Case Studies: Overcoming Test Anxiety
Student B was an average student with a smattering of activities, but no leadership positions. He did have test anxiety and some challenges with dyslexia. Through the years, he was given support from schools in his learning. He had come to be very proficient with extended time and managed to get mostly B grades. He was brought to my attention because of his scores. He did not score well on tests, even though he had extended time.
Several different options were offered to him throughout his rising junior summer and junior year. I met him after he had taken his 4th SAT and 2nd ACT tests. He worked very hard at his studies. He enjoyed sports but was not going to be athletically recruited. He did not want to leave New England for college.
However, most of the schools that he was interested in, were beyond his reach with the scores he had. His SAT scores were below 1500. His ACT scores topped at 21. At this point, his SAT was a better score than his ACT.
We decided to pursue the SAT more rigorously. He had taken a prep class at his school, but admitted he found the class rather uninteresting and too long. The class met weekly for 4 hours on a Sunday. He did not appreciate the time, the day, and pretty much anything about the course. Needless to say, it was not something he put his best effort into at all. He had also had a tutor, who was also a school teacher, who was tutoring on the side. He did lots of practice questions with her, but he never took actual full length practice tests. I have found that without full length, properly administered tests, the likelihood of going up significantly is questionable. Most students eventually get that they have to sit for the practice tests, but there are several who are not mature enough to own the process and do the tests properly. There are many services that offer students the opportunity for practice testing but using another outside service for preparation. I urge all who are preparing to recognize their own weaknesses and select a method that will force them to be accountable. Slacking off, not doing the work, cheating on assignments, etc. will all be revealed when you take that first actual test and scores are terrible!
Standardized test preparation is a must for certain geographic areas. In order to be competitive with those in your own school, town, county, etc. many students must learn something about test taking. Quite honestly, test taking is a skill, and learning it, can seriously help throughout life. Learning your own personal test taking style can be a very awakening experience.
Our Student B came to me at the end of junior year with a need to increase his test scores by over 300 points. It was a reality for the schools that he could truly target grade-wise but would be rejected immediately based on his scores. His scores were far below his grades would imply. So I spoke candidly about what the work would entail, in terms of practice testing, homework, accountability and responsibility. I told him not to agree to the service if he wasn’t going to do the work. Our relationship had to be a cooperative partnership. We both had an investment in the work. His scores would be his grade, and I would mentor him through the test taking process.
As he had no varsity spring sport, we could work through April and May and shoot for the June test date for his 5th SAT. (concerned you can’t take the SAT many times…read our article) I asked that he be available twice a week. We met for an hour and half session in a personal house call (this is the boutique custom service which is negotiated…check it out). We worked; he did the homework as assigned. He took full practice tests every other week in April. He took practice tests every week in May. He had to take the last three tests, as if he were doing it for real. He had to wake up and start the tests by 8:30 AM on Saturdays. He agreed to the commitment.
Slowly, his scores started to rise. Initially, he scored in the 1500’s but by the third test, we had made it to the low 1700s. This was very motivational for him. Then we had to work on the test anxiety part. Although he was learning about the test and seeing results for applying the strategies and knowledge, in an actual test situation, he would not be able to sustain those scores due to his anxiety. So, we started a regular AM exercise routine to get his mind and body relaxed. He did not appreciate this part of the program at first. He walked his dog at first, but eventually he came to jog. We had seven weeks to get this habit working for him.
I also had him watch guided relaxation YouTube™ videos every night. He hated this part as well. At first he said they were stupid. But I insisted he try ones for two minutes at first. We eventually found 10 minute ones. The last three weeks before the test, he was falling asleep during those relaxation videos. I wanted his mind to turn off. Test anxious people will have tremendous anxiety the night before the test. They will toss and turn, wake up to go to the bathroom frequently, and some even have night sweats. I reassure all that this is okay. As long as the two or three nights in the middle of the week are good sleep, it will be fine. I needed him to sleep soundly. The guided relaxation moments did habituate him into the routine of turning off his mind. It is a hard feat for anxious testers sometimes. Let’s be honest, it is hard challenge for almost all, at times.
To change the direction of the mind’s thoughts, I asked him to purchase a book called Zen in the Art of Taking the SAT. I love this book for the test anxious. We started reading that book the first week of meeting. I wanted him to understand that there are a very large number of people who have test taking issues! We looked up the definition of Test Anxiety. I discussed how it manifested in him. He often did great during the semester but terribly on final exams, etc. We did not leave this topic as something unspoken. We talked about it a lot to dispel its powers over him. Every week we mentioned how anxiety could derail him, what it felt like, etc.
Through working on every aspect of how the anxiety appeared, and his own weakness in knowing and understanding the test, we focused on what he could do and what he couldn’t. We strategized his time in order to free him to do what he could do, well and accurately. He eventually was scoring during May in the 1900’s regularly. Eventually, he got that elusive 2050! But reasonably, I simply wanted the 300 points he needed for his ideal schools.
The June test came, he felt confident. He reported that he faltered a bit with time during his first math section. But he thought overall, it went well. He did not get that 2050. He did not even get the 1900. But he did score 1870! So he was pleased. He did eventually also go on to take the October and November SATs (with only a little brush up session with me…..yes, we sell those too!). He ended up with his score choice total of 2030. He was pleased. I was more pleased that he had conquered a crippling sensation about test taking.
We were hired to help with his essays and application that summer between junior and senior years, so I certainly did get to know much more about him along the way. He wrote a wonderful essay about learning how to fly an airplane and getting his pilot’s license. He also wrote a brief essay about overcoming test anxiety for one of his supplements. We all celebrated when he got into Colby College in Maine, as it was his first choice.
So if you suffer from test anxiety, do not fear you are doomed in terms of college choices! You are not! Contact us to help!