardless of what you might call this feeling — and I see it all the time in students applying to college — my advice remains the same. Take time to remind yourself — as often as necessary — that you are up to whatever challenge you're facing, whether it is taking the SAT or ACT, performing a solo in the year-end choir concert, or nailing an interview at your dream school. You deserve all the credit for getting yourself this far, so take the time to revel in it! I assure you, your own skill will have gotten you much farther than someone else's error.

Focus on Relaxation

When a big task or day rolls around, another tip I offer is to focus on relaxation. If you don't already have a meditative technique (like taking some deep, cleansing breaths), here are a few easy options that I recommend. For one, there's Progressive Muscle Relaxation, in which you focus on a muscle, tense it and then emphatically relax it. Move through the various parts of your body — you could start with your feet and work your way up — until you've found and released all the hidden tension in your body. Doing this right before an exam will also help you to focus on your physical body instead of any mental stress.

Another technique is to put your senses to work. In your mind's eye, think of a place you've been that makes you feel calm. Maybe it's the beach or a relative's home — or even your living room couch. Similarly, if there's a scent that you associate with feeling calm, then bring something that carries that scent with you to the testing center. For example, if you're soothed by the scent of lavender, you might spray a handkerchief with lavender perfume and bring it to the exam. Or you might wear your favorite cologne on test day — as long as you don't wear too much to distract your fellow students!

Think Long Term

While the previous two tips may help in a matter of minutes, I also urge you to think longer term when tackling the stress of something like the SAT or ACT. Regular exercise can provide a great outlet for managing your stress. Setting up a workout routine and sticking to it can yield great results for your overall mood on a day-to-day basis. Committing to regularly getting sufficient sleep can also help you cope with any of life's challenges. Being able to establish these habits and stick to a routine also pays dividends in the long run, because it shows that you can commit to doing tasks on a regular basis — like studying! Remember, preparing for a test is just one more process, like training in a gym or learning a complicated dance routine; keep putting in the work and you'll be able to achieve your goal.

Managing your anxiety will do more than help you on any particular standardized test; it'll also give you the tools you'll need to succeed when you undertake college interviews, college exams, job interviews and the like. For helpful videos on these and other test-taking tips, head over to our YouTube channel for regularly posted content.

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