Prep Step: Dealing with Anxiety

Welcome to a special edition of Prep Step: we have guests! Students from OCHS lend some helpful advice, and guest writer Olga Cordero, Counselor at Rocky Mountain Elementary (soon to be Director of Education Equity and Community Engagement) joins us with some thoughts on anxiety management.

Some Notes on Anxiety

If you’ve turned on tv at all in the last few weeks, you’ve noticed it’s Olympics season. Most of the time I watch it with a cringe: I know these athletes have practiced these routines to perfection… I also know they now have a global audience, they’re surrounded by more cameras than Best Buy could imagine, and they’re performing on behalf of their country. No pressure!

So though they “know the material” and have amazing skills – they still fall prey to errors and stumbles. The pressure can change you. It can make you forget what you actually know, and second guess things you normally wouldn’t question.

These are common symptoms of performance anxiety.

There are other kinds of anxiety too – the kind when you aren’t prepared for the situation, don’t know how to make success happen, and don’t really know what success looks like. It reminds me of a scene in Justice League where Flash is about to enter a fight with Steppenwolf – watch this clip:

A few forces were at work here that create a different type of anxiety than the Olympics-variation:
-Flash wasn’t prepared for the situation
-He didn’t know how to make success happen
-He didn’t know what success would look like
-He is afraid of getting thrashed

If you’re in the the Olympics or facing Steppenwolf, you kind of can’t adequately prepare for the situation. You can’t replicate those things often enough to become comfortable in them.

It’s actually kind of how most students approach the SAT.  

Addressing the SAT

And now here’s how the Flash/ Olympics situation is NOT at all like the SAT: almost everything can be predicted and controlled for on this test.

Are you prepared for the situation? (Looked at skills and format? Paid attention in class?)
-Do you know what success will look like for you? (What’s a good score for your individual goals?)
Do you know how to make success happen? (What resources do you have? Check here if you don’t know)
-The SAT is a non-violent assessment, so we’re good on point 4.

Batman’s advice of “just get one” makes a LOT of sense. He advises Barry to work to his strengths and start small – then decide what to do next. Make a plan to work on one thing a night, and determine ahead of time what success looks like in that situation.

Preparation will significantly diminish much of your anxiety. For the nerves that preparation alone doesn’t fix, here’s some advice from our guest expert, Ms Cordero:

  • Learn to recognize anxiety: racing heartbeat, loss of concentration, feelings of nausea and panic.
  • To reduce anxiety before a performance, practice mindfulness and relaxation. Here are some helpful links:,, and
  • Develop a positive statement for yourself before you walk into the testing site. “I can do this!” or “One at a time” – even write it when you feel stuck.
  • Arrive at the testing site prepared, rested, and early! If you arrive early, you can take some time to become familiar with the testing site and proctor.
  • Definitely review the night before, and practice active recall strategies for things you need to memorize. The old adage of ‘taking the night off before the test’ has largely been debunked. But don’t do anything new that might create more stress. Just review and recall what you know.
  • Don’t pay attention to what others are doing. Focus on your own pace. Watch the clock and look at the test before starting. Allocate time to each part of the test.
  • Just get started. Once you get your test, jump right in and start with reading the directions and questions carefully. Work through the questions one by one.
  • Have an escape route: a plan for knowing when to move on from a tough question. (For math, we recommend noticing at least 3-4 things about the question in a short, bulleted list . If you still don’t know what to do, don’t waste any more time. Move on!)
  • Know your goals – not every question is important, and you WILL miss some!!
  • Make a list of the reasons you’re stressed about this exam, then create an action plan based on that. (I’m afraid of running out of time. The clock stresses me out. – SO use a clock/ timer during practice, start timing other things, give yourself only 5 minutes to practice that stressful feeling.)
  • EXERCISE! The research between brain activity and exercise is bountiful, and our brains work better when we’ve walked even just for 20 minutes. Exercise daily and try to get in a walk the morning of your test.

At the end of that scene (spoiler alert), Flash saves a lot of people – including Wonder Woman. And he eventually faces Superman in a foot race and wins. If that race can start with a single step, then so can your SAT. And in comic lore, Flash beats Superman. You’ve got this.

Here are some warming thoughts from students at OCHS.

This is kind of like what Batman said, right?! Start with one!

It’s true – there’s only ONE you! Do you know your personal goals, strengths, and skills? Use them!

Great advice, right?!