Pressure mounts to do well on the SAT and ACT

It's no secret the college admissions process can be stressful for students, especially the dreaded standardized tests like SAT and ACT. Right now, the pressure to perform is greater than ever.

When it came to raising her scores on the SAT, Sarah Rodeo was determined to do whatever it took.

"I drilled the math all through the summer from my junior to senior year. And, in the fall I was still drilling, still taking practice SATs every weekend," Rodeo said. 

Test prep took over her life, leaving her so stressed, she even sought therapy. "I was feeling a horrible amount of anxiety about the SAT math section. I was pretty miserable, I missed so many things with friends," she said.

Lisa Sohmer is a director of college counseling and member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. She said the pressure to prep is greater than ever.

"It's just over time gotten bigger, and bigger and bigger," Sohmer said. "The pressure comes from everywhere. Students a few years ago talked about doing test prep starting in the 11th grade. Starting in the 10th grade, now people are talking about having prep courses for students in the 9th grade."

For some, excessive prep can leave little time for anything else. One teen says her friend has given up swimming and hanging out with friends, just so she can prepare for the SAT. Sohmer says that's too much, "If a student says I can't play basketball because I have to test prep or I can't be a member of a student government anymore because I have to work on my test prep, than that's too much.

Some ask if it's all worth it. Former admissions officer and college coach Elizabeth Heaton says schools look for applicants in a certain score range, but then focus on the overall student. She said, "The idea that test scores kind of make you stand out I think is a little bit of a false one. What is most important is you know, what students are doing outside the classroom, doing well in their courses, being interesting people who have things they enjoy doing."

A strategy that may not give you the advantage, according to Heaton, is taking the ACT and SAT over and over again. Heaton said, "Colleges have no preference of one over the other. They really want to see the best score the student can get." However, trying both tests may not be a bad thing. Sarah, who is now a freshman in college, ended up taking the SAT three times and her math score increased 70 points. As for whether the extra effort was worth it, she is still undecided. She said, "I think I over did it. I think I drilled myself too much, I stressed myself out too much."

Since not all students are good test takers, no matter how much they might prep, a growing number of universities are becoming test optional, and will still consider students who don't submit scores.

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