There are many ways to prepare for standardized tests, but the first step is to lower the anxiety level. Before taking the SAT, find some colleges you like where the average scores are close to your PSAT scores and some colleges that are test optional. The worst way to go into the SAT is thinking “If I don’t get these scores up 300 points, I’ll never get into a good college.” In addition to creating needless suffering, that kind of pressure can sabotage months of test preparation. Knowing that you will have good options, no matter what your scores, can help you to relax and you to do your best on any exam.
Setting up a schedule of test dates also reduces anxiety. Most students take the SAT or ACT two or three times. Knowing there is another chance reduces the “now or never” pressure that can cause you to miss questions you could otherwise answer.
Juniors usually take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the spring. In general, I encourage students to start preparing for the SAT about two months before their first test date. Whether you take a test prep class or do an independent program online, familiarizing yourself with the exam and learning how to pace yourself lowers the fear level. Many students take the test again at the end of summer or in the fall of senior year, and can spend time over the summer doing additional preparation.
Since all colleges accept both the ACT and SAT, before committing to one of the tests, students should take a practice version of each to see which is better for them, and then they can concentrate on that test. It’s also important to remember that many very successful people had less than stellar SAT scores in high school. While you may need to take standardized tests, you don’t need to let them determine your self-esteem.