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Maddi Lee

How Positive Thinking Benefits Test-Takers

It´s hard not to imagine worst-case scenarios as test day looms ever closer, but did you know this could actually harm your test score? Being pessimistic is not only worse for your health in the long run, but it also results in less productivity and more stress.

There is a key difference between pessimism and optimism. Pessimists often blame themselves for failure and are less likely to try again after a setback. Optimists retain faith in themselves and try again and again. And again. According to scientific studies, optimists also do better on tests.

In one study by the University of Toronto, scientists proved that when in a positive mood, your visual cortex absorbs more information. In contrast, negative moods literally result in tunnel vision!

Therefore, staying optimistic while you’re taking a big exam is a major factor in your test performance.

There are tons of other studies with similar results. Take the “I’m bad at math” myth, for example. People who convince themselves that they’re naturally terrible at math often end up doing worse than people of similar ability who believe that their math ability is something that can be changed. If you believe that you’re destined to fail the SAT because you’re “just not a good test-taker,” you might actually perform worse than if you had a positive mindset.

Overall, thinking optimistically will result in less stress and an overall positive effect on your body.

Pro tip: If you want to feel maximum optimism, I guarantee you’ll feel much better if you stand on top of your desk and just…

happy dance


What you can do to become an optimist

So, how do you become an optimist? A lot of people, including me, automatically tend towards negative thoughts. I remember walking into the test room on the day of the SAT and thinking I would utterly fail! There are so many benefits to optimism, but it´s frustrating when a negative mindset is preventing you from achieving it. There are lots of ways to slowly adjust your state of mind…both in the long run and on the day of the test!

In the long run

1) Adjust your thoughts!

This is the absolute biggest part about becoming a positive thinker. Whenever you catch yourself thinking negatively (i.e. “I´m going to do terribly tomorrow.”), stop yourself! If you can’t convince yourself with a positive thought (“I’m going to ace this test!”), at least think neutrally (“I’ll just try my best, and what happens, happens.”) Try to catch yourself every time pessimistic thoughts start to flood your mind.

Visualize positive scenarios. Every night, visualize yourself receiving an amazing test score. It’s amazing how much this can do in combatting pessimism.

2) Surround yourself with positivity!

Make realistic, yet positive statements and write them down. Write encouraging messages on index cards and stick them around your house! Change your phone wallpaper to an inspirational message. Every day, write down three things that made you happy. If you’re surrounded by positivity, it´ll be a lot easier to think positively.

3) Relax!

This sounds obvious, but don’t underestimate its importance. Relaxation is key to adjusting into a more positive mood. Don’t just cram the nights before you prepare for the test. Do things that make you happy. Go to a yoga class or read a good book. Remind yourself that there are really more important things in life than the SAT.

Better yet, make fun of yourself. For real! If you’re going to think of a worst-case scenario, turn it into a comically terrible worst-case scenario. If you’re fretting about doing badly on a test, imagine yourself failing. Then imagine yourself becoming homeless. Imagine your little cardboard box. Imagine selling bad finger paintings for food. Imagine yourself being pelted by tomatoes because your finger paintings are so terrible.

You are going to be pelted by tomatoes as a finger-painting hobo if you don’t do well on the SAT. Oh no. But seriously—when you tease yourself and take control of your negativity, you´ll feel a lot less pessimistic.

Day of the test

Continue thinking positively on the big day! Keep these tips in mind before you grab that pencil and ace the test.

  • Come up with a nice little reward for yourself after you complete the test. For example, have some nice cupcakes waiting for you when you get back! How can you stay pessimistic when there are some nice little bundles of sugar in your car regardless of how well you do on the test?
  • Remember that you are not defined by your test score! Keep thinking of positive scenarios and repeating positive mantras in your mind.
  • Meditate. It´s hard to feel optimistic when you’re feeling stressed. Take a few slow, deep breaths, sit up straight, and just relax.
  • The day of the test, try not to talk with very negative, stressed-out people. You’ll see a lot of these on test day—typical uniform: sweatpants, coffee in hand, wide, freaked-out eyes…Stay away! At least for now. Negativity can be contagious.
  • If you feel butterflies in your stomach, trick yourself into thinking you’re excited. This sounds weird, but it’s surprisingly effective. The feelings you get when you’re excited and anxious (butterflies in stomach, racing heart, perspiration, goosebumps, etc.) are very similar.
  • Smile! As mentioned in previous posts, smiling actually makes you happier…even if it’s forced. The action of smiling releases hormones that produce positive feelings.



Positive thinking is a life skill that can only make your life less stressful…and a whole lot more fun! Don’t become distraught thinking this is something you’re born with—you’re not forever stuck with a pessimist mentality. You can practice optimism just like you can practice an instrument. So relax! Laugh a little! Tests may be scary, but nothing’s that scary when you have a smile on your face.



Photo Credit: 1 / 2

About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!

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