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Strategies to Minimize Test Anxiety

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve studied hard for your chemistry midterm, but when you walked into your exam and opened the test book your mind went blank. As you sit down to start your test, you notice your sweaty palms and a pit in your stomach and a constant stream of negative thoughts prevents you from performing your best. If these classic signs of test anxiety sound familiar, your grades and test scores may not reflect your true abilities. While it’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous before a test, some students find test anxiety extremely debilitating.

Whether it’s the SAT, ACT, AP exam or an important class mid-term or final, test anxiety has the power to derail weeks and months of hard work. Racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, or feelings of dread can combine with physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat, headache, or nausea. However, you’re not alone. Test anxiety is something many students struggle with, and it is possible to address test anxiety early and develop de-stressing habits so that it does not hinder your academic performance.

While Studying
When you’re preparing for an exam or standardized test, set concrete study goals and take one step at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. Allow yourself plenty of time to accomplish all the things you have to do before the test. It is imperative to build up confidence by reviewing the material, in small blocks of time each day for several days before a test. Cramming is never the answer and pulling an all-nighter can exacerbate your nerves. Having adequate rest (9–10 hours per night) is likely to be more beneficial than rereading a text until dawn. It’s also important to develop other habits that can help you relieve stress. Things like exercise, reading for fun, and using study breaks to do activities you enjoy can help you alleviate any stress or anxiety you may be feeling while preparing for an exam.

If you’re preparing for a standardized test like the SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests, taking multiple, timed practice exams can help students practice test-taking techniques, calming tools, and more that they can use on test day to destress and perform their best. Practice tests can help students know what to expect so they don’t go into the test unprepared – which can compound stress – and can also help them develop a better test prep strategy since practice tests can give insight into what gaps there might be in students’ skills or knowledge.

On Test Day
Your approach to test day can have a big impact on whether or not you feel anxious during your exam. Start the day off right by waking up early. Eat a nutritious breakfast before the test and pack smart snacks for ongoing energy. Eat foods that offer a steady stream of nutrients, rather than sugary snacks that only give you a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. Arrive early to the test so you have time to decompress. When you receive the test look it over in order to make a mental note of how much time you’ll need spend on each section, read the directions twice, and then organize you time efficiently. Don’t rush through the test, but work at a comfortable, pace and don’t worry about how far along your classmates are on the test. When appropriate or allowed, get a drink of water, eat a snack, or chew gum as an anxiety distraction and try to clear your mind. And most importantly – stay positive! Starting the day with a negative attitude can make it harder to keep a positive mindset during your exam – when you’re most likely to feel anxious or stressed.

During the Exam
Timing can often be the most stressful part of taking an exam. Without overwhelming yourself, watch the clock and stay on pace. If you find yourself falling behind your ideal pace, don’t panic. Instead, try to speed up by working through easier questions first – you can always go back and work on more difficult questions later.

It can also be helpful to try some de-stressing techniques if you feel anxiety building during the exam. Find ways to calm yourself when you feel yourself having a physical reaction to your stress, like nausea, sweaty palms, or elevated heart rate. Techniques like such as deep breathing, tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, or engaging in guided imagery for peace and serenity and positive self-talk can be very effective. And again, stay positive! Establish a positive mindset during your exam so that you can confidently tackle any challenges that come up during the test.

Test anxiety is a common issue for many students, however, it is something that can be proactively addressed and managed. By finding ways to deal with the anxiety before and during the test, you can confidently perform at the level you are capable of so that you’re able to reach your academic goals.

At IvyWise, our team of expert tutors works with students to not only fill gaps in their knowledge, but also develop effective test prep strategies and techniques to address any anxiety and ensure that students are prepared when it comes to test day. For more information on how our tutors and test prep experts can help your student reach his or her academic or SAT or ACT goal scores, contact us today.