Beat the Inner Bully: Strategies for Silencing Self-Criticism on Exam Day

Beat the Inner Bully: Strategies for Silencing Self-Criticism on Exam Day

Sep 11, 2023


Everyone says negative things to themselves. “Why did I do that?” or “That was stupid of me.” The issue comes in when you have more negative thoughts than positive ones or when the negative thoughts cycle through your mind constantly. Your inner critic has a sneaky way of adding to test anxiety!

I’m going to fail.
Why should I even bother?
I ALWAYS get these types of questions wrong.

One possible biological explanation for test anxiety is that testing situations cause anxiety for a variety of reasons (see the causes described in the previous section). The negative thoughts cycle on overdrive during the test. Now, your brain has split its attention, between testing and thinking about the content and managing the intrusive, negative thoughts. The fact of the matter is that brains are not great at multitasking. When our attention is split, something has to give. If we can’t calm the intrusive thoughts, there is little hope in the brain being able to function optimally enough to be able to demonstrate knowledge on the test at hand. 

Thought Stopping: The first step in silencing your inner critic is to catch yourself when you are saying negative things about yourself. When you notice you are being self-critical, try the following:

  • Take 3 deep breaths.

  • Make note of what you say to yourself. Are there phrases you say often?

  • What is the tone you use when being self-critical?

If it helps, think about pressing a pause button when you hear negative thoughts. In fact, you can go so far as to pretend you have a remote control in your hand and actually move your fingers or thumb as if you are pressing a button!

So now that you have “paused” from the negative thought, it is time to re-frame what you are thinking. 

  • If your best friend/parent was in the same situation, what would you say to them? This is what you want to say to yourself!

  • What tone would you use when talking to your loved one? Is this the same tone you used during the negative self-talk?

  • What can you learn from negative self-talk? A lot of times, your inner critic can provide useful information, but the lesson can be missed because you are listening to the words.

The best way to prepare for the Digital SAT is to start off with a practice test. Upon completing the practice test, you will be able to set up a 15-minute Zoom call with an expert tutor to go through the results of the practice test and recommendations for how to prepare for your actual Digital SAT. Click this link to get access to the FREE DSAT practice test:

About Tina

Tina is the CEO and Lead Tutor at My2tor, a company that provides holistic standardized test preparation for adults and kids across the country and abroad. Her passion is to help students of all ages become more confident so they can increase their test scores and open the doors to their future goals. She uses her experience as an industrial engineer, math teacher, and 16 years as a professional tutor to develop her unique approach to helping test takers: developing a confident mindset, teaching strategies, and reviewing content. This approach humanizes test taking, decreases anxiety, and results in higher test scores.

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