Senior suffers panic attack during first SAT

October 19, 2017 — by Julia Miller

Columnist recounts an unsettling test experience that she will never forget.

Let’s return to last winter: The rain fell, 30.75 inches dumped on California in five months. Since I live in Scotts Valley and commute with my mom to her teaching job at Foothill Elementary School, the severe weather made left us facing countless road blockages, flash floods and emergency construction zones. These blocked me from going home and resulted in less sleep, foggier mornings in class and more demanding time crunches for homework and studying — all during junior year.

But it was just my luck that the worst night of them all would took place on Jan. 20, 2017, the day before I took my first SAT.

Not only was I already over-studying by doing daily practice tests and SAT tutoring twice a week, but as an over-thinker, I was treating the test like Judgement Day. If I didn’t live up to my expectations of doing “well,” I was convinced that every college would turn away in disgust at my “sinful” scores.

Like seemingly every other night during those five months, it was pouring rain on the way home. As my mom drove through giant puddles on Highway 17, spraying water on either sides of our car like a water ride, we suddenly came to a stop. We turned to each other and muttered, “No.”

The rest is five hour-long history. We sat in standstill traffic until 10 p.m., moving about half a mile in three hours. I had no practice tests to cram with, no study guide to review and no internet connection to find a practice test online. I felt the beginnings of panic.

Once we finally made it home, I got only about six hours of sleep due to my stress-induced tossing and turning. Groggy and paranoid, I drove to Santa Cruz High School, where I would be taking what felt like the biggest test of my life.

Upon arriving, I was immediately felt out of place. Everyone seemed to know each other except for me, making the environment extremely uncomfortable. As I stood there silently while everyone chatted about common classes, I went over and over the strategies and concepts my SAT tutor had taught me.

Once we finally began the Language Arts portion of the SAT after 45 minutes of instruction, I froze. My mind moved at an immeasurable speed as my hand was unable to process which bubbles to fill in. I began to overthink everything; I was analyzing the letters within the words, words within sentences, sentences within paragraphs. I couldn’t help but forget what simple vocabulary words meant.

I began to tremble, my legs bouncing up and down in my chair. As my breathing quickened, I laid my head down on my desk and tried to take big breaths, but my heart only raced faster. I had never experienced a panic attack before, even during crucial test finals, and of course, it had to be during the SAT.

Tears stinging my eyes, I tried to continue the test to the best of my ability, but when the proctor declared that time was up, I still had 10 questions left. I bubbled in random answers, got up out of my chair and was the first to leave the room for break.

I ran to the bathroom as quickly as I could and threw cold sink water in my face. I needed to calm down, I thought as I looked at my panic-stricken face in the mirror. I had to remind myself it was just a test.

I went back in there and tried the best that I could. Though I was not satisfied with the score I received and retook it in June, I learned a valuable lesson from my panic attack experience.

Standardized tests are designed to test us on subjects we have been learning for years, and no amount of cramming the days and nights before the test date will significantly add to what we already know.

Stress is almost unavoidable on these tests, but I changed several parts of my routine leading up to my second test. I stopped studying a week before the test (I know, crazy!) and I turned off all electronics three hours before I slept on SAT-eve (I know! Even crazier!). But, most of all, I changed my mindset. I told myself repeatedly that the SAT was no big deal, and that I was going to crush it.

With these techniques, I scored 100 points higher on the second test.

I learned that I have to have confidence in my abilities and accept that I am prepared enough to succeed. For a student making her way through the rigors of high school, that’s all I need.


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