It’s natural for students to feel nervous as standardized tests approach.

But it’s also very easy for this anxiety to spiral out of control and affect their overall well-being. No test is worth that! (Not to mention that being paralyzed by fear is not the ideal condition for a test-taking brain.) Test anxiety can be rooted in a lack of mastery of the material, uncertainty about test-taking conditions, and/or dread of the long-term consequences of falling short—and often, some combination of the three.

If your student is suffering, take heart: test stress is not inevitable!

Each of these anxieties can be dealt with and you can minimizing test stress. Here are some strategies that can apply to almost any student preparing for almost any test.

  1. Own the fear. Telling a student their fear is “all in their head” is counterproductive. Of course it is—all emotions are in our heads! Instead, help your student determine what they should and should not worry about. If your student lacks mastery in a subject, their test anxiety may be very real. If they worry over material they’ve already mastered, then you’re dealing with a different type of anxiety entirely.
  1. One step at a time. Gradually acclimating your student to test pressures can help normalize the test-taking process for them. Completing practice tests, working under timed conditions, and learning to work in noisy environments can all help your student prepare for their experience in the testing center. A coffee shop or library—where they will have to work through sniffling, conversations, street noise, and other things that fray nerves—is a great place to prepare.
  1. Think outside the test. Sometimes the very format of the standardized test causes panic. In this case, help your student develop skills with something other than the test. Developing reading comprehension questions using a novel or newspaper article, or applying geometry skills by designing a bookcase or coffee table, may help your student master skills in a fun, non-threatening way.
  1. Practice good test hygiene. Habits can make or break a test-taker. Set routines for your student. For example, if the test will happen on a Saturday morning, set aside every Saturday morning for test prep. Work on maintaining good posture and a positive but aggressive attitude toward the test. Finally, consider mindfulness exercises that will help your student quiet their inner critic.

More than anything, emphasize keeping things in perspective. Though the SAT or ACT may seem all-important, remember that most students take the test two or three times, and there’s much more to a college application than just test scores!


This blog was written by Signet Education’s Director of Education, Sheila Akbar. Sheila is also Signet’s resident admissions and test prep expert. She has been preparing students for the SAT, ACT, and GRE for over ten years in both one-on-one and in classroom settings. Sheila holds both a BA and an MA in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and holds two PhDs from Indiana University in Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.


Signet Education provides individualized tutoring, test prep, admissions consulting, and organizational coaching for students.

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