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College Prep | SAT Prep | February 28, 2012

SAT Test Prep Anxiety: How to Overcome Your Stress

By Rory Hatfield | for

Dale Carnegie, acclaimed author of How To Win Friends and Influence People, had some interesting advice for avoiding worry - keeping busy! He wrote, "one of the most fundamental laws ever revealed by psychology [is] that it is utterly impossible for any human mind, no matter how brilliant, to think of more than one thing at any given time.” NPR's science reporters reached the same conclusion, when they discovered that "multitasking" doesn't actually exist. No matter how much technology, computers, or social media can advance; it seems that we humans can't keep our attention on more than one thing!

What Does That Have To Do With SAT Success?

More than you'd think! In the days of teaching SAT prep courses, I always ask my students to raise their hands if they've seen their friends and classmates "freak out" and get nervous before a test. Invariably, almost every hand in the room shoots up. (Sometimes the students sheepishly claim to be the anxious ones!) While test anxiety is common and understandable, it erodes confidence, undermines student achievement and is contagious as wildfire. Many otherwise bright and capable students succumb to nervousness on Test Day, underperforming relative to their ability.

Don’t Get Distracted – Focus On the Task At Hand

You may have guessed my remedy for this angst - don't think about it - and you'd be right! Well...sort of. Simply “not thinking” about something doesn't quite do the trick. This is mostly because in order to not think about something, you have to think about it first! Right now, try as hard as you can not to think of a dumb, balding man with yellow skin and five o'clock shadow. Let me guess - you just thought of Homer Simpson, right? See how trying to think about the opposite of something makes you think of that very thing?

Okay, so that strategy won't work to reduce anxiety. The theory behind it, though - focusing on one thing - is a strategy that will work. So, how do we use this to our advantage on Test Day? Thinking about where to eat after the test is over? Daydreaming about lying on Miami Beach? Wondering if a stretch Hummer is really worth renting for prom? Thinking about these things may take your mind off of anxiety, but it will take your mind off of the test, too.

Prepare and Concentrate

Do yourself a favor - since the first section of every SAT is the essay, spend 15 minutes before the test reviewing and brainstorming examples of things you could write. It will focus your energy on something positive (getting a great essay score!) and away from something negative (I'm about to take the SAT - aaaaahhh!!!). Plus, confidence is just as captivating as anxiety. Rocking out on the first section of the SAT can set your worried mind at ease and embolden your spirits. Do yourself a favor on Test Day, and make your last thought before the test that you're going to wow that essay grader with your awesome examples.

Rory Hatfield teaches pre-college classes (SAT/ACT/PSAT) for Kaplan's Live Online division full-time; and is also a student at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, where he is earning a Masters in Instructional Design. He has taught numerous courses and events for Kaplan, including sample classes on college admissions, writing an effective personal statement, and whether to take the SAT, ACT, or both.

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