Test preparation is known to increase performance on high-stakes tests, but how does it help with test anxiety? Research has shown that exposure, habit formation, skills development, and online preparation are all effective methods to reduce test anxiety, and each method is linked to test preparation.
Gain Exposure: Take Full-length Practice Tests
What the Research Says: Exposure therapy is a well-known anxiety intervention that involves systematically exposing an individual to the threat stimuli. If you're feeling anxious about a test, one of the best ways to address that anxiety is to practice the test-taking experience, mirroring the official test conditions as closely as possible. This behavioral technique reduces feelings of uncertainty and can increase performance on test day.
Additionally, taking full-length practice tests periodically will ensure that you retain and build skills in all of the subject areas of the test through repetition of the entire exam experience. With each practice test, you'll see the progress you've made since the previous test, which will help to reduce anxiety and promote a growth mindset.Our Prep Recommendations:
- Take full-length practice tests to help normalize the test-taking experience before test day.
- Match the official test format. If you'll be taking the official test on paper, print a practice test and take it on paper, making sure to use the answer sheet to bubble your answers as well. If you'll be taking the official test on a computer, take online practice tests. The Test Innovators platform offers every practice test both online and on paper.
- Proctor your practice tests to simulate the test-taking experience. Our proctor videos can serve as your virtual proctor, or you can download our proctor scripts and have a trusted adult read the instructions for you. Either way, you'll familiarize yourself with the test instructions, the 5-minute warnings, and the timing of the breaks, so you'll know exactly what to expect on test day.
Build Positive Study Habits
What the Research Says: One of the best everyday methods to reduce test anxiety is regimented and routine test prep. A recent study from the ACT revealed that one of the most prominent sources of test anxiety is from students feeling unprepared for the test. When a student is experiencing excessive worry and test anxiety, this negative thought process can lead to avoidant behavior, such as procrastination and ineffective study habits. The best way to mitigate and prevent this behavior is to form positive cognitive and behavioral habits.Our Prep Recommendations:
- Create a realistic plan. Use the results of your first practice test to identify the areas in which you'd like to improve, and set up a study plan that will be effective and achievable given your goals and schedule. This is made easier on the Test Innovators platform, which auto-generates a prep plan based on your baseline practice test and upcoming exam date.
- Study a little bit every day. Studying consistently for many days leading up to the test is far more effective than cramming for a few days. Cramming often makes students feel more pressure about the looming test date, which increases anxiety, which in turn makes the brain less receptive to learning. Keep study time manageable every day!
- Avoid distractions while studying. Stay focused on your practice during your designated study time. If you find you're losing focus, switch gears entirely to a different activity rather than trying to do multiple tasks simultaneously.
- Read all about the test. Make sure you know all the ins and outs of the test. Check out our ISEE prep guide and SSAT prep guide for key information and strategies.
- Watch strategy videos. The Test Innovators platform includes a video course that covers key skills and strategies in short-form videos.
- Learn from an expert. Sign up for a live online course or work one-on-one with a Test Innovators tutor if you'd like additional support in learning test-taking strategies.
Develop Effective Test-taking Skills
What the Research Says: Test-taking is a skill that can be learned. Moreover, building test-taking skills can help reduce test anxiety both before and during the test. These skills include knowing how to manage time effectively, how to approach each question type on the test (even if you don't know the specific concept!), and how to make educated guesses. For high-stakes tests, it’s just as important to know the content of the questions as it is to know how to approach each question. While it is impossible to know exactly what will be on the test, it is possible to prepare by developing and refining the skills needed to approach any question.Our Prep Recommendations:
What the Research Says:While there is still limited research on online test preparation, some evidence suggests that this style of learning and evaluation may reduce test anxiety (Stowell & Bennet, 2010; Cassady & Gridley, 2005). Due to the convenience and timeliness of online test administration and analysis, there is an evident shift from paper tests to online tests. Concurrently, test prep has started to shift online as well.Our Prep Recommendations:
Whether your official test will be administered on a computer or on paper, include online studying in the preparation process. It is likely that more learning resources and exams will continue to migrate online, and the result may benefit students who experience test anxiety.
For more resources regarding test anxiety, visit our Test Anxiety Resources page.
Get started with your test prep today!