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Dispelling Test Taking Myths (at Every Age)

Amber Brandt  |  March 19, 2024
There was a popular meme going around recently with an image of a timed multiplication test. The caption simply said, “when my anxiety started.”

We laugh because it’s true. We all know the familiar nerves associated with test taking. It’s hard to watch your child go through it too, especially when it comes to standardized tests and college prep where it feels like the stakes are higher than ever.
But test taking doesn’t have to be the all-or-nothing event so many of us grew up believing… and there are a few easy things you can do to help your child work through their jitters and test more confidently. So first, let’s dispel 4 of the most common myths about the SAT and ACT.
  1. Every college requires SAT and ACT scores. Not true. American colleges view the SAT and ACT as tests of equal value. Some require one or the other, some don’t require either! Be sure to pay attention to what is being requested wherever you apply… and be aware that many scholarships may prefer one test over the other.
  2. You should begin preparing for these tests as a freshman. Experts recommend diving into test prep for the SAT and ACT following your 10th grade year. One reason is because you likely will not have taken the academic classes necessary for the exam until you complete your sophomore year. The other is because your freshman year of high school is a big transition, and it requires a different level of attention, rest, and acclimation. Give yourself plenty of time to find your footing.
  3. High test scores guarantee admission to your top schools. While strong scores are helpful, they’re never a guarantee. The most selective colleges consider a litany of factors that go beyond grades and test scores. You’ll want to think about essays, extracurriculars, and written recommendations. You want to come at your application from a variety of angles and give it depth.
  4. A lower test score won’t completely ruin your chances. As we mentioned above, testing isn’t the only thing admissions officers consider. If other aspects of your application are strong, they may be more willing to concede that perhaps the test doesn’t reflect your real potential.
Now that we’ve specifically discussed myths associated with college admissions testing, let’s take a wider view and talk about test taking more generally, and how you can help lower the anxiety surrounding it.

Myth #1: Test anxiety is unavoidable.
No one is born with test-taking anxiety, it’s learned. This behavior often has a beginning that’s usually connected to a fear of failure, performance pressure, or a lack of preparation.
Myth #2: Test taking anxiety cannot be improved.
It actually can! Because it is a learned response, it can be reversed with a few strategies like: taking a few deep breaths, properly preparing, getting a good night’s sleep, developing good test-taking skills (like finishing the easy parts first).
Myth #3: Any anxiety associated with taking a test is bad.
The bottom line is, a healthy amount of nerves can be a good motivating factor to help someone focus, put in the prep, and pay attention.
Myth #4: My child will probably grow out of this on their own.
This is more like a half-myth because it could be partially true. Some kids become more confident in their test taking ability once they realize their nerves didn’t keep them from getting a good grade. But when the anxiety is associated to feelings of failure or poor self-esteem, your child may need extra intervention. Please discuss that situation with them and be sure to reach out to your child’s teacher or administrator if you need more help.


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