Preparation key for teens taking college entrance tests

Strategies help high school students handle the stress of ACT and SAT testing periods. (WSYX/WTTE)

College bound teens are likely working on applications and taking the ACT and SAT exams right now. Even if you study and prepare, the high-stakes tests can be stressful.

Licensed professional clinical counselor Tasha Boyer of Kovacs Counseling at Easton said she is seeing more clients with anxiety over testing.

"So they put all this pressure on themselves because they want to do well . They want to succeed. Not just for themselves but for the people around them," said Boyer.

Boyer said the whole process can trigger depression because students realize what the choose may impact the rest of their lives.

"There's a lot of stuff spinning around in the media and our society that says you probably can't get a job that you really love because you have to work hard, hard, hard at something you kind of like," Boyer said.

St. Charles High School senior Ben Carey is preparing to take the ACT for the third time. While students take countless tests throughout their school lives, none seem to create as much stress as the entrance exams.

"I think more people get themselves psyched out before they head in and then that affects them more than any preparation that they didn't do or anything else," said Carey. "You just get so stressed out about how are you going to do. You don't focus on what your doing right then. While you are in the test you are thinking, oh man I need to get this right otherwise my score is not going to be good enough to get me into this school I have wanted to go to for so long."

College counselor Jeff Stahlman helps students at St. Charles with preparing for their next steps after high school. Stahlman said it is most important to show improvement in your high school career.

"Your grades are four years worth of a record that is going to carry more weight in admissions than the test scores will," said Stahlman. "It is never too late. Keep working. Improvement can be recognized . It can make a huge difference in the admissions process."

Stahlman said one of the best ways to prepare is to take sample practice tests. He advises don't let you mind wander into thinking about how a good score might secure a financial scholarship or entrance into a "reach school."

Stahlman said 25 percent of colleges are moving toward test score optional admissions.

However some students choose schools that still require applicants' scores.

Some students work one-on-one with tutors to improve their chances of improving their scores.

"Maybe they are doing well on English but they need help with math. They can get a person that would just focus on that section of the test with them," said Stahlman. Others prefer group tutoring sessions as they generally are less costly.

Boyer said parents can help their kids by using a technique she calls mirror, validate, and empathize. "I hear that is really difficult and it is creating a lot of anxiety for you.

I certainly understand with all the information that is coming home from school why you would feel that way."

Carey has advise for teens taking the test.

"The night before -- don't try to cram at all. Just go to bed early. Because if you are tired and stressed out before you even get to the testing site and sit down it's not going to be a good day."

Counselors said develop a strategy to take the test and put things in perspective.

"A big part of my job is walking people back from the ledge sometimes. You know just kind of making sure they understand it is all going to work out, and it will. It always does," said Stahlman.

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