Can your test anxiety actually benefit your score?


Now that SAT season is kicking back up for juniors, student stress levels are skyrocketing. The annual rush of prep books are being bought out, tutors are being hired and study sessions are getting more intense – The perfect ingredients for test anxiety stew. 


Test anxiety is one of the most common factors that hinders a students ability to achieve their dream score. According to The Learning Center UNC, “Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests.” Some of those symptoms include: headaches, sweating, nausea, feelings of stress and fear, a sudden blank mind and difficulty concentrating. Causes behind these stressful signals include: fear of failure, lack of preparation, a poor test history, high pressure stakes and a perfectionist mindset.


Now, more than ever, students are experiencing these high stakes stressors. According to Healthline, our bodies perceive stress through a process involving signals sent to the part of the brain that deals with emotional processing. When danger is recognized, which is often associated with stress, a series of signals are sent from the brain into our nerves and adrenal glands, thereon rushing adrenaline into the bloodstream.


The way we feel is caused by a glucose and energy boost into muscles, quicker breathing, fast heartbeat, increased blood flow to major muscle groups, sweat stimulation and insulin production. These adrenaline rushes could possibly be interpreted as a benefit while test taking.


Now, what is commonly understood about stress and anxiety, is that they deter you from your long term goals, to everyday tasks. But what is often missed are the several advantages to those test day jitters. To prove that point, ULifeline points out the benefits of stress, “According to experts, stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do… for instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. In fact, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.” 


If that didn’t convince you enough, Richard Dienstbier’s 1989 theory of mental toughness” might persuade you. Psychology Today says, “[It]] suggests that experiencing some manageable stressors, with recovery in between, can make us more mentally and physically tough and less reactive to future stress. One possibility is that such experiences lead us to view stressors as more manageable and become more skillful at dealing with them.” Some stress is good for you in the sense that it strengthens your endurance in dealing with anxious situations. 


Now, something to think about would be that maybe the anxiety tied to the SAT, ACT and even the PSAT won’t actually deter you from reaching that perfect score, but if you learn to harness it and run those helpful chemicals through your brain, you’ll definitely conquer that dreaded, but future determining test!