SAT and ACT prep: how to reduce test anxiety

By Cecilia Luna

SAT and ACT season is in full effect. These tests are notorious for being strenuous, taking hours, and starting at the crack of dawn. Having to do well in reading, math, English, science, and writing all at once leads many students to experience severe test anxiety. But don't stress, we have some helpful tips for reducing test anxiety so that you can focus on achieving your best score.

What is test anxiety?

It goes a little like this: You did well on the homework, studied hours for the test, made sure you were prepared, but when it came time to take the test, you froze. Sound familiar? It took me four times to achieve the ACT score I wanted. While I'm not a master at test taking, I've found some ways to overcome stress, reduce anxiety, and make the testing experience much easier. 

Over-prepare yourself 

It may seem obvious, but most students fail to develop good study habits when preparing for a test. Cramming or binge studying are not your friends when it comes to SAT and ACT test prep.

In fact, studying for many hours actually makes you retain less information, which is why it’s best to study in smaller increments. So start studying early! If you start reviewing the material weeks before the exam (no, I don’t mean one week before!) and only focus on that subject for an hour a day, the information will be easier to memorize and you'll be able to remember it much better during test time.

Invest in SAT and ACT test prep

Practice tests are your secret weapon. Take as many as you can before you have to spend close to four hours sweating in a room with other anxious students. The better you know the format of the test, the less anxious you'll be. Once you have an understanding of the types of questions that will be on the test, it’s easy to navigate through the various sections. It’s kind of like learning to drive — once you learn how to drive a car through your hometown, driving everywhere else is essentially the same.

Familiarity with the format of the SAT or ACT will help you to feel more confident in your test-taking abilities, reducing the stress that may have once thrown you off your game. Practice tests can be found anywhere — The College BoardUnigo, and many other sites provide SAT and ACT test prep to students looking to increase their scores and conquer test anxiety.

Develop ways to cope with test anxiety

For some, test anxiety may be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to minimize it. Think of ways to calm yourself down during a test, or to alleviate the stress. This could be anything from taking deep breaths when you start to get nervous, to drinking water, or just closing your eyes for a few seconds. I once had a friend with test anxiety who would start to draw spirals until he could calm down and focus. Try anything you think might help.

Manage anxiety with exercise and lots of rest

Research has shown that exercising regularly helps to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, making you more capable of tackling situations that you feel are overwhelming. Exercise also improves sleep patterns, which comes in handy when you need to be awake and alert for test day!

It’s a much better decision for you to go to sleep early the night before the exam than it is to pull an all-nighter or stay up late studying. If you’re sleep deprived, it’s a lot harder to concentrate, as well as fight the physical symptoms of stress, like headaches and a racing pulse.

Find support

If you’re still feeling anxious about a test, find someone to talk to about it. This can be a guidance counselor, someone who’s taken the test before, or another classmate. You’ll find that you're not the only person having a difficult time coping with test anxiety. It helps when you can share your experience with someone and get insight on how to manage your stress.

Remember, it's not the end of the world!

My first time taking the ACT was vastly different than my last. Each time I showed up for the exam, I became more and more relaxed. While I didn’t do as well as I had hoped the first time, I reminded myself that these tests occur every month. So, don’t worry if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped — there are many opportunities to take the test again.

To defeat test anxiety start studying for the ACT or SAT early and use Unigo Test Prep to achieve your best score.

About the author

Cecilia will give us an inside look at a day in the life of a college student, sharing her journey with us every step of the way. She’s a second-year public relations major at the University of Florida. Her hometown is in south Florida, in the small town of Clewiston, and she’s ready to make her mark. “Not only am I learning to adjust to a bigger city, but all of the adventures this big university brings along with it.” You can follow her adventures right here on Unigo!