This month’s sage strategies regard battling test anxiety. These are the best tips from NTPA experts in the field. What information stands out to you? Do any guarantee success—or failure?

We welcome your comments below!


Mike Bergin of Chariot Learning (read the full blog post here):

Have you ever tried to build confidence and beat back anxiety by assuming a power pose? Researchers found that, by simply changing physical posture, an individual prepares his or her mental and physiological systems to endure difficult and stressful situations, and perhaps to actually improve confidence and performance.

Phil McCaffrey of 3R Prep:

Trust your practice. You have done all the work, so there won’t be anything on the test you haven’t seen. Anxiety’s enemy is practice.

Robin Satty of StemSmart Consulting:

1. Notice when you’re feeling anxious, whether it’s from physical cues like sweaty palms or racing, unproductive thoughts.
2. Pause and take a deep breath or a repeat a mantra, because a few seconds won’t hurt your score but a few minutes with your brain in knots could.
3. Jump back in!
Mary Bertoni Thomas of Test Prep Simplified:
What if you panic during the test? Choose a calming strategy: Close your eyes, count to 10, take deep breaths, pray, go to a happy place. “I can get through the next 5 minutes and the next 5 minutes, etc…” Concerned about timing? Bring an old-fashioned watch with hands. Set it to noon at the start of each test, and now it’s a stopwatch to track your time.
Running out of time? Since we never leave a blank- Choose A,A,A(SAT) ORA,F,A,F(ACT) to pick up a couple of very valuable points.
Susan Powers of Woodlands Test Prep:
Students’ minds and bodies are connected, so they can calm themselves starting from either the mind or body.  Putting your pencil down and taking a couple of deep breaths releases physical tension, signaling the brain to relax.  From the mental side, noticing negative self-talk and (gently) replacing it with a realistic, positive message can change “I don’t know how to do this math problem – I’m going to fail the SAT – I’ll never get into any college – I’m going to live under a bridge!” into “This math problem is hard so I’ll skip it and come back if I can.  I’ll have time to think about it more clearly once I’ve finished everything else, and if I don’t have time to come back, no big deal.  I have plenty of other good questions to answer!” Shifting the scary message to a realistic one allows calm to reemerge.
Laura Link of Link Private Tutoring:
The more prepared a student is, the less anxiety he or she has about the ACT/SAT. A key strategy is to do more than half of your practice under timed conditions. Know how many questions you are likely to answer and you don’t have to feel anxious about not finishing those last 5 questions.
Aaron Golumbfskie of PrepMatters
Dr. Sonia Lupien, director of the Center for Studies on Human Stress, has created the acronym NUTS to describe aspects of situations that cause stress: (N)ovelty, (U)npredictability, (T)hreat to ego, and (S)ense of control. I work to ensure my students know exactly what’s on the test and take plenty of practice tests, eliminating novelty and unpredictability. They also understand that the SAT isn’t an IQ test but rather a test of acquired skills, skills that they’ve acquired through their hard work, and that their hard work has equipped them with both the strategies and knowledge they need to be in control on test day and do their best.
Adam Snoza of Aim High Test Prep:

(For the ACT) Hang back when the class is let out on a break. The herd of students will only talk about the last questions on the math test. This doesn’t give you an opportunity to unwind and recharge. Give yourself space and let them walk ahead of you.

Paul Pscolka of Ivy Masters:

Write down your anxieties for 10 minutes the morning of the test.  Studies show that unloading your emotions on the page will relieve stress and help you focus.
Stand like superman/superwoman for 2 minutes before the test.
Sit tall— when taking the test– good posture will help you think and will increase your confidence.
Visualize yourself taking the perfect test for 15 minutes per day the week of the test.
Lori Tofexis of Circle Test Prep:
I remind them that, unlike their tests in school, they can take this one again and again. You will get lots of chances if you need them. It’s not “all on the line” for any single test. And: try to visualize yourself in your bedroom at home (or wherever you usually do the practice tests).
Mike McGibbon of Mathchops:
Identify what’s causing the stress and replicate it in your practice (mock tests at centers, timing drills).
Bara Sapir of City Test Prep (read the full blog post here):
Tests don’t only measure what you know they also measure how well you take tests. If a student lacks focus, confidence, or is negatively impacted by anxiety we employ tools to optimize their mindset, beyond content mastery, test-taking strategy, and practice. Empowering ‘change-work’ techniques from the holistic, mindfulness, positive psychology, neuro-plasticity, growth mindset, etc., helps students get out of their own way, create new behavior patterns, and dispel self limiting beliefs. We use our Full Potential Manual (Nova Press)( and audio series both which provide anxiety elimination techniques and are designed to optimize a student’s mindset.