SAT & ACT Prep: Tips to Reduce Stress Before Taking the Test

By Huntington Learning Center

All tests create some stress for students, but the SAT and ACT are especially nerve-racking for high school students planning ahead for the college application/admission process. The weight of these important exams and the potential impact that SAT/ACT scores can have on your student’s college application create an overwhelming situation for many students. On top of this, SAT and ACT prep is never a one-size-fits-all activity. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Reducing stress on the SAT/ACT is a matter of planning ahead, preparing well and embracing stress-reducing strategies before and during the exam. Here are a few tips to take the stress out of SAT/ACT prep:  

Create a good study plan. As with any exam, last-minute studying without much of a plan is certain to do very little for your student’s confidence and stress level. With the SAT/ACT, it’s best to start studying as far ahead of test day as possible. Whether your student has three months or one month, having a detailed plan and schedule laid out will serve them best.  

Make the most of every study session. Effective SAT/ACT prep is targeted, organized and tailored to the student. Ideally, your student will approach every study session knowing exactly what to study. Taking an initial practice test will allow your student to get a feel for the exam, and it will also show them where they need to focus their efforts. Study sessions will be much more efficient if your student spends time on areas of weakness rather than studying everything.  

Learn and stick to a few simple tips. While there’s no getting around the fact that your student will have the most success on the SAT/ACT when they create a focused study plan and study regularly, there are certain strategies they should know. Here are a few examples:  

  • Start with easy questions and circle back to hard ones at the end of the exam. 
  • Fill in all answers (even if guessing), as there’s no penalty for wrong answers on either exam.  
  • Learn how to quickly eliminate answer choices in multiple-choice questions (for example, by ruling out answer choices with “absolute” words like never and always). 
  • Learn how to quickly identify key parts of questions. 
  • Know minutes per question. Your student can do this calculation before exam day. It’s important to manage their time wisely so they do not run out of time by accident.  

Get familiar with sections and question types in the various sections. The more familiar your student is with the SAT/ACT structure, the more comfortable they will be when taking it. Knowing what to expect reduces stress and helps your student concentrate on showing what they know.  

How Do You Mentally Prepare for the SAT/ACT Test? While preparation is the key to helping your student reduce stress before they take the SAT/ACT, there are many things they can do just before and during the exam to calm their nerves. Test stress is a very real issue for many students that can cause even the most prepared student to perform poorly. The more you can help your student avoid it, the better the SAT/ACT will go for them.  

Here are a few tips to share with your student to reduce any test jitters:  

Have everything ready ahead of time. It goes without saying, but a smooth night before and morning of test day will get your student into a mindset for success. Make sure your student lays out all of their materials they’ll need for the test, knows what time they’ll need to leave in the morning to arrive early (if driving themselves), goes to bed at a good hour, and wakes up early enough to get ready and eat breakfast. Here’s a morning-of checklist of items your student should bring: 

  • Printed admission ticket 
  • Photo ID 
  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers 
  • An approved calculator
  • A watch without alarm
  • Water and snack 

Learn and practice at least one relaxation technique. Knowing how to reduce stress in the moment is so valuable, but it’s not something many students are taught. Here are a few stress reducers that you and your student can research together so that they can practice them as part of their test prep plan:  

  • Visualization techniques 
  • Positive self-talk/positive thinking
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation breathing techniques
  • Mindfulness breaks 

Start the day with a pep talk. Your student should try to go into the exam feeling positive and calm. Help them come up with a few words of affirmation to repeat to themselves before and during the test. The message they tell themselves should echo the one that you say to them: Your self-worth is not dependent on any test score, and your job on test day is to give your best effort. 

Reduce Test Stress with Huntington Prep 

The best way to reduce stress on the SAT/ACT is to prepare well. As much as your student might try to do this on their own, it’s much easier with the kind of caring support and customized guidance they’ll receive from Huntington.  

Huntington’s SAT/ACT prep programs are individualized to each student and taught by highly trained tutors. Whether your student has ambitious college goals and a target score or wants to raise their initial score (from prepping on their own), Huntington can help. Call us at 1-800 CAN LEARN for information about our test prep programs and how we can help your student achieve their best possible score.