How to Combat College Entrance Exam Nerves | Top Universities

How to Combat College Entrance Exam Nerves

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Guest Writer

Updated May 16, 2016



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Guest post: David Recine

Feeling too anxious can cause you to do poorly on a college entrance exam, even if you know the material. And study-time jitters can actually prevent you from mastering an exam. When you’re preparing for a big test, nerves are not your friend. Fortunately, there are things you can do to combat nerves before the big exam.

1. Set realistic goals

Very few people get a perfect score on college entrance exams such as the GRE, GMAT, SAT, LSAT, etc… And no universities will ask for a perfect score. And yet, so many students feel they absolutely have to get a top score. Ironically, obsessing over that perfect score can cause you to become a complete nervous wreck, so that you actually score lower than you otherwise would have.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that anyone should simply settle for the minimum score they need. But I am saying that you should view anything above your minimum score as a fun gift, not as a serious, life-and-death struggle. Obtaining your school’s required score is the real victory – any extra points on top of that are desirable… but remember they are just the icing on the cake.

2. Build confidence with a detailed-yet-flexible study plan

Once you’ve kept your pre-exam nerves in check by setting a realistic target score, put together a reasonable study plan to get you to that goal. As you plan, think about how quickly you’ll really be able to master exam skills such as GMAT math, LSAT logic, GRE vocabulary, and so on.

Don’t make a study schedule that forces you to go through prep materials too quickly – setting the wrong pace can cause you to feel overworked and discouraged. A poorly designed study schedule can be the worst thing to happen to your nerves before an exam.

 You may not know exactly how long it will take you to master your exam skills, but you can probably envision a timeline that seems right and makes you feel confident. From there, combat your exam nerves by making your study plan flexible. Some exam skills will take more time to master than expected – account for this in your plan. And be prepared for delays as life happens. To minimize stress, make sure your study plan leaves room for getting sick, working late, and other sometimes-unpredictable life responsibilities.

 Above all, be conscious of how much time you really have for test prep in a given week. Four or five hours a day may seem like a great idea as you plan out your study schedule. But if you don’t really have that much time for studies, trying to hold yourself to such an ambitious plan can quickly reduce you to an exhausted bundle of nerves.

3. Take good care of yourself

 To minimize those exam nerves in the run-up to the big day, make some time to relax and enjoy yourself. During longer study sessions, give yourself short breaks here and there to snack, have a nice cool drink, and get up and move around. And make sure you take time each week to do things you enjoy – being with family and friends, watching your favorite TV shows, going for a nice peaceful walk… All of these things calm your nerves and recharge your soul. This kind of recharge will be necessary from time to time if you’re going to keep your nerves under control and maintain your focus.

David Recine is a test prep expert at Over at Magoosh, David and his colleagues offer detailed GRE prep study plans to help you feel prepared and reduce your stress on test day.