Are you preparing to apply to college, but first you need to take the ACT or SAT? Does the thought of taking a major test give you anxiety? If so, you are experiencing test anxiety. It’s normal. Taking the ACT or SAT and going to college is a big step in your life and the unknown can make our thoughts race or even make us physically feel stress in our bodies.
ACT and SAT test anxiety will present before, during, and after the exam. Usually, test anxiety will have you deal with it through avoidance. The hope is that if are not confronting the anxiety, it will go away. Of course, it does not go away. You need to confront the anxiety and prepare on how to deal with the anxiety especially with big tests such as the ACT and SAT. Here are helpful tips to prepare the exams and reduce test anxiety.
1. Be Familiar with the Test
ACT and SAT have their similarities and differences. It is important you learn all you can about the ins and outs of tests. Some examples of the ins and outs are what the format of the test is, what subjects are being covered, how much time do you have to take the test, how is the test being scored, and what some of the questions look like. Try your best not to pay attention to the myths or rumors you may hear from friends about tests because in reality they are not always very accurate. The ACT and SAT websites do a fantastic job at getting you familiar with their tests.
Also, these websites help you to know the testing locations. Usually, a testing location is at your school or a school you are familiar with. You can locate a list of what you need to bring with you on test day and what you cannot bring with you. Even though they work to make the environment conducive to taking a test, there may be little distractions that are out of your control. To help with test anxiety, try to avoid arriving too early or too late. Once in the testing room, choose a seat away from high-traffic areas like doors or aisles to help lesson distractions. Lastly, try to sit away from others you may know. They are great supports, yet sometimes test anxiety can be contagious.
2. Be Prepared
The best way to be prepared is to study. It is essential to make an organized study schedule and stick to it at least a month if not longer before you sit for the exam. This schedule should help review each section of the test, learn key terms and concepts of those sections, and practice answering questions in the format they will show up on the exam. This way you are prepared and know what to expect on test day. There are many helpful resources on the testing websites, tutors which focus on preparing you for these exams or books that focus on studying for the ACT or SAT.
3. Learn Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques should be used before, during, and after the exam. These techniques should not focus on using screens or taking naps, but instead, focus on what you can do at the moment when anxiety arises. While preparing for the exam, start to notice when you are blanking-out, freezing or having difficulty concentrating. When you start feeling the test anxiety taking over, take a couple of long, deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Another example could be taking a few seconds during the deep breaths, close your eyes and imagine a peaceful setting or something that brings you joy, such as baby animals or a calm lake. You can also visualize someone you care about cheering you on, telling you “you got this.”
4. Reframe Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can increase your test anxiety. They can show up while preparing for the exam or during the exam. While you are studying, write down these thoughts then rewrite them or reframe them with positive thoughts and actions. For example: “I always do poorly on the test” to “I’ve got a better study plan for this exam than I have ever had before.” Another example to change: “If I do not pass this test, I am not going to college” to “I am going to get the score I need, but if I don’t, I can retake it.” Writing the positive reframes down and saving the list can help you come back to the thoughts and remind yourself of all the positive things you have going for you.
5. Take Care of Yourself
If you are taking care of your body, it will help feed your mind. The night before the test is not the time to cram or pull an all-nighter studying. It would be more beneficial to do something calming and relaxing. Try to get a good night’s sleep (8-10 hours) and fuel up in the morning with a nutritious breakfast. Dress in layers, so you are prepared if the testing room is too cold or too hot. Also, it may not hurt to pack a water bottle and a snack or two for breaks during the exam.