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Suzanne Shaffer

Standardized Test Anxiety

Ask any parent. They will tell you the SAT and ACT are responsible for the greatest stress during college prep. No matter how much your student prepares and studies, the test itself is the cause of tremendous anxiety.

Many parents believe the theory “if my student doesn’t test well, he won’t do well on these tests.” Nothing could be further from the truth. As with any test, the key to relieving the anxiety involves four key factors: preparation, familiarity, perspective, and planning.

If you address these four factors, your student should walk into the testing facility with the confidence of a seasoned pro.


The unknown causes anxiety, stress and even fear. Frankin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is true in any unknown situation; familiarity breeds confidence. The same is true for standardized tests. The more you take them, the less frightening they become.

If your student walks into a test without ever having taken a practice test, it stands to reason he won’t know what to expect. On the other hand, if your student has already taken timed practice tests, he will become familiar enough with the test and the test format that the anxiety on test day will be minimal.


If you start early with test prep, your student will have more time to prepare. Taking timed tests, evaluating answers, and studying the formulas prepare your student for the actual test. The more he studies and prepares, the less anxiety he will have on test day.

If your student wants a high score on these tests, he can’t skip this step. When it comes to the SAT and the ACT, your student cannot prepare enough. Remember this: preparation prevents panic.


Keep things in perspective. Once your student creates a study schedule and sets some goals, back away. This is when parents cross the line and students feel more pressure. Focus on consistent study and not on the outcome. Your student is already feeling enough pressure. It’s your job to be a cheerleader and not a slave driver. Your son or daughter needs to feel that no matter the outcome, if they put in the work, you will be proud of them.

Here’s another thing to remember: standardized test scores aren’t the “be all and end all” of the college application. There are many elements involved and a college evaluates all of them. There is a college for every student and a college that values your student’s contribution. Knowing this will help your student relax and relieve any pressure he feels on test day.


Take more than one test. When you register for the test, register for another one. This will also remove some of the anxiety. Every student has bad days. They can get sick, experience a breakup, or any number of unknown life experiences. You can’t predict the future, but you can have a backup plan.

In addition, every test is different. Some are easier than others, some are more difficult. The content of each test varies. By taking more than one test, your student has a chance of taking the exam that plays to her strengths in Geometry and not her weaknesses in Algebra. It’s always better to play the odds and give your student a little insurance.

If you follow these guidelines, your student will be relaxed and confident going in to take the test. Test anxiety is real, but you can help your student keep it at bay.

About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. Her expert college advice articles and guest posts can be found at numerous sites related to the college admissions process. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Her college advice has been featured on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance and U.S. News College. She is an author and contributor for The University Parent Guide to Surviving Freshman Year and College Bound and Gagged. She is the parent college coach expert for Smart College Visit and TeenLife Media.

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