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5 Best Strategies to Overcome Test-Taking Anxiety

Students work hard to prepare for standardized tests—in fact, that might be an understatement: families adjust their schedules, activities, and lives for months to accommodate test prep. The entire process is demanding, and we should always praise students for rising to the occasion and exceeding expectations. Congratulations to Lyceum’s first fall 2018 test-takers, all of whom have scored in the 90th percentiles of the SSAT and SAT!


As many students head off to their first and second standardized tests next month, many are looking forward to their hard work paying off—countless hours of studying, tutoring, practice tests, memorizing, and more. They deserve this opportunity to show how far they’ve come!


Despite the many strategies and approaches that are mastered in Lyceum tutoring, test-taking anxiety remains a common obstacle: nearby students dropping pencils, proctors making announcements, and fluorescent lighting are new for students whose practice predominantly takes place in the comfort of their homes. Not to mention, this is the big day, which in and of itself is a new sensation.


Here are the 5 best strategies to overcome test-taking anxiety:


1. Adopt the “I deserve this” mindset.

You own this test, it doesn’t own you. This test is your property—that you paid for—, not the other way around. Start thinking now about how much you deserve to do well on your test. Your test is an opportunity to show off how great you are. You’ve uncovered all of its traps, identified all of its patterns, categorized all of its passage, question, and answer types. You’re a beast! Once you receive your test, give it a good crunch. Then do what you do best, and send that test to as many schools as you’d like.


2. Prepare completely.

One of the reasons why we’re nervous at tests is because we didn’t prepare enough, in which case we arrive highly aware that there is a significant amount of material that we don’t know. In other words, we’ve gotten lost and there’s no coming back, which can be an incomparable learning experience that hopefully enforces the following approach in the future: exhaust all effective preparation materials that exist and seek expert instruction.


3. Eat well, sleep sufficiently, and hydrate often.

Being hungry and tired are a bad combination, and dehydration contributes to headaches, disorientation, and tiredness. In the week leading up to tests, make sure you always have a water bottle in hand. Likewise, eat a protein-rich breakfast (dairy, yogurt, eggs). Minimize sugar in your diet leading up to the test date.


4. Let the rough patches roll off you.

Many students come back from tests and say that one of the passages was harder than any they’ve ever seen before. This may or may not be true, but the truth is that it’s unlikely that everything goes perfectly on test day. There’s going to be a question or two that throws you off, and you know what? That’s okay. The biggest mistake you can make is spending too much time trying to answer a question that’s worth the same as the easier ones. Accept the tough questions, move on, and get back to business. If you hyper fixate on the rough patches while you try to take the test, you’ll impair your ability to ace all the other questions.


5. Keep an eye on the clock.

Standardized tests are always timed, and many are designed to make you run out of time. If you accomplished Strategy 2 (Prepare Completely), then you’ve already reduced your time significantly. Still, it’s easy to lose track of time. Look at the clock when you start, identify what time the test ends, and every time you complete a passage or a quarter of the questions, take a look at the clock to make sure you’re making good time. If you’ve got an hour to complete 5 passages, then after your second passage, you want to be somewhere between 17- and 20-minutes in.


These strategies help a lot. What makes you successful is internal, so don’t let external factors get the best of you. Employ these strategies to maximize your success.

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