Standardized testing is always stressful, but there are few tests more nerve-wracking than the SAT. See the main reasons why the test freaks students out and what to do about it. ACT and SAT anxiety and worry can be conquered, and we show you how.
Problem #1: High Stakes
This one’s obvious: the SAT makes people nervous because it counts for so much. High school seniors face some of the most stressful transitions in life--the last chance to do so many high school things (go to prom, help take the tennis team to regionals), plus all the scariness of applying to schools, keeping GPAs up, facing life without parents. It’s a lot to handle, so it’s crazy to throw all your SAT prep on there as well, especially if you are prone to anxiety.
Solution #1: Take it early, and more than once.
For maximum anxiety-reducing results, take the SAT for the first time a year before you have to--in 11th grade--or even in 10th. Think of it as a test run, but do some prep beforehand. Then take it again in 12th grade if you need to, and by that point, it’ll seem like no big deal. (Or, at least, like less of a big deal.)
If you’re taking Trigonometry, Calculus, or even Algebra II, you’re not learning anything in school that will help with the SAT Math section; that stuff happened in 7th-9th grades. As for Reading and Writing, the SAT tests specific enough skills that it probably won’t overlap much with what you’re doing in English class. But most importantly, when you take it a year early, you’re far away from the urgency of college applications; thus, your anxiety will be minimized, and you also learn how the process works so you can be more relaxed if and when you take it again later in the year.
Problem #2: Secrecy
The ETS runs the test like an NSA operation--you can’t even use mechanical pencils for fear you’ll sneak cheat sheets in. The requirements of photo IDs and not touching any belongings during the test can make some students feel like they’re under suspicion of something. But it’s really just a result of Problem #1: because the stakes are so high, people will go to any lengths to cheat on the test; the photo ID requirement, for example, is in response to people sending others in their place to take the test for them.
Solution #2: Understand the ETS and the context of the test.
The SAT has been around for almost 100 years, and for most of that time it was a very imperfect indicator of college readiness that was overused. Its imperfection, and its role in American higher education, are the reasons for the prison-lockdown style security around the test today.
Tests make some people desperate, and to keep it fair, the ETS feels they need to respond to cheaters’ new methods. But you’re not a cheater, and you’re going to be ready, so you can ignore all the weird secrecy stuff and just pretend you’re fulfilling a requirement for school.
Problem #3: Fear of the Unknown
The SAT was designed to test aptitude (although it no longer claims to do so) without students knowing what they were being tested on. This means that the question types and answer choices can be totally baffling if you’re unfamiliar with them. That’s why even the College Board offers free practice materials.
Solution #3: Prepare!
Of course we at PrepScholar feel strongly about the benefits of SAT prep, but there are certain benefits of it, and of PrepScholar’s program specifically, that are undeniable. The main one is that, even if you just take one Practice Test, you’re more familiar with the format and material than you would be otherwise.
Taking it a notch further, PrepScholar breaks the test down into specific skills that the SAT is testing, which removes much of the mystery from the test itself. And no two students are alike--one might have trouble with circles problems, while another may be great at circles but baffled by long passages in the Reading section. Our program only gives you lessons in the areas you need to improve--automatically.
For other ideas for reducing test anxiety, see our post Mindfulness and the SAT, and if all this advice is too late for you because you’re taking the test in 2 weeks, check out our SAT Prep Tips for Last Minute Studying and Cramming.
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Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.