Test Taking Anxiety: Succeeding on Test Day | Quantum Prep

Test Taking Anxiety: Succeeding on Test Day

Last Updated on October 30, 2019
Solomon Berman
A female student experience test taking anxiety. She is looking at an open textbook. Her face rests in the palm of her right hand, and her face displays anxiety and frustration.

Five Ways to Reduce Test Taking Anxiety, and to Stay Focused and Positive

Testing Anxiety. Anxiety that takes over while taking a test.

Test Taking Anxiety. Anxiety that builds up before test day. 

A Common Reality

There is a reality that I consistently witness with my SAT Prep and ACT Prep students:

Even the most prepared and promising of students end up earning scores on the SAT and ACT lower than they are capable of. 

A group of those students fall apart while taking the SAT and ACT.

Why?  Testing anxiety and test taking anxiety. 

And, sometimes, they don’t even realize it.

What about test taking anxiety?

Anxiety with high stakes testing, such as the SAT and ACT, is completely normal, and something many students experience.  As a tutor, it’s one of the hardest things to tackle with an SAT Prep or ACT Prep student. 

It’s a challenge to clearly pinpoint what causes a particular student’s anxiety.  Even in the best of circumstances, students struggle to control their emotions, especially the negative ones. 

I can’t simply “instruct” my SAT and ACT test prep students to stop being anxious.  And yet, paradoxically, anxiety is one of the few things that a student can have complete control of on testing day.   

How does a student control any testing anxiety or test taking anxiety?  Here are five ways that I work on with my own SAT Prep and ACT Prep students:

Preventing test taking anxiety from starting: Know what’s coming and what to expect

What we don’t know can make each of us feel anxious.  Not knowing what lies ahead even leads to irrational fear. 

Any student can lower the potential for test taking and testing anxiety by getting know what will be on the SAT and what will be on the ACT

  • How many sections are there? 
  • How many questions are there in a section? 
  • What “kinds” of sections are there (English, Math, Reading, etc.)? 
  • How much time is there for a section, and for a question? 
  • What kinds of questions will be asked?

The good news is that there are a plethora of practice SAT tests and practice ACT tests that all students can review.  Be sure to thoroughly go through several practice tests to truly know what’s coming and what to expect.

Stopping test taking anxiety as it begins: Have a game plan, and own it with practice

Earning a great SAT or ACT score is not simply a function of what a student knows academically. 

Students that perform well also know the “how” with test taking.  They will know

  • How to manage one’s time and be efficient,
  • What is the best strategy when approaching a type of question,
  • When to skip a question (and if and when to come back to that question), and
  • How to eliminate incorrect answers,

to name a few! 

With a well-defined game plan in hand, ample practice is critical.  An amazing game plan will be useless to a student on test day if that plan hasn’t been mastered.  

And when anxiety begins to creep in, the prepared student will know what to do, and doesn’t let test taking and testing anxiety take control.

Creating a path that keeps you centered and focused: Stick to reasonable score goals

Setting reasonable goals is a constant challenge, especially when we set our own goals.  Even with solid research, we view ourselves with rose-colored glasses, and naturally want to set high score goals.

So, what happens when a student doesn’t increase his or her SAT score by 200 points, or ACT score from a 28 to a 32? 

Set a goal too high, and watch the test taking and testing anxiety build as test day approaches.   

Besides, since we’re able to take the SAT and ACT multiple times, and to “super-score” the results, why not set smaller, attainable goals, and build up to that 34 on the ACT or 1500 on the SAT? 

I would definitely want to feel good and build up my confidence each time I achieved an incremental goal, instead of feeling super anxious about never achieving a massive jump in score?

Achieving a mental space free of test taking anxiety: Relax the night before, and get a good night’s sleep!

Don’t study the night before.  Lay out everything that will be needed for testing the next morning.

Relax, be with one’s friends or family.  Watch a silly show on Netflix.  Sit and listen to serene music.  Let the stress, the tiredness, and, yes, the anxiety, melt away a bit.  Take comfort in knowing what lies on the road ahead with the SAT or ACT.  Feel confident with that solid game plan that will lead to that score goal, and keep anxiety at bay.

Then, go get a good, full night’s sleep.   Enjoy how share the mind feels the morning of test day.

“There’s Always Tomorrow”

Remember, the SAT and ACT can be taken multiple times.  And colleges will often super-score the results! 

When test taking and testing anxiety starts to fill a student’s mind, worried that the score has to be perfect, I gently remind that student: 

If you score horridly on this test, don’t worry. 

We’ll bury the results in the back yard and prepare for the next test date. 

We have plenty of opportunities to succeed. 

There’s always tomorrow.


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