With the new digital SAT coming out in March 2023 and the digital PSAT rolling out this month for the first time, there’s a lot of anxiety about what to expect and how to prepare. The good news is that our tech-savvy kids are already used to taking digital tests, whether it’s for school assessments, finals, or other standardized exams. But when the stakes are high – like college acceptance – test anxiety can rear its ugly head. Below, I’m sharing 17 ways to help overcome anxiety so your teen can be a confident test taker. Your child can use these tactics to help with digital or traditional paper and pen tests. I’ll break down the tips into three test phrases – before, during, and after.
BEFORE THE TEST
1. Make sure your teen is familiar with the format of the digital test.We all have a fear of the unknown. So it’s not surprising that many students suffer test anxiety because they don’t know what to expect. To overcome this, have your child become familiar with the test structure and format. Here are some questions to consider:
- How long is the total test?
- How many sections will there be?
- How many questions per section?
- How much time is allocated to each section and each question?
- Will there be a penalty for a wrong answer? On the SAT, there’s no penalty, so it’s better to guess than leave the response blank.
2. Take practice tests.Students should take these practice tests to become comfortable with the layout, tools (such as the online calculator), and features they’ll encounter during the test. Digital tests often have time limits for each section. To avoid the stress of running out of time, practice time management while studying. Use a timer during practice tests to ensure each section is completed within the allotted time. Learning to pace will help them feel more confident on test day. Also, mimic the test environment by studying using a desk and chair, not on the bed or floor. Many test providers like Applerouth offer free practice tests that mimic the actual testing format. Visit the Applerouth website to select a digital test and to register.
3. Create a study game plan.Being prepared is key to overcoming test anxiety. Your child should create a study plan of what needs to be covered. Then, break study sessions into manageable chunks, focusing on one topic at a time. Use online resources, study guides, and textbooks to supplement their learning. We have a sample 6-week test prep schedule that your child can use to help reduce anxiety.
4. Minimize distractions.When studying, it’s important to have a distraction-free environment. Your teen should find a quiet place to study, silence all phone notifications, and block distracting websites or apps. This practice will help them concentrate better during study sessions and on the actual test.
5. Practice self-care.Healthy routines and habits in the weeks leading up to test day will keep your child in the best mindset for test-taking. Make sure they’re not neglecting their physical and mental well-being. They should get enough sleep, water, and healthy foods every day. And exercise regularly. These habits will keep them energized, focused, and better equipped to handle stress and anxiety.
6. Develop coping skills & practice relaxation techniques.Before the test, anxiety may naturally start to build. If they start to feel anxious, tell them to pause, take five deep breaths, and re-focus. And have them practice positive self-talk. What can they tell themselves before and during the test to stay calm and confident enough to keep going? Can they come up with a favorite slogan or pep talk?
7. Create a pre-test routine and packing list.Squash test day anxiety by creating a checklist for the night before and for the morning of the test. What do they need to bring? If they need to bring their own device (i.e. iPad, laptop), then make sure all required apps and programs are installed and loading properly. Ensure the device is completely charged the night before and that charging cables are on the packing list. Do they need to bring water and snacks for breaks? If yes, put that on the list. Make sure they get a good night’s sleep. On the morning of the test, they should avoid sugar and eat protein at breakfast so they don’t crash in the middle of the test. Know how long it will take to get to the testing site and aim to get there early so they don’t feel stressed.
DURING THE TEST
1. Stay positive and confident.Remind your teen to maintain a positive mindset and to believe in their abilities. They’ve done all they can to prepare, and now it’s time to go into the test with confidence and an “I’ve got this” attitude.
2. Read the instructions carefully.It’s important to read instructions carefully and not hesitate to ask for clarification if needed. Familiarity with the digital test interface will also come in handy here.
3. Manage time wisely.During the test, keeping an eye on the clock is also important. Pacing will ensure that they have sufficient time for each section. If they get stuck on a question, move on and return to it later. Dwelling on a single question for too long can eat into their time for other sections.
4. Utilize digital tools.Digital tests often provide tools like calculators, highlighting options, and notepads. Students need to make use of these tools to their advantage. Again, it’s important to practice using these online tools so that they are familiar with them during the actual test.
5. Stay calm and focused.Finally, let your teen know that it’s okay to feel anxious despite their best efforts and that this is normal. When anxiety creeps in, their earlier practice of coping mechanisms like taking deep breaths, visualization, and pep talks come in handy.
AFTER THE TEST
1. Reflect on their performance.After completing the test, your child should take some time to reflect on their performance: What went well, and what could be improved? Reflecting on the experience can help them identify areas to work on for future tests.
2. Analyze mistakes objectively.If mistakes were made during the test, they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. Instead, review the mistakes objectively. Understand why they got certain questions wrong and learn from those errors. This analysis can guide future study efforts.
3. Reward themselves.Regardless of the outcome, it’s essential to reward themselves for their hard work and effort. Do something enjoyable, whether it’s a favorite meal, a movie night, or a relaxing day out. Accomplishments, no matter how small, should be celebrated to boost motivation for future activities.
4. Plan for future tests.If your student plans to take more digital tests, use this experience as a stepping stone. Adjust the study plan, time management techniques, and relaxation strategies based on what was learned from this test.
5. Seek support and guidance as needed.If test anxiety continues to be a significant challenge for your child, seek support by talking to a trusted teacher, school counselor, or mental health professional. They can provide guidance and strategies to help your teen manage anxiety effectively. ***** In summary, breaking down anxiety management into three phases can help your child overcome stress and set good study habits for future test-taking. I also want to point out that while it’s important to encourage our children to do their best, test scores should not define our teens’ self-worth. If your child is not a strong test taker and is worried that low SAT or ACT scores will affect their college admission chances, speak to a college counselor to explore alternatives. Many universities are now test-blind or test-optional and don’t require SAT or ACT results. A college counselor can guide your child to focus their energy on other parts of the college application and to highlight their strengths. Our team at Stodghill College Consulting is always here to help should you need personalized 1:1 support for you and your child.
Ways We Can Work TogetherWorking with Stodghill College Consulting, each high schooler showcases their unique skills and talents, discovers their own brilliant voice, and finds a college that will enable them to reach their full potential as young adults.
- Schedule a free discovery call to discuss how we can create an action plan to help your child keep on top of deadlines and a college list that is personalized to their strengths and talents.
- Get college essay writing support from our essay expert, who will guide your teen through brainstorming and revising until they have a polished final product.