Test anxiety is real. It’s not something that is imagined or a sign of cracking under pressure. More importantly, feeling anxious before a test is not your fault – it is completely normal and some people are simply better at dealing with it than others.

Equally real is the effect anxiety can have on your SAT or ACT scores. There are many reasons why you could feel anxious before a test, but no matter what the cause, there are a few helpful steps you can take to manage, and even halt, test anxiety.

Here are some of the anxiety-countering habits that have worked for the CollegEnroll team in the past:

1. Familiarize yourself with the test

If you have been taking practice tests, then this step should not be too difficult. Get to know each section of the test, how many questions each section has, as well as which sections prove to be a hurdle. This will greatly help with time management too – a major cause of test anxiety.

2. Scout the test location

If you get the opportunity to check out the test location in advance, please do so. That way, on the day of the test, you’re not panicking while trying to find the test center. It’ll also help you plan your route to the test center better.

3. Organize all required items the night before

Pencils, calculators, IDs, pencil sharpeners, an analog wristwatch – all these are things you will need on your person when giving the test. Instead of scrambling to find them hours before the test, collect them all and place them together on the night before.

4. Cut back screen-time

A fatigued mind is more likely to get anxious about taking a test. On the day before you take the SATs / ACTs, try to cut back on your screen time. And get plenty of sleep. Your brain and your eyes will thank you for it.

1. Eat a familiar, comforting breakfast

Having butterflies in your stomach on test day is nothing out of the ordinary. However, what’s in your stomach could have an impact on just how hard those butterflies flutter. Don’t take any chances with your breakfast, and stick to something familiar you like.

2. Exercise to distract your mind

You don’t want to excuse yourself physically before a test, but a little bit of exercise can help massively. Mentally, it helps distract you from creeping thoughts of anxiety. Physically, it helps you loosen up from any stress you might be feeling.

3. Focus on your breathing

Staying calm is key to crushing the SAT / ACT. If you are feeling stressed or anxious just before the exam, just take the time to step back a little and focus on your breathing.

It is a proven technique that relaxes the muscles and energizes the brain. Inhale, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and exhale. Works very well if you’re in the middle of a particularly difficult section and need a mini-break to reset.

4. Talk to a friend

Your friends can be your biggest cheerleaders, and spending some time talking to them before the test can do wonders to calm your nerves. If you have a friend taking the SAT / ACT as well, then even better – you can be each other’s pillar through it all.

For many students, anxiety can come out of the blue and dent their confidence. The best way to combat test anxiety is to be as well prepared for the test as possible. And the tips above should help you do exactly that!

  • There is nothing wrong with experiencing some form of test anxiety – it is completely normal and should not be allowed to derail your test preparations.
  • Things you can do before leading up to the day of the test can play a big role in helping you destress on the day of the test itself.
  • Remember that the SAT / ACT score is only a part of the college admission process – it’s okay to be a little anxious about it, but don’t worry too much about not being able to hit your target score.