Take a moment. Think about the most carefree day you’ve ever had and put yourself there. Maybe you’re outside reading? Relaxing with friends? The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Ah, you take a deep breath … then
Someone smacks a piece of paper in front of you, tells you to answer every single question on it before a timer runs out, and then says that how you score on this piece of paper will determine the course of the rest of your life. Go.
What the! Your palms start sweating, your hands shaking, your eyeballs buzzing. “I didn’t ask for this!” You shout to the sky.
Sorry if I just ruined your favorite memory. Luckily for you, though, this will never in a million years actually happen. But we’ve all experienced that moment of panic on the day of a test, right? That heart-pounding-adrenaline nervousness pumping through your veins. That’s because we’re human and humans have something called a “fight or flight” response. Originally used to help your ancestors while they were out hunting wild animals, that instinct now unfortunately kicks in when you have a threatening exam sitting in front of you and makes your brain scream, “Panic!”
But have you also noticed that if you put in enough studying beforehand, your test day panic almost dissolves? Maybe you even feel — dare I say — a little confident. That’s because you came into the test prepared. Someone didn’t suddenly smack it down in front of you and tell you to complete it — no, you knew exactly what you were getting into and you felt prepared to dominate it.
That’s what test prep does for standardized tests. It prepares you not only for the questions you’ll see on the test, but also prepares your mind so you can control those stressful “fight or flight” thoughts and confidently dominate the GRE, SAT, GMAT, or any other exam. Here’s how:
1. Test prep helps you get familiar with the exam
Use the time you spend test prepping to get cozy with the exam. Seriously. Get to know it like an old friend — its quirks, its likes and dislikes, what makes it tick — know it so well that it becomes predictable. (“Oh, another ‘find the area of a square’ question, GRE? That is so like you”).
The more familiar the test, the less intimidated you’ll be by its various questions — and therefore, more confident and less stressed.
2. Test prep gives you time to learn how to manage your thoughts
It’s easy to let negative thoughts consume your mind on test day, and when they do, you might start to feel out of control and helpless. That’s not conducive to good test taking, so learn how to manage those negative thoughts while you prep.
How? Start shutting down your negative thoughts as you go through your practice questions and tests. If you get a question wrong and start putting yourself down, catch it right then and there and flip it around. Make a conscious effort to turn thoughts like “this is unfair, I hate that I have to take this test,” into “hey, you know what? I may not be able to pick what questions come my way, but I am confident that I can answer them to the best of my ability.”
Make it a habit. By the time test day rolls around you’ll be your own confidence coach.
3. Test prep is a safe environment to make mistakes and learn from them
When you’re test prepping, no one is judging you or grading you. This is your chance to let go and makes some errors. It’s just you and your practice questions, so go ahead and shamelessly make mistakes! All it does is tell you the areas that you need to focus on to improve your score. Be honest with yourself about the areas that need improvement and you’ll be shocked at how much more relaxed and confident you are on test day.