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Reducing Test Anxiety and Answering Test Prep Questions

Gifted Education and Support

Reducing Test Anxiety

It is common for students to experience test anxiety. For some, the stress of not getting a perfect score can be paralyzing. Others feel nauseous. Their heart beats fast. Their palms sweat, and they feel that everything they studied has flown out the window. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that test anxiety can be due to a number of factors such as fear of failure, lack of preparation, or poor test history, and can result in physical, emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive symptoms. If your student has test anxiety, here are some strategies that may help:

  • Write it out! According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, students who are prone to test anxiety see an increase in test scores after writing about their testing fears ten minutes before taking a test.
  • Acknowledge your student’s concerns. Take time to listen to your student’s worries and what their test taking experience is like. Author C. Trèpanier suggests validating a student’s concerns and avoiding comments such as “don’t worry about it” can help individuals work toward reducing anxiety.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Help your student practice relaxation techniques such as square breathing, tensing and releasing muscles one at time, or positive visualization and self-talk.
  • Encourage healthy living habits. Sleep, healthy eating, exercise and time to relax are always important, especially before a test!
  • Help manage appropriate expectations — both for yourself and your student!, a website by Stanford University, encourages parents to “emphasize the importance of effort, hard work, resilience, and intellectual curiosity” over performance to avoid sending the message that results matter most.

Looking for more strategies? Here are a few resources:

Six of Your Test Prep Questions Answered

1. Does my student need to take the ACT and the SAT?
It is not necessary to have both ACT and SAT scores. Most U.S. colleges and universities* accept both the ACT and the SAT. Each test serves the same purpose on an application: Test scores are one way students can demonstrate their readiness and ability to do college-level work. However, some colleges or specific programs within a college may require additional testing. For example, students applying to the School of Engineering at Cooper Union are required to submit two SAT Subject Tests, one in math and one in physics or chemistry, in addition to the ACT or SAT.

2. What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
The two tests used to be quite different. However, changes to both tests over the last few years (the new SAT debuts in March 2016) have made them more similar:

  • Both tests have optional essays (some universities require the writing portion).
  • Both tests don’t penalize you for guessing.
  • The new SAT includes scientific essay reading comprehension and analysis; the ACT has a section devoted to science.
  • Though the new SAT still has more of an emphasis on vocabulary than the ACT, the vocabulary is put in context.
  • The math sections are different in format, but both test up to pre-calculus.

3. Which test should my student take?
Whichever test he or she prefers and will perform best on. How does a student gauge his or her preference and performance ability? Encourage your student to learn about both test formats and the types of questions on each. Then have your student take a fulllength practice test of both the ACT and the SAT in conditions as close to real life as possible. The official websites of the ACT and the SAT both have free full-length practice tests and detailed explanations of testing conditions. Have your student compare results:

  • Which did he or she score higher on?
  • Which felt better?

You may also take into consideration your student’s performance and experiences with the PSAT and PLAN.

4. How many times should my student take the ACT/SAT?
Many reputable sources (College Board, the ACT, Admission Matters, College Admission to name a few), suggest no more than three times. After that point, significant improvement is unlikely.

5. Do I need to pay for a test prep course for my student or hire a tutor?
The SAT now offers a free, comprehensive prep course through Khan Academy. The ACT also has their own online prep course for $39.95. These are self-paced courses. You might consider other options if your student’s practice scores aren’t where he or she would like them. Twice-exceptional students may also find a tutor helpful, especially if that tutor has experience working with learning differences.

6. Does my student have to take the ACT or the SAT to get into college?
Not necessarily. Many schools are becoming flexible with standardized testing policies. Learn more about test optional and flexible testing policies at


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