It’s the day before the test and you’re freaking out. Your heart is racing in your chest and your thoughts are scattered and unfocused- exactly the worst state of mind to be in when you’re testing. Telling yourself to calm down isn’t helping, so how do you stop feeling like this? How do you calm down? A lot is riding on these tests! Here are 9 ways to reduce SAT Test Anxiety.
How does Test Anxiety work?
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, it’s how our bodies prepare us for threats to ourselves. In another time, this threat could be a bear or an earthquake. A small amount of anxiety can keep you alert and on your toes, but too much of it, and you feel a need to fight the bear or run from the earthquake. However, you cannot fight the SAT, and taking off running won’t help either. Anxiety is a natural response, but unhelpful when you have to sit still and calmly take a test.
The most noticeable symptoms of SAT test anxiety are feelings of dread around the test, a deep fear of failure, and tenseness around the jaw and shoulders. Other common physical symptoms include rapid, shallow breathing and panic attacks. No matter what form your test anxiety takes, however, the solutions are mostly the same.
1. Release the Current Anxiety
If you’re reading this article, the first thing you’ll likely need to deal with is the immediate symptoms of anxiety: shortness of breath, tightness in the back, shoulders, and jaw, and jumbled thoughts. Your body has physical reactions to stress, which, in turn, cause your mind to stress out further. It can be a horrible spiral. Before you address your emotional realities, make sure your body is ready to handle it.
First, remember to breathe. Spend five seconds breathing in deeply, and then ten seconds breathing out. Focus on this and repeat the breathing until the initial panic has passed. If you’re clenching your jaw, unclench it. Roll your shoulders around, and if you have space, stretch your hands behind you, and squeeze your shoulders together like you’re trying to hold a pencil between them, then release. At the end of this, you should feel a little more centered in your body, and your thoughts a little clearer. Thirty seconds to steady yourself is still less time than being paralyzed for a minute.
2. Sleep Well, and Not Just The Night Before the SAT
Everyone needs to sleep. It’s the time when your body repairs the daily wear and tear on your body and brain. You cannot “catch up” on sleep, your body will be trying to spend time repairing what got critically worn down the night before when they couldn’t do maintenance. Make a schedule, stick to it. You’ll deal with stress much better if you aren’t foggy from sleep deprivation.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try staying away from screens for the hour before you go to bed, and maybe read a book to help you prepare for the SAT.
3. Eat Well to Minimize SAT Test Anxiety
We’ve written about this before, but be thoughtful about what you’re eating! Sugar leads to sugar highs and sugar lows. The highs feel great, but they wear off, leaving you wound up with few lasting resources for energy. That being said, eat enough. Make sure your body has enough protein, nutrients, and water to go about the very important business of running your body and brain. SAT test anxiety thrives when your body is missing something, so stay on top of your physical needs.
The goal is to get your heart rate up and to provide an outlet for the tension you’ve been building up. Your brain has been dumping adrenaline and other stress hormones into your system that wind you up and give you a lot of nervous energy. In another situation, these hormones might give you the desperate energy to run away from a bear- but right now, there is no bear to run away from and all that energy and stress has nowhere to go. Cardio is ideal for this, but yoga, social sports, and weightlifting also help release the right kind of energy.
5. Practice the SAT Test in a Safe Environment
Practice somewhere you feel comfortable. These are the memories and associations you’ll be calling on when you take the test, so don’t practice anywhere you feel like you’re in danger. Try and keep your study zone as clean and anxiety-free as possible.
6. Make a Pre-Test Ritual
Have something you do before every test that puts you in a prepared mindset. Whether it’s eating a specific breakfast, going over your supplies before hand, or arranging your pencils a certain way, have something that you do that makes you feel prepared and ready. If you have a fear you know is unfounded- don’t be afraid to get a little silly with it. If it’s a ridiculous fear, then you might need a ridiculous solution to trick that part of your brain into thinking everything will be okay. The emotional part of your brain that won’t accept “I don’t need to freak out about this” will sometimes recognize “I have my lucky green pencil, so I’ll be okay” instead. Try things out, and pay attention to what makes you feel prepared.
7. Identify Unhelpful Spirals
Sometimes, our brains can get on a track of visualizing extreme outcomes from the present moment. Your thought process goes around and around, spiraling until you’re far away from your original point, but still unable to leave it’s orbit. A missed question becomes a failed test which becomes not getting into college and so on and so on, when, in reality, you’ve just missed one question. The rest was a catastrophizing spiral, taking you far away from the original thought and deep into anxiety land. Pay attention to what these spiraling thoughts are so you can avoid or disrupt them. These thoughts might feel important or logical, but they are not helpful right now, and need to be dealt with in order to help divert the SAT test anxiety you are feeling.
8. Talk About The SAT
If you have people who you trust, talk to them about the test. Talk about how it makes you feel, and talk about the thoughts that tend to disrupt you. You’ll probably find you’re not alone and feel better for telling people. Pleasant social interaction is one of the ways you can rob your SAT test anxiety of its power.
9. Have something to look forward to!
Ideally after the SAT test, make arrangements so that you have a small social event that you know you will enjoy. A small celebration afterwards helps your brain remember that this test isn’t the end of the world, and helps tell your brain that things will be okay. Text a few friends and see if they want ice cream afterwards or play an online game with friends who can’t travel.
That’s it! We hope you’re breathing a little easier now. If you want more SAT and ACT prep advice sure to join our mailing list for a free 27-item checklist and 30-day free SAT email course.