Pressure situations can make it very difficult to perform your best. Unfortunately, students face many pressure situations, from major exams to critical sports competitions. Psychologist at the University of Chicago, Sian Bellock, wrote a book on the science behind under performing under pressure called Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting it Right When You Have To. In the book she defines choking as a “suboptimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right”
Can you think of a few times when you felt pressure to “get everything right”? The SAT or ACT exams may be one of those moments when you will feel an extreme amount of pressure. So how do you avoid choking on test day?
Bellock points out that the anxiety that comes with taking an exam might impact working memory. Working memory is what people use to recall important information that we use on a regular basis. Under pressure, even very familiar material and facts we have known for a long time become muddy. Working memory is essential for performing well on a test.
Fortunately, you can improve your brain’s ability to recall information under pressure. You simply have to help your brain practice recalling information under pressure. When using your working memory while facing pressure becomes routine, your brain will be better able to use working memory when it comes to the real thing.
Simulate the Exam
When facing an exam such as the SAT or ACT practice testing is one of the best ways to prepare. The more you can simulate the actual exam situation, the better prepared you will be. One of the most important details is to simulate the time constraints of the SAT or ACT. You brain will learn to function even when the clock is ticking. When you work through the entire practice exam you will also develop the mental stamina you need to stay focused and concentrate for an extended period of time.
Competition can also help you focus and harness nervous energy into helpful focus. An article from the New York Times suggests that students can use competitive moments to improve their skills. The competition will also allow students to practice performing well while experiencing anxiety.
When you are studying for the SAT or ACT, find a trusted friend that you can take practice tests with. You can take the test under timed conditions and promise to compare each other’s scores at the end. Having the added pressure of sharing your score will produce mild anxiety that could help you when it comes to the day of the real exam. You could also challenge your parents to take practice exams. Consider wagering ice cream or household chores to make the stakes a little higher and add pressure.
You can train your body to use anxiety to its advantage. A study cited by the New York Times found that students who were given a simple message before taking a practice test for the GRE did better on the practice test. The Message – ““People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better…you shouldn’t’ feel concerned . . . simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well.” Those students who were given the message also performed better on the actual GRE.
If you feel like anxiety and pressure is paralyzing, start giving yourself helpful messages that anxiety will help you perform better instead of hinder you. Write the messages on post it notes in your book bag, tape some up on the mirror or have your parents remind you. Train your brain to use anxiety so that you can perform your best when you take a major exam.
Anxiety and pressure doesn’t have to make you choke on exam day. Practice pressure now to train your brain to use the adrenaline for focus and memory recall. Everyone faces some anxiety, be prepared to face it and overcome it when you take the SAT.
Mr. Test Prep strives to prepare students with his Los Altos SAT Prep program. When students engage in his Los Altos SAT Prep program their scores reflect the hard work and dedication put forth. Call Mr. Test Prep today and be prepared!