Sitting for standardized tests often feels as charged and fraught with meaning as any big game or performance. Test takers are literally competing for scores which may have major implications for future educational opportunities. Yes, the test anxiety struggle is real.
Expert coaching and perfect practice testing make a massive difference in the levels of anxiety test takers feel and, more importantly, how they respond to that stress in the moment. Unfortunately, small problems at the start of a test or test section have the potential to sabotage the whole exam:
- Getting lost or running late on the way to a test
- Forgetting an admissions ticket or acceptable ID or experiencing some other stressor at check-in
- Starting slow because you are tired, underfed, over-caffeinated, or insufficiently warmed up
- Coming out of a break distracted by good or bad news
Countless tactical or strategic errors can lead to a weak start to a test. Unfortunately, some test takers will allow early errors to undermine the whole exam. Performance expert Brian Lomax offers an excellent analogy in his discussion of how to get from the start of an event to its conclusion:
For example, if you lost the first point of a game in a tennis match, there is nothing to get upset about. The score is 0-15 and there is plenty of time and opportunity to recover. Reacting negatively to such moments may actually harm your ability to reach your ultimate goal of winning the match. The only thing that has been affected in that moment is probability; your probability of winning that game is a little less than your opponent’s. That’s nothing to get too upset about. You have a chance to get back in the game on the next point. And if you lose the game, there is almost always another game.
The current version of the SAT serves up a total of 154 questions across four sections. The ACT delivers even more at 215 (yikes!) Getting the first question of any section wrong simply means that you probably won’t be earning that perfect score you may have dreamed of. Considering the way these exams are scaled, even that might not be off the table–as long as you bounce back from adversity. Take a deep breath, strike a power pose, or just remember how many more points are still there for the taking. Grit, resilience, and perspective are as important on test day as calculators, snacks, and #2 pencils!
In the absence of effective preparation, anxiety can definitely impede test performance. But that observation applies to just about any activity, especially the ones that matter to us. Why ruin your chances by worrying while you’re in the middle of a test? Instead, follow Taylor Swift’s sage advice on dealing with adversity. After all, the best time to worry is once you’re finished!