At Susan Moldow Educational Consulting, we are sensitive to the fact that for many students, whether they’re taking the SAT, the ACT, the SSAT, or the GRE, test day is so much harder than taking practice tests… Here are some tips designed for you to conquer your test day anxiety.

Consider the Test Day “Testing Chamber” A harshly-lit classroom in an otherwise empty building, always either over-air conditioned or overheated, silent except for the relentless loud ticking of the clock on the wall.  A room full of students gripping their regulation No. 2 non-mechanical pencils which, despite this being 2018, we are still compelled to use. A proctor props his shoes on the teacher’s desk and pages idly through a magazine. And it is in this chamber, this brain-blunting temple of sterility, that we are expected to sit for a four-hour examination. Is it any wonder that students, even the best-prepared ones, routinely blank on Test Day? That they crumble under pressure, get fixated on the one guy next to them that seems not to have showered in a month, and before they know it, they’ve been staring at the same problem for ten minutes?

What can be done?

1. Life is not a dress rehearsal but it’s time for a dress rehearsal. YOLO – so all the more reason to practice and be prepared for your big day.  Maybe you are like many students who take those practice tests in your bedroom or in your favorite room of your house.  You stretch out on your bed or couch at 11 a.m. to begin the test, listen to music, or check occasional text messages.  Do you take a long-ish lunch break with the warm chicken from last night’s dinner, make a short trip to the mall or have a long agreement to disagree with a friend in between the Writing and the Math No Calculator Sections?  If this is you, then you probably feel pretty good while you are practicing, but this is NOT quite the same experience as taking the test on test day….

Better idea:  Do you know where your local library is?  Head there before test day.  Be there when it opens and find a semi-formal space where some coughing or whispering may surround you (not a private study room). You may, as one student reported, be the lucky desk neighbor of a chronic sniffer, gum cracker, or cougher on test day.  De-sensitize yourself to these unfamiliar sounds by finding a not totally silent practice testing environment. Take your protein and carb fortifying snacks, some water, a timer (one that is not connected to a device on which you can check your emails and text messages), your sharpened pencils, and your alive and well (not on its last leg) calculator.  Simulate the test in its entirety with two five-ish minute breaks, and a breath, stretch, and snack in between sections. 

Think about your familiarity with strategies and the many different problems you have encountered in your homework prior to this experience.  Have you seen a problem like this before?  Can you come up with a number and plug in or back-solve?  Can you find proof in the passage that validates the details in the answer choices?  And along the way, STAY AWAY from the phone…. Yes, it’s tempting to want to find out if that special someone texted you, or to make those evening plans, but keep your mind in the game until it’s over – a good idea during both practice and real tests.

2. Be in the moment.  You do the question in front of you and you do it right.  You don’t think about the last problem, or wonder if the problems in the next section will be unusually hard or easy.  You don’t think about how your significant other and you parted ways last week after seven months together, how you nearly got a speeding ticket on your way to the testing center, how you really don’t feel so hot and how you might be running a fever and wish you had taken Advil before you started the test.  Yes, all of these things have happened and can happen.  But you are in control.  You stay present, just solve this one problem, and move right on to the next one.



3. Dress for success.  Comfort is key.  Pajamas could be perfect.  Why suffer?  Bring your slippers or comfy socks, or favorite sweatpants and lucky sweatshirt.  And layer it on – you don’t know whether it will be an inferno or a freezer in that testing room, so come prepared with a variety of clothing options.


Standardized tests are as much about mental toughness and psychological preparation as they are about studying.  So before test day, make time to think about and plan for how you can stay relaxed, feel focused, and be confident!