5 Incredibly-Powerful Ways to Reduce SAT Testing Anxiety
Written by Christian on Feb. 17th, 2021
How to Reduce SAT Testing Anxiety
After these last 10 years as an SAT tutor working with 1,500+ students, I've realized that "testing anxiety" is a HUGE issue for many high schoolers and teens.

Anxiety is a real thing. I know, because I spent years dealing with serious anxiety myself. I never would have believed how painful and frightening it is, unless I had experienced it personally.

Along this journey, I've learned some powerful strategies & tricks to manage and reduce anxiety, and I want to share them with you in this post. 

Some of these are focused specifically towards SAT testing anxiety, while others are more general and will help reduce your overall levels of anxiety, period.

I want you to feel calm, happy, and confident while you test - you deserve it. Without further ado, here are five of my absolute best tricks for cutting SAT anxiety in half.

SAT Anxiety Tip #1: Reduce Social Media & Screen Time

This one is huge, and it is responsible for so much anxiety in teens. 

Social Media is a constant game of you-vs-me comparisons, FOMO, status flexes, humble-brags, and every other dark side of social interaction.

It's also an endless feed - a relentless train of nervous energy parading down your screen every hour and every day. Talk about anxiety-provoking.

Even worse, phone and computer screens themselves release anxiety-inducing "blue light." This is a real thing that's been studied and proven.

That's not all! Phones, computers, and social media disrupt sleep schedules (more on this later) which makes anxiety even worse.

I know this isn't popular advice, but you NEED to cut down on your social media and screen time if you feel anxiety. Look deep inside yourself - you know it's true.

SAT Anxiety Tip #2: Prepare for the SAT as Hard (and as Early) as You Can

Preparation is the key to confidence. Or - to say it in reverse - lack of preparation is a major cause of anxiety.

We know when we feel prepared or unprepared. It's like going out on a stage in front of 10,000 people. If you've mastered your craft, you'll feel excited to be on stage. But if you know you're not ready, it's literally the most terrifying thing most people could ever experience.

SAT testing is similar. When you're fully prepared, it's actually fun to dominate the test. But - when the proctor starts the timer, if you know deep-down that you should have studied sooner & longer, you're going feel that volcano of anxiety start building up inside of your stomach.

And guess what? This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anxiety itself is a cause of lower SAT scores. Not only are you underprepared - which means lower scores already - but your anxiety is now pulling your score down even further. It becomes a death spiral.

Worse yet, this experience (and your poor scores) can also discourage you from trying the SAT again in the future.

The solution? It's pretty obvious - you know it already. You need to start your SAT prep as early as possible. Give it everything you've got. And get a good coach.

It's much harder to be anxious about a performance when you know you did everything in your power to be prepared.

But note: most students should not be preparing very hard on the couple of days before the SAT itself. I'll explain why in just a bit.

SAT Anxiety Tip #3: Strenuous Physical Exercise & Better Sleep

Story time. 

Remember how I said in the intro that I once lived for years with my own serious anxiety attacks? 

Well, I mean it. From about age 24 to age 30, I had six years of terrible anxiety.

I didn't know what to do about it. This was my biggest problem in life, actually. I was terrified of the next anxiety attack, and I would have them multiple times a day.

In the car, at work, early in the morning, late at night. All day. The anxiety attacks were terrible. I was really suffering, and didn't have any idea how to stop them.

In fact, I started getting scared to go to bed. 

Every time the lights went out and my head hit the pillow, BOOM - I would be in the grip of another terrible anxiety attack. 

I actually started developing insomnia because I was so scared to lie down in bed. Each and every night. For years.

I was literally desperate for a solution.

The first light at the end of the tunnel was when - by chance - I discovered long-distance cross country running. 

Although I was never a star athlete, I definitely played sports in high school. But as I grew up, I stopped getting strenuous physical exercise.

That lack of good exercise turned out to be a major contributor to my anxiety...

I actually remember my first run in adulthood. That day, the anxiety attack had gotten SO bad and lasted for so long that, like a scared rabbit, I literally jumped over the fence of my house and just started running towards nothing. 

I probably looked pretty silly, because I was just in whatever clothes and shoes I had on at that moment.

It sounds funny now, but it was terrifying at the time. I was desperate and just running seemed like the only thing I could do to escape the pain.

That day I ran only about one mile. Not too far, compared to serious runners (and now I've had days where I've done 18 miles!)

But something strange happened immediately to me. I discovered that moving and exhausting my body's energy were HUGE reducers of my anxiety.

I've learned since then that it's impossible to be anxious when you're running. It's like all that excess nervous energy and tension finally has a PLACE TO GO. It just floods out of your body. And you feel calmer immediately - and proud of yourself!

The anxiety-reducing benefits last for the rest of the day. It's still possible to feel anxious later after the run ends, but it is definitely less anxious that it was before.

Another huge benefit to strenuous exercise: you'll sleep harder, faster, deeper, and longer the night after you exercise hard. And good sleep reduces anxiety even further.

If you're experiencing serious SAT testing anxiety, but you aren't doing any strenuous physical exercise, PLEASE trust me - you have to try it. Like TODAY.

You'll see right away that it starts to help you. And the harder you work your body, the lower your anxiety will go.

SAT Anxiety Tip #4: Meditation & Breathing

So, this next anxiety-reducing solution is perfect for almost everyone. But you have to be willing to try something new.

First of all, understand that anxiety and breathing are tied together.

Next time you're feeling anxious, check your breath. Are you taking deep, full breaths from your diaphragm?

I bet you're not. In fact, I bet you're almost holding your breath completely. 

You're taking tiny, shallow little breaths. If someone gave you a hug, they'd probably wonder if you were even breathing at all.

When you don't breath properly, your brain starts to feel scared. It's literally like you're drowning or being smothered. Your brain will start to send terrified signals to your nervous system and trigger life-threatening anxiety.

That's why major anxiety attacks often feel like you're drowning.

You need to stop holding your breath so tightly. When you feel anxious, focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths. It will feel so good when you finally give some fresh air back to your brain.

Now: to improve your breathing, try practicing meditation. This is going to help you calm down so much. I'll explain exactly how.

Meditation is literally a "practice." It's a skill that takes time and effort to get good at.

But anxiety-reducing meditation is very simple. Not easy (in fact, anxious people will find this meditation quite challenging - and that's a good thing), but it is simple.

Here are the steps for this anxiety meditation.

SAT Anxiety Meditation Step 1 - SETUP: Make a cozy, dark spot to sit. It should be as quiet and secure as possible. Give yourself a comfy pad or blanket to sit on. Don't rest your back against anything - sit up straight without support. You can sit cross-legged, or with legs stretched or extended - it doesn't really matter. You can use calming music, but I think silence is even better.

SAT Anxiety Meditation Step 2 - TIMER: Set a timer for 15 minutes. When you're first starting, go shorter - even 5 minutes of meditation is OK to start. Extend the timer over the course of a few weeks as you improve. I've noticed that benefits max out around 20 minutes.

SAT Anxiety Meditation Step 3 - MEDITATION: Start the timer and close your eyes. Sit up straight...

And here's the challenging part - your goal is to NOT THINK ABOUT ANYTHING for the entire time. This is very, very hard.

You will immediately notice your brain throwing thoughts at you constantly. Without stimulations of sound, motion, or sight, it's like your brain thinks it needs to be doing something.

But it doesn't. As these thoughts come up, you can notice them - and just let go of them. 

Concentrate on achieving an quiet, empty mind with no thoughts. It's almost impossible, but you'll get better with practice.

You can focus on your breathing to help with this and give your mind something to do in the meantime. Just focus on the slow, deep, in-and-out cycle of your breaths.

Try your very best to have the minimum number of thoughts for the entire timer.

This will test your patience. It is hard, trust me. Simple, but challenging - like I said.

It's ok to "fail." You're just practicing and trying something new. Keep going until the timer ends. Then slowly open your eyes, relax for a few moments, stretch, and stand up.

SAT Anxiety Meditation Step 4 - BENEFITS: Congratulations - you've just done your first anxiety meditation.

Every time you complete this, you'll learn more. But now that you've done it, I'll call your attention to a few key points:

- Your mind is constantly throwing thoughts at you. This feels frantic and uncontrollable, leading to anxiety. But you don't notice this chaos until you slow down and meditate. Then the thunderstorm inside your mind is exposed and clear to you. As you meditate more, you will naturally learn to slow and reduce those frantic thoughts, calm the storm, and your anxiety will decrease.

- Your body and mind need your deep breaths. The more you meditate like this, the more automatic it becomes to always take good, deep, slow breaths that support your soul and reduce your anxiety.

- On SAT test day, you've trained your mind and breath to be calmer and more powerful. You have improved your ability to focus and be patient. Your anxiety will decrease and your score will go up.

SAT Anxiety Tip #5: Perspective & Taking it Easy

I've got one more tip to reduce your SAT testing anxiety for today:

In the two days before the test, stop working so hard. Keep meditating, exercising, and sleeping, but stop studying.

If you've followed this advice, you already were studying for the SAT as early and as hard as possible.

Cramming for another 48 hours will NOT massively improve your score. But it might trigger an anxiety attack that actually lowers your score.

Keep perspective. You've been working hard in school and on SAT prep for a long time now. For years, champ! You might not have every tiny little detail down perfectly, but you're ready to try.

It's OK. It's OK to miss some questions. It's OK to run out of time. It's OK to be imperfect. Doing your best is good enough, trust me.

The SAT is only one tiny part of your life. Your family and friends still love you. Nature is still beautiful. You're still alive and you have a great life ahead of you no matter what happens on test day.

Plus, you can probably take the test again. Seniors, maybe not - but Juniors and Sophomores certainly can test again. 

(Besides, you Seniors are already good to crush this test. You weren't gonna need another test anyway. You're on the top of your game, older and wiser than ever before.)

You're ready for this test.

Christian Heath

Christian Heath helps high school students get massively higher SAT test scores and confidence. He is an expert at teaching students everything they need to know to absolutely crush this critical college admissions test.

If you're interested in getting higher SAT scores or increasing your SAT testing confidence then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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