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Our head tutor's tips, tricks and thoughts for all your SAT, ACT, and US College Prep needs.

SAT and ACT Test Day Anxiety

Elizabeth von Nardroff

All students feel anxious about tests or school at some point – it’s a natural reaction and a part of what we call a ‘fight or flight’ response. Some fortunate students thrive on this – the extra adrenaline helps them hyper-focus on the material and pushes them to perform at the peak of their abilities -- in other words, they ‘fight’.

Others are less fortunate. When they encounter a problem not seen before, their minds’ freeze (‘flight’) and they panic, either by spending too long on a problem at the expense of other easier ones or – in the worst case scenario – they lose the ability to work at all. Thankfully few have such an extreme reaction, but many have enough anxiety to keep them from performing at their best.

The best overall remedy for this anxiety is preparation, the type of which is very important. First off, it is important not to cram. That’s a sure-fire way to increase stress levels! The ACT and SAT are long tests, and they cover a great scope of material – way too much to review in a few hours the day before the test. Mastery of material gives students the confidence to wriggle through even the trickiest of questions. It becomes more of a challenge to meet problems head on (‘fight’) if you haven’t got the proper ammunition. 

Still, even the most prepared student is bound to feel nervous come test day. A few tips:

The night before test day – no studying! If you've done all the preparation/revision laid out in other posts, you should be ready. Instead, do something quiet and relaxing that you enjoy. Watch a movie with friends or your family. Read a book. Whatever it is, make it an early night.

On test day, have two alarms set. That way you won’t have the extra worry of getting up on time (if you’re anything like me, you won’t then wake up too early, afraid of oversleeping). Don’t forget to eat a nourishing breakfast and to bring non-sugary snacks and drinks for breaks. Hunger is not your friend on test day.

Remember, some anxiety is normal – don’t be put off by it or make it the focus of your attention. Some meditative focused breathing might help. During the test, if you find yourself blanking out on a question, skip it straight away and come back to it later. Pausing for a few deep breaths can be enough to help settle the mind.

Do you have any methods that help you relax during tests? Leave a comment below!