How to Overcome Test Anxiety

Your heart starts racing, your mind goes blank, and helplessness overwhelms you. These are some of the most commons signs of anxiety. When they strike during a test, they may keep you from achieving your full potential on the SAT/ACT.

While feeling a little nervous is normal–indeed a little nervousness can sometimes spur you to do even better–too much anxiety can hurt your performance. Test anxiety can be caused by a few things, including a lack of preparation, fear of failure, or simply pressure from the test setting. Consider these five tips to prepare for a confident, anxiety-free run at the SAT/ACT:

1. Warm up your brain before the test starts.

It is already hard to wake up early in the morning for the SAT/ACT, but it is even harder to have to wake up and read monotonous material and solve complex maths. Read material you enjoy that morning, such as your favorite magazine, the newspaper, or fun blog posts. Then solve some math problems that you have gotten correct before. (Don’t do a previously unsolved/unattempted problem the morning of the test, as that can utterly tank your mental start if you can’t solve it.) Reading enjoyable material and solving familiar math problems will help you kick start your mental processes! This is just like when people stretch and limber up before a big race, you never want to start cold!

2. Maintain a positive attitude.

The way you think can reflect in your work and reflect in your results. Thinking negatively will increase anxiety levels, as it will overwhelm you with unnecessary worries. Instead of thinking about what you should have done or how you should have studied harder, think about all the obstacles you have already overcome and how you are prepared enough to conquer the exam.

Maintaining a positive attitude throughout the whole process, will change the way you approach the exam and give you more confidence. Try saying this instead of that:


  • Don’t think: “There’s so much material, it’s impossible to study it all.”
  • Do think: “There is a lot of material, but I am focusing on what will matter most for my performance on the test.”

During the exam:

  • Don’t think: “These questions are so hard; I’m going to fail.”
  • Do think: “These questions are a little tricky. I’ll move on and go back to it later. Chances are, the next question is more in my wheelhouse.”


  • Don’t think: “I failed. I think I did really poorly in the math section, okay in the reading section…”
  • Do think: “I tried the best that I could. I’ll take what I learned from this exam and look ahead to the next exam”

3. Focus on yourself before the test

In the days leading up to the test, avoid talking to your friends and classmates about how they have been preparing for the test, or if they feel ready for the test. Every student has different needs and methods of preparation, so if you have been doing something different, don’t worry. Just because a method has worked well for someone else, does not mean it will work well for you. You know yourself best, so everything you have been doing is in your best interest. Also, try avoiding students who are overly pessimistic and students who have excessive pride as it may rub off on you. A pessimistic student might cause your anxiety to start up, and the excessively prideful student might drive your focus in a different direction. Focus on yourself; acknowledge the hard work you have done to get to this point.

4. Take a deep breath and relax

If you find that you are getting tense and your anxiety is building during the test, try some relaxation techniques (it’s best to practice these in advance). Take a moment to take in some slow deep breaths until you feel in control of your body again. Also, try to pause and think about what you are doing, then remind yourself that you are in control.

5. Treat yourself afterwards

After the test, pat yourself on the back and give yourself a break, you deserve it. Continuing vigorous prep right after taking a test will build stress and you’ll be overwhelmed with work. So will replaying every test question over and over again in your head. Resist the urge to gather with your friends and compare notes about your performance. Very few people leaves these impromptu gripe sessions feeling good about their performance! Instead, spend the rest of the day doing something completely unrelated and enjoyable! Go watch that movie you’ve been waiting to see, or enjoy your favorite meal. Also, if you plan your activity ahead of the test, you can use the anticipation of the treat to refocus yourself during a tough point during the test. Having something to look forward to is a great anxiety reducer!

Get SAT & ACT Deadlines Every Week.

Subscribe to The College Radar to receive key SAT & ACT deadlines and resources to help parents navigate college admissions.

By |2017-12-01T19:39:51+00:00November 1st, 2016|Other Posts|

About the Author: