Dont Stress the Test: How to Let Go of the Pressure in High Stakes Testing

Let’s look at a handful of strategies you can use to deflate the stress-causing power of those pesky SAT questions.

The most demanding standardized test you have ever taken. Hours upon hours of subtle wording, calculations, and grammar errors. A smorgasbord of questions meant to trick, foil, and trip up students on their path to college. The pressure of application essays, grades in school, extracurricular activities, and social life compounds. What once was simple now is hard. What once was done with ease is now infinitely difficult. But why?

Test stress will derail any student. Stress, in general, will make an Olympian crumble or a professional musician crawl off the stage. But all professionals in high stress environments have strategies for dealing with stress. And so should you. Let’s look at a handful of strategies you can use to deflate the stress-causing power of those pesky SAT questions.

Breathe: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” Breathing is one of these obvious facts that we forget about. But remembering to breathe can sap test stress better than almost any tactic. So when you sense the stress, you feel your jaw clench, and your muscles tighten, stop what you are doing and breathe. Take long deliberate breaths. And before you can count to ten, you’ll no longer feel the stress of trying to decide what test prep book to use or if you need to take the ACT or how the SAT-ACT score conversion works.

Practice and Preparation: No need to stress about the test when you are prepared. A lot of stress is of our own doing—not the test. The pressure of the SAT is magnified when you don’t take the time to study strategies and take practice tests. People inherently are fearful of what they don’t know, and if you walk into the SAT with little to no prep, with no idea of how to identify question types and wrong answers, you will understandably be stressed. Your response should be obvious—find an SAT prep book, sign up for a class, or use an online test prep resource to learn about the test, so that you show up confident and prepared.

Exercise: Find time to raise your heart rate and get that blood pumping. Not only will this keep you fit and healthy, but exercise will also help you to focus and learn. Students find it easier to complete tasks, memorize facts, and write essays after a little aerobic exercise. And it doesn’t have to be long to feel the benefits—thirty minutes of activity might be enough to supercharge your brain and prime you for studying. In the past, I’ve even told students to get up early before the test and go for a short run or do some exercise before going to the test center. Additionally, exercise puts people in better moods and makes them more positive, so stop your stressing, drop the books, and do a little exercise.

Laughter: We’ve all heard the adage about laughter as the best medicine. Researchers find again and again that this is actually true. With modern tools and techniques, scientist have shown that people live longer, are healthier, happier, and learn more if the laugh often. So if test stress is getting you down, take a break and laugh. Call that friend who always makes you laugh, or watch your favorite fail videos on YouTube—whatever will put splits in your sides. Stress doesn’t have a chance when giggles and tee-hees are on the menu.

Rest: Exhaustion and lack of sleep not only make it hard to stay awake and focus, but also make people irritable and depressed. Have you ever been tired and made a flippant comment to your friend or parent? Did it feel like you didn’t have control at that moment and that you just reacted? These are the symptoms of exhaustion. Without sleep, we turn into easily annoyed, cantankerous piles of organic matter. But with proper sleep and rest, we can take on any challenge and shrug off any perceived wrong. With sleep and rest you will perform better on the test, guard against it, and learn more! So rest up and watch your stress dissipate.

Healthy Food: Ever notice how you feel after fast food? Do you feel like you are ready to take on any obstacles? Are you light on your feet and primed for action? You know what I am talking about. Doritos, Chicken nuggets, and milk shakes are not a recipe for success. Michael Phelps wasn’t eating this junk before he won 22 Olympic medals. Phelps was strictly following a diet meant to make his body perform at an optimum level. You need to do the same thing. Eat well and you will find that your stress is more manageable. Blueberries, almonds, walnuts, avocados, wild salmon, and oranges—all of these are brain food and will help you to stay positive and focused.

Really, Really Cute Animals: If all else fails, we have to pull out the big guns for fighting stress—really, really cute animals. How can you be stressed when looking at cute kitten or a precious puppy? Who really cares about average SAT scores when a kitten has befriended a dog or a monkey finds a dog friend? But don’t just look at pictures. The real thing is always preferable to pictures, so go find your dog and hang out. Spend some time with your friends new cat. I guarantee you will not be stressed out after some time with a loving pet.

This post was written by Kevin Rocci, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

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