The ‘A’ Isn’t for Anxiety: 5 Ways to Prepare for Standardized Tests

Standardized tests?!?

Nothing puts anxiety in a student’s head more than standardized tests. But, love ’em or hate ’em, they are an integral part of the college admissions process. As we learned back in our “goin’ on a bear hunt” days, if you can’t go over it and can’t go under it, then the best action is to find a way through it. These test prep tips will help.

RELATED: Picking a College by Studying Rankings? Maybe not.

Tip number one is absolute: No panicking allowed

1. Don’t panic. Any lifeguard can tell you that the only thing panicking does is help you sink faster. These tests are not designed to torture you, they are meant to measure what you’ve been learning in school all these years. You’re more ready than you realize. Just try to remember — millions of students just like you (stellar students, average students, as well as under-performing students) take them every year and live to tell the tale.

RELATED: Get these SAT and ACT registration dates in your calendar now.

2. Don’t stay up late the night before to study. Standardized tests are made to survey your knowledge — broadly — so cramming the night before will only cause you to be tired on test day. Fatigue is much more of an enemy than missing a couple of questions (assuming cramming even results in learning one or two new facts that, by some miracle, turn up on the test). Do go ahead and review some key concepts, or math formulas, or whatever will help you feel less anxiety, but do this early in the evening and then get to bed on time!

3. Don’t buy into the hype. People around you may be going completely overboard about the tests, talking and worrying about testing constantly, basically freaking out, until the idea builds into a monster in everyone’s minds. Let it go. These tests are administered multiple times each year to millions of students. If you’re taking the SAT or ACT, here’s the good news — it’s one time in life when it’s actually possible to get a do-over. And here’s even better news — most universities allow scores from multiple test dates. Check the ones you’re interested in. (Some will even take scores from more than one test type, such as your highest Critical Reading from the SAT and highest Math from the ACT!)

4. Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune on a test prep course. If you have the means and feel that paid preparation will help you, it sure doesn’t hurt, but plenty of students do just fine with free or low-cost practice options. (There are lots of free and low-cost study options. Check with your counselor and see the links below.) Get a book or go online, get familiar with the format, and do so early in the process. Practice makes perfect, so start well in advance of your test date. If you do plan to go with a test prep company, we like Higher Scores Test Prep and their various options for the level of preparation that fits your situation.

Lastly, and very importantly:

5. Don’t skip breakfast or fill up on high-sugar non-food. Eating breakfast before testing makes a huge difference in performance. But make sure you eat a good breakfast. Protein, good carbohydrates and absolutely NO sugary junk! (Save the toaster pastries and cookies in disguise for an after-test treat.)

Want more information? Take a look at some of the links below, do your own searches, and figure out what will work best for you and your studying style when it comes to test prep.

Higher Scores Test Prep Service

FastWeb – Top Standardized Test Tips

 Scholastic – Collection of Tips for Preparing Middle and High School Students for Tests

Ten Things You Should Do the Night Before a Test

Free SAT Practice Options from The College Board

Free ACT Practice Book (PDF – 2 MB)

SAT Test Day Checklist

Things to Take to the ACT Test Center


Updated July 31, 2019

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