The pressure surrounding your performance on the SAT and ACT can feel colossal. It may seem like everything—admissions, scholarships, pride—is riding on a few hours spent huddled over a scantron form. For some students, pressure is motivation. They can harness the energy of the situation to focus and produce their best possible performance. For others, the stress and desire to perform well has the opposite effect, leading to a struggle during the exam. How can you overcome this?
A History Lesson
Thousands of years ago, Marcus Aurelius, one of the last great Roman Emperors, wrote these words.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Marcus Aurelius surely wasn’t referring to standardized tests when he made that statement. But, the idea behind it applies equally well. You must revoke the power you’ve given the SAT and ACT in order to avoid the pressure associated with them. You cannot make these tests the single measure of your achievements. Don’t let yourself believe that they control your future. Here are few simple things to remember that can help clear your mind and increase your test performance.
One Piece of the Pie
The entire admissions process does not ride solely on your SAT and ACT scores. These tests are only one component of your college admission folder! Admissions officers will be looking at your application, transcript, other test scores, activity list, essays, recommendations, and possibly even an interview. A college is looking for the most dynamic individuals to fill their hallowed halls. While test scores can reveal a person’s potential academic success, they do little to show character and integrity. For this reason, some schools, especially those that specialize in liberal arts, no longer require the SAT or ACT. In most schools where these tests are required, students can offset a sub-par test score or average grades by other means. Whether is be by documenting initiative in an academic pursuit, or passion for an extracurricular activity, or something else entirely.
You should also remember that this is not your only chance to take the SAT and ACT. Nor do you have to reveal your scores if things do not go perfectly. If your score does not meet your expectations, you have options. Under the College Board program Score Choice™, you can choose which SAT test administration you send to colleges. This program was designed to relieve test anxiety and maximize student achievement. This means that an uncharacteristic score never has to be revealed to any admissions program. If don’t use Score Choice™, many colleges look at all your tests and use your highest scores on each section.
For example, let’s say you take the test in January. On that test, you receive a 630 on Critical Reading, a 540 in Writing, and a 490 in math. You then retake the test in June. On that test, you score a 600 on Critical Reading, a 590 in Writing, and a 550 in math. Colleges using this policy will look see the 630 in Critical Reading, 590 in Writing, and 550 in math. The lower scores are ignored.
To find out how your prospective colleges view multiple test scores, call their admissions departments. Knowing that you have other options and opportunities should relieve much of the stress surrounding the test.
The Definition of Standardized
Don’t forget that the SAT and ACT are standardized tests! This means every test is similar and conforms to a “standard” …hence the name! Similar tests have patterns and there is a finite number of concepts tested on the SAT and ACT. If you learn these patterns and concepts, you will have no problem mastering the tests. This knowledge alone should inspire the confidence you need to the banish at least some fear and anxiety.
The SAT and ACT scores are not an IQ score, nor are they predictors of how well you will do in college. Of course, the makers of these tests would like you to believe otherwise. Test prep instructors have many examples of students with average IQs that also have exceptional SAT and ACT scores. They are beatable tests. The concepts can be learned and mastered by every student. The SAT simply tests how well you will do on the SAT. Likewise, the ACT reveals how well you will do on the ACT. They do not indicate how well you will do in the rest of your life. Do not overinflate their importance!
Finally, always keep in mind that your mental approach to the tests have a huge impact on how you perform. If you think about the tests negatively, then you will more than likely have negative performances. Similarly, if you approach the tests with energy and enthusiasm, you are much more likely to do well.
Start looking at the tests differently. Don’t dread studying for them and don’t worry so much about test day. Change the language you use when discussing the tests! Instead of worrying about what you have to do, assert what you will do. “I will do well on the SAT; I will crush the ACT.” A simple change in outlook can radically affect your actual performance.
At the End of the Day…
The moral of the story is that the stress surrounding the SAT and ACT is largely in your head. Sure, you will hear others obsessing about the exams or talking negatively, but their performance doesn’t impact yours. You can control how you think about the tests and in doing so, lessen the pressure you feel. And when you do that, your score will start to rise. Good luck and stay relaxed!