SAT/ACT: Why College Admission Testing Really Isn’t that Scary

College admission testing can seem like a beast. One entrance exam defining your future admissibility. But here’s the thing. It’s WAY in your head and I can help break down the mental blocks for some much needed clarity.


Contextually the exam is one academic piece of your application, not the entire. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s State of Admission Report, a majority of colleges recognize your curriculum (the classes you take), rigor (how deep and far you go in subject strengths) and your grades within those courses over the trajectory that makes up your high school transcript. That work you put in day in and day out is the window into the type of student you’ll be on their campus more than one Saturday afternoon for a few hours.

Okay fine, but what if I have horrible test anxiety and this test could crush me? Well let’s break down in its simplest form.

The SAT and ACT are a measurement of your knowledge and mental fortitude.

Content. Just like ANY other final, game or culminating project, the SAT/ACT will review your skills. And just like any game, concert, large project or big final, all you need to do is put in the consistent work to reap the rewards of familiarity on the exam.

This looks like setting a timer and going on Kahn Academy twice a week for 2-3 months prior to the real exam. It looks like adding in some practice exams in a real classroom setting so you pay attention to the distractions that make you most anxious. Whatever works for you.

Think of a time where you took an exam or were in a high pressure stakes situation and you surprised yourself and were successful. What did you do? Did you get a full night of sleep? Take a walk to get your mind off things? Zone out to the final season of Game of Thrones or reruns of The Office? Start to pay attention to the times you’re successful and move your energy towards the positive energy instead of always thinking about what you did WRONG.

You have the ability to take it again. And that’s OKAY. A lot of students will take the exam 2 maybe even 3 times. You literally have the opportunity to practice, take the exam and try again if needed. And remember all of that coursework your working on at actual school? Don’t jeopardize your grades for late night tutoring. Add your SAT/ACT prep in your schedule just like a club, commitment to an activity and/or a practice. Put it on your calendar and then walk away and forget it.

If you’re spending all day worrying about studying for the SAT/ACT you might as well be studying all day. The point is, if you’ve set a certain time aside for test prep the moment that time is done, the conversation about it should as well. Let it be. Walk away.

Also, believe you can. Really.

There’s this trick where a basketball player is shooting at the free throw line staring at the basket and trying to make the shots but keeps missing. Coach comes up and tells him to focus on the square above the net. Boom. Hook, line and sinker. When you’re focusing SO much on the end game you add extra pressure breeding an environment that’s full of distraction, nervousness and more room for error. Widen your lens a bit and give yourself some breathing space.

As I’m typing this, I can also tell you that EVEN as a College Counselor, NO ONE has ever asked what I got on the SAT. It’s just not a thing. I can tell you, however that I went to college, changed my major, changed my career and am now in a space that I LOVE. A space that I could have NEVER predicted with my SAT score.

So ya, it’s scary. But you know what? So is not allowing yourself to succeed.

Photo by Daniel absi on

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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