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Prescription for Test Anxiety and Why You Shouldn't Worry

We will never tell you "The SAT isn't really important."
We will tell you "Don't worry." Here's why those two things are compatible:

"Worry" is for people who don't know what to expect. After 3 (or more) full length practice tests and a full set of classes, you DO know what to expect of the SAT and of yourself. It may not be "I expect a 1600." But you might be able to say "I expect at least 650 / 650, and there's no barrier to my getting a 700 / 700. Anyway, worry is a useless emotion."

To quell your worries, consider this antidote to test anxiety:

Most people aren't afraid of the test. They're afraid of the CONSEQUENCES of the test. Think about it. The SAT is 3 hours long; it consists of paper and graphite; the most harm that could befall you is a paper cut. You're not afraid of the SAT. You're afraid of the consequences of the SAT. You're afraid of getting only 900.

You're afraid of a bad score only because of the consequences a bad score brings. You think:

Even if any of these were true (which is doubtful), every second thinking about them is distracting you from doing your job - preparing for and doing the test. Preparing for and doing the test are things you can control. The consequences are not.

So if you suffer from test anxiety, our prescription is:

Divorce the consequences of the test from the DOING of the test. Here's an example:

Pick a semi-confident kid and ask "Matt, if I took a board that's a foot wide, an inch thick, and 20 feet long and put it on the floor from you to the wall here, do you think you could walk down that board without stepping off?"   ("Yes")

"Of course. No problem. Now Matt, if I took that same board, a foot wide, an inch thick, and 20 feet long, and placed it across a canyon that's 200 feet deep, such that the consequences of stepping off are dire - you'd be dead or damaged to say the least - now do you think you can go across without falling off?"   (hesitant "yes" at best..)

Now pick up the board and say:

"You're more hesitant. And that's natural, because the CONSEQUENCES of stepping off are severe. In fact you are more likely to fall. You've got 200 feet of thin air below you. You're up there and may get sick to your stomach; you may get dizzy; you may have a nervous shake that causes a fall."

But notice, guys, the task I gave is no different than the first task - walk across a board 20 feet long. Only the consequences differ. If you don't think about consequences, it's just like walking 20 feet down a board that's on the floor.

When you just think about what you have to do, good consequences are more likely to follow. Now, can anyone really divorce the consequences of a task from the doing of the task? Sure. Example:

Diamond cutters work with precious gems every day. The diamond cutter who makes one erroneous cut can turn a $20,000 gem into something worth 10 bucks. But the diamond cutter doesn't screw up. Because he/she isn't thinking, "Oh my GOD, if I don't do this exactly right, I'm dead meat". The diamond cutter is just thinking about where to make the cuts and how. You are the diamond cutter on the SAT. Do the things you know you can do, and the consequences take care of themselves well.

Another analogy. Do you think that when our Olympic relay team members are passing the baton they're thinking about the consequences of dropping it? No. They're thinking about how to pass it the way they've trained to do.