Test Anxiety and SAT Prep

Today’s SAT prep article from Love the SAT is about one of those subjects that almost everyone has a little bit of personal experience with: the feeling of anxiety before a big, important test.

The SAT test itself is one of the biggest, most important, most stressful tests of our ENTIRE education and it determines what colleges, universities, and careers we will have a chance at.

It’s really no exaggeration to say that for many students, the SAT test will be the single most-important test of their ENTIRE LIVES - so it’s very easy to be sympathetic and understanding when we hear about students feeling anxious, frustrated and confused about SAT testing.

Today’s article is going to give a perfect-scoring pro tutor’s perspective on how test anxiety can affect your students and some specific suggestions on how to deal with this and come out optimistic and on top.

What Is Test Anxiety?

“Test Anxiety” is a negative emotional and mental state students find themselves in before, during, and after a big and important test like the SAT.

This nervous, frustrated feeling is one of the most common sources of stress and bad SAT scores. Test anxiety can prevent a natural, confident performance from taking place during testing, leading to a lower-than-expected outcome in scores.

The negative and distracting feelings of serious test anxiety come from many possible sources and this requires careful planning and practice to handle it and manage it appropriately.

Every good SAT tutor knows that test anxiety can hurt scores more than math, reading, or vocabulary ever could!

What Causes Test Anxiety and How Does It Feel?

Anxieties can strike any student, any time - and they can come from a surprising variety of reasons and sources. Here are a few common key reasons that high school students experience SAT-based testing anxiety:

  • Lack of preparation (unaware of need to prepare): Feelings of surprise, frustration, shock, confusion.
  • Lack of preparation (aware of need to prepare, but procrastinating) - nervous, tense, worried, fearful of the unknown test.
  • Fear of judgement (from friends, siblings, parents, teachers) - embarrassed, quiet, shy, afraid to ask for help.
  • Fear of failure (college, school, life, personal) - paralyzed, stuck, unwilling to try, lazy.
  • Fear of success (avoid sticking out or being separate, afraid of potential) - self-sabotaging, destructive habits, wasting time, lack of focus.
  • “Last chance” situations - These are particularly dangerous for seniors, and for students who don’t study test prep during the summer.

There are many origins of test anxiety and what matters most is just to keep asking questions and staying on top of emotional and mental health while preparing for stressful and strenuous SAT testing.

Who Suffers From SAT Test Anxiety?

Not all students suffer from test anxiety. Some personality types thrive on the intense pressure and difficulty of standardized testing. Type-A personality students often enjoy (or at least, don’t mind) the process of competing intellectually and pushing themselves to practice and imprve.

The type of students that I see as a tutor suffering the most from SAT test anxiety are the shy students who want to impress their parents and teachers but worry that

Some students also grapple with a feeling of laziness, or if not laziness, then a fear of failure that makes some students feel defeated before they even start preparing.

There’s no way to tell who will be attacked by test anxiety - even confident, brilliant students can feel overwhelmed by the difficulties, pressures, and frustrations of SAT prep.

When Does SAT Test Anxiety Occur?

Test anxiety occurs in several key phases, growing in intensity as the test approaches, and reaching ultimate “panic mode” when an anxious student is sitting in the actual test and feels stuck or trapped on a question.

Stage 1:

Test anxiety begins at a low level in the back of a student’s mind, when they realize that they will eventually be confronted with a big important test

Stage 2:

Anxiety grows stronger each day as the test gets closer and the perceived pressure rises.

Stage 3:

Test anxiety is often very bad the week of the test, especially if students are not taking action to calm their minds and prepare themselves.

Stage 4:

Anxiety becomes worst of all during stressful moments of test - especially if a student feels “stuck” and has time to get lost in their head, going in circles of nervous worries.

Stages of anxiety can escalate rapidly:

Test anxiety is not additive, it is multiplicative. The anxious thoughts multiply on top of each other and can rapidly spiral out of control, like the chain reaction of an atomic bomb.

Anxiety is typically worst when students are NOT taking action but know that they should be. This gives their negative thoughts the mental space to echo and grow louder and more nervous.

Starting to sound a little like your kids?

We hope you’ll contact us for help and join the SAT email list for more great articles - and keep reading for more anxiety advice…

What are the Consequences of Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety costs students in more ways than one, which is why we take it so seriously at Love the SAT.

This list addresses just a few of the many negative consequences of moderate- to severe- test anxiety.

  • Lower test scores on the SAT.
  • Higher stress levels throughout high school.
  • Fewer college choices and options.
  • Less chance of scholarship money.
  • Self-criticism and low self-esteem.
  • Obstacles much later in career.

Since the SAT is the “gateway” test to college and career, it’s absolutely critical to master the tide of anxious feelings that come along with high-stress performance.

These feelings don’t apply to all students – but, for students who do have testing anxiety, the fallout can be disastrous in the long-term if not addressed as early as possible (so share this article with your students or friends on Facebook!)

How Parents Can Help Beat SAT Test Anxiety:

Luckily, there’s a lot that parents can do to help their high school kids overcome test anxiety on the SAT. The cure is to start early, stay positive, and get a lot of experience and practice.

Here are a few key steps that parents can take to help their kids:

  • Expose them to SAT testing early and often.
  • Reassure them that they will be loved no matter what.
  • Make sure kids review and practice the basics.
  • Have students work on vocabulary and reading skills from an early age.
  • Get kids a good SAT tutor for techniques and pro-level help.
  • Help monitor students’ diet, exercise and sleep.

In many ways, kids just don’t know how to do adult-level things like control their anxiety or even turn those negative feelings into an advantage. Teenagers are still developing their self-control and could use some advice from their parents on how to keep calm in the face of difficult and tense situations like SAT testing.

Students might resist your guidance a little bit, which is another reason it can be great to hire a tutor to help deliver good info to your kids from a new face they might be more willing to listen to.

How SAT Tutors Can Help Students Beat Test Anxiety:

Since students are often resistant to taking advice directly from parents, SAT tutors can be a useful intermediary between parents and kids. In many ways they serve as a substitute parent, coach or mentor for kids in the specialized niche of SAT prep.

Here are just a few good ways that an experienced SAT tutor can help your son or daughter overcome test anxiety or even turn it into an advantage:

  • Make sure useful SAT practice is taking place.
  • Offer professional reassurance and guidance.
  • Use testing experience to provide students with useful benchmarks.
  • Strategic lessons to get “unstuck” and reduce frustration instantly.
  • Tips on how to build SAT vocabulary and reading skills.
  • Provide effective homework assignments for practice and corrections.
  • Develop a long-term plan to reduce overall anxiety.

Since many students share common problems and concerns, an experienced SAT tutor can do a lot to help them see the positive side of test prep and reduce test anxiety.

How Students Can Overcome Their Own SAT Test Anxiety:

You might have noticed the common theme of testing anxiety: Inaction!

As a tutor, here are a few ways students can focus on taking action to overcome anxiety and nervousness - a great lesson for life, as well.

  • Devote more time to practicing and less to worrying.
  • Work on vocabulary and reading skills a little bit every day.
  • Find an SAT tutor they like and are comfortable with.
  • Ask questions - speak up.
  • Work to improve exercise, diet, and sleep.

When students find the self-motivation to set goals and stick to practice schedules, they learn how easy it can be to banish testing anxiety once and for all.

When you know in you heart that you’ve prepared, there’s so much less to feel anxious about.

Test Anxiety Relaxation Exercises:

When test anxiety strikes, students can work through specific personal exercises to bring themselves back to a balanced center and allow their genius to flow through them unimpeded.

  • Breathing exercises for moments of intense stress.
  • Stretching and exercising throughout the week.
  • Planning your favorite healthy snacks during the breaks.
  • Comfy clothes during studying and testing.
  • Mental discipline to recognize and thwart anxieties as they arrive.
  • Memories of past successes to quickly rebuild confidence.

There are many, many more ways to overcome test anxiety in specific circumstances.

As in Judo or other martial arts, the most powerful attacks can often be transformed into the most powerful defenses, as well. It may seem surprising, but it is often those students who suffer the most from anxieties at first, who can learn the techniques to master their fears so powerfully that they permanently raise themselves up the ladder of self-control and self-confidence, leading to long-term benefits in their lives and careers.

Final Thoughts:

“Test Anxiety,” or the negative feelings of stress and fear associated with major tests like the SAT, is a common ailment that can be debilitating and harmful to students’ test scores.

Primarily caused by worrying without taking action, the easiest cure for most test anxiety is simply a little bit of awareness and a lot of practice and coaching, such as building up your vocabulary far in advance of testing.

Specific techniques can be learned to overcome test anxieties and many of them will transfer into long-term life skills for college, career and the world outside of school.

Parents and SAT tutors can do a lot to help students relax and prepare. The most important step is to take action. In fact, if you want some advice, why don’t you contact us with your questions? We’d be happy to help.

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Good luck to everyone studying for the SAT and see you again soon!

Additional Resources:
Conquer SAT Vocabulary Video Course
Winning College Scholarships Video Course

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