How to Manage Anxiety Before and During the SAT

Although seemingly innocuous, one of the biggest problems everyone faces is anxiety. Multiple students have told me that even though they have done as much preparation as possible, they are still overwhelmed by feelings of stress and anxiety on the night before the SAT. Although they are often told by their parents, teachers and SAT tutors to relax and rest early on that night, many students are often eaten alive by worrying thoughts: What if the three alarms I’ve set don’t work tomorrow? What if I can’t remember anything I’ve memorized come tomorrow? What if I have no idea what the essay question is asking me? What if there are really difficult vocabulary words? What if…?  Sometimes, these thoughts force students into insomnia and keep them up till the wee hours of the morning, hurting their performance during the actual SAT.

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[Continue reading to find out how to deal with SAT anxiety…]

Such anxiety, however, is not unexpected. After all, you have been preparing for months and months on end. There are also a thousand different things that could go wrong, the same things that went wrong before in the numerous practice tests that you took previously. You might punch the wrong number into your calculator by accident, or misread just one sentence in a passage, or even just happen to shade the wrong answer. To help you manage such anxiety effectively, here are 5 great tips you can use:

1. Remember that Worrying is Not Useful. However, as the wise saying goes, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”. This is the first thing you need to remember. Being anxious about the SAT the night before does not help and it might even unnecessarily distract you from performing to your best potential during the test.

2. Take Slow, Deep Breaths and Use Positive Reinforcement. To rid yourself of this anxiety, there are a couple of other things you could try. Try taking slow, deep breaths to calm yourself down and then use positive reinforcement:  Focus on the goal that you have worked towards for the past few weeks and months, and remind yourself that you have done your best during each practice test and will continue to do your best in the final test.

3. Visualize Your Preparation Step by Step. To take your mind off worrying about the test, focus on the following steps you will be taking when you wake up in the morning such as – After waking up, I will eat a bowl of oatmeal and drink some hot tea. I will next shower, change into clean clothes and sit down at my desk to review some of the mistakes I had made on previous practice tests. Lastly, I will review the list of vocabulary words that were difficult for me to memorize. Visualizing the steps that you are going to take task by task will firstly, help to distract yourself from worrying about the upcoming test and secondly, help you to remember that you have prepared well for it and that you are in control of your test performance.

4. Do Not Take the SAT on an Empty Stomach. Fourthly, before going for the test, make sure to eat some food. Going to the exam on an empty stomach is not the best idea as the SAT will last for almost 4 hours and you want to make sure that your brain and body have enough nutrition and energy to function well during the whole test. For example, one of my friends told me that all she could think of during the later half of a timed practice test was: Oh no, my stomach is growling and I still have two more hours of this test to go before I can eat. This reading section is also my weakest section and I can’t seem to concentrate because I’m so hungry.. If you know that the SAT will clash with your normal mealtimes, make sure to have a little to eat beforehand. Also, try not to eat junk foods or candy, which contain high sugar content as they might cause your energy levels to spike greatly and then sag due a ‘glucose crash’. The spike and sag of such ‘glucose crashes’ might cause more anxiety and frustration during the SAT.

5. Pace Yourself During the Test. Lastly, during the test, always remember to read the directions carefully, time yourself well, and constantly check and double-check. These measures will help you to have sufficient time to finish all the questions in each section, reduce any careless mistakes and thus prevent you from panicking. If you encounter a question that you cannot solve at first, mark it and then return to that question when you have finished the other questions. Sticking it out to try and solve that one question might leave insufficient time for the remaining questions, causing you to panic and be anxious for the rest of the test. Additionally, remember that although the SAT is an important test, it is definitely not the only defining factor in college applications.

Prepare well, have confidence and give it your best in your SAT!

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford University. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

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