10 Steps to Help Test Anxiety

stressed student in a classroom
Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Are you anxious about taking the SAT or ACT? Feeling nervous before an exam is very common, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it in silence! Experts and mentors can help. We’ve got 10 steps to help you cope with your test anxiety, and perform your best on exam day.

1. Know it’s normal

Test anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of! Lots of students experience anxiety when faced with a big exam. The key is to know that you can work through your nervousness, and ultimately find coping strategies to help you do your best on exam day.

With increasing mental health awareness in schools, you can talk to your counselor if your anxiety is getting in the way of your best life in school. Then, try the rest of the tips on this list to face and overcome anxious moments in the future.

2. Study the right way

Whether you are taking the ACT or the SAT, you need to make sure you are studying in the most efficient way. Talk to your high school counselor to get advice about your specific exam, and keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Be consistent: you remember more if you review the same material every day.
  • Switch up your study location: this helps your brain retain the information better!
  • Sleep on it: studying before bed helps you consolidate new learning while you sleep.

3. Get enough sleep

As a teenager, you still need 8-10 hours of sleep a night; are you hitting that goal? If not, it’s time to make sleep a priority, especially if you are feeling anxious about your exams. Even studying is not worth sacrificing your sleep routines. We know it’s hard, but it makes a difference. Be sure to get plenty of sleep the week of the test, so your brain will function best on exam day.

4. Eat the right breakfast

You know breakfast is important… but you also need to make sure it’s a healthy, filling meal. No sugary energy drinks or donuts, if you can help it! Try to eat something with fiber and protein to keep yourself full and focused during the entirety of the exam. Here are some easy, actually yummy suggestions:

  • Oatmeal with berries
  • Eggs on toast
  • Whole grain cereal

5. Get your supplies ready in advance

Don’t wait until the last minute to gather up your testing supplies. What will you need for your exam? A calculator? Your ID? Don’t forget the more obvious things, either, like car keys and a water bottle!

Check your calculator batteries the week before your test, and lay out all your supplies the day before. Leave anything that won’t be allowed in the testing room behind, and just keep the essentials. That way, on test day, you have one less thing to worry about.

10 Steps for Test Anxiety
10 Steps for Test Anxiety

6. Dress comfortably

You want to be as comfortable as possible during the test. Wear loose, comfortable clothes and shoes that you won’t need to worry about or adjust. You should also plan to dress in layers so you’re prepared for a testing room that is either hot or cold. Finally, check if you are allowed to wear a watch (digital or analog) during the exam; if allowed, this can help you stay on track if you are too far away to see the clock in the room.

7. Try a mantra

Your self-talk is always important when it comes to dealing with mental health. Try coming up with a mantra that focuses on the positive aspects of the challenge in front of you. Then, when you are feeling overwhelmed, repeat it to yourself. You might try something like, “I am prepared, I am confident, I can do this.” Find what works for you!

8. Focus on your breath

Breathing consciously comes up a lot in discussions about managing anxiety… because it works! If you find yourself spiraling, stop and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. You can also try breathwork, where you breathe and hold your breath for certain counts. There are lots of ways to do it, but a common one to start with is square breathing.

  1. Breathe in for a count of 4.
  2. Hold for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out for a count of 4.
  4. Hold for a count of 4.

This measured breathing will slow you down and help you focus on the task in front of you.

9. Give yourself plenty of time

On the day of the exam, get there early. You’ll want to have time to find the right room, pick a seat, and get checked in without feeling rushed. Giving yourself extra time also means you won’t be late if something unexpected happens, like a slow train, or traffic.

10. Try college admissions counseling

If you are still concerned about your exams (or any part of the college admissions process) Empowerly is here to help. Try our college counseling services to get the individualized support you need. Book a free consultation today!

Questions? Let us know!