By: Alivia Melius (grade 12)
As high school students are preparing themselves for their next chapter in life, the stressors of test-taking can be quite overwhelming. On October 16, 2019, Tussey Mountain High School students, as well as many other students across the nation, took the PSAT and SAT exams on the College Board SAT School Day. As of the 2018-2019 school year, Tussey Mountain High School began hosting a fall semester exam day for those taking the SAT and PSAT, giving students the opportunity to take the test at their own school rather than traveling to another. Senior high guidance counselor Megan Schneider arranges the SAT School Day for Tussey students based on a date given by the College Board.
Tussey students have been readily preparing themselves for this test for awhile. “Prior to testing I used sites like Khan Academy, which was recommended by Mr. Hummel,” said senior Logan Runk, “and through these sites I was able to adequately ready myself for the exam. I found Khan Academy very beneficial, as it covers every topic on the SAT. After reading an article or watching a video, the site will aid you by giving some example problems for you to complete. These problems are very similar to the format that is used on the SAT.”
Even so, for many it was still a nerve-wracking experience and wasn’t what they were expecting. “Despite studying for my SAT, I still felt very nervous,” said senior Emma Watkins. “The questions vary between each time [College Board] gives the SAT. My math section included a lot of trigonometry, which I definitely had to review, but the next round of SATs may have mostly algebra-related math questions,” Watkins said. This circumstance leads to much anxiety for those preparing to take a test.
Test-taking has many positive and negative effects on the human brain and body. “The brain and body are designed to change and react in stressful situations,” said psychologist Lisa Reed. “However, depending on a person’s tolerance to stress and pressure and their own ability to identify and implement positive healthy coping skills and decision making, stress can be very debilitating and lead to many mental and physical health problems [sic],” Reed said. “When we become stressed, our bodies make more cortisol, a hormone in the body. This increase can affect our memory and cause weight gain,” Reed explained. “The brain also creates more myelin, which can have negative effects on the hippocampus, [the part of the brain] that helps us learn new things and remember them. Physically, extreme stress makes us feel irritable and tired…however, some stress is good for you,” she said. “It is called Eustress. This kind of stress motivates us to do a good job, practice or study more and not be so hard on ourselves.”
Reed recommends several ways for students to help alleviate testing stress on themselves: “Some tips to help minimize these anxieties is to try and prepare yourself properly, and do some stretches and deep breathing or listen to some calming music right before the test. Change your attitude and say positive things in your head,” Reed said. Reed suggests to use phrases such as: “I can do this; I know this material; and I will do my best.”
“Parents and guardians may not realize or understand the stress their children are going through. Kids need to be honest and share their worries and concerns with the parents,” Reed said.
In an effort to reduce stress, students at Tussey Mountain are looking for a way to prepare for these high stakes tests. Last school year, an SAT preparation course was available at TMHS as an elective. “I couldn’t take the prep course last year, since it clashed with another class I had 9th period,” Watkins said. Other senior class members who took the SAT also believe that bringing back the preparation course at Tussey would be useful to them. “An SAT prep course could help students who need more of a one-to-one form of remediation. I had no problem studying online; however, I know many students who would feel much more comfortable being tutored by a teacher,” Runk added.
Many standardized tests, including the PSAT and SAT offer several scholarships to students who have taken those exams. “Make sure you try your hardest in school because standardized tests and grades go hand in hand, and you never know what you could get a scholarship for,” Tussey Mountain alumnus Tess Masood said. College Board offers scholarships for many different criteria including overall score excellence, overall improved scores, improved scores based on individual sections of the test, etc. As a result, these tests have even become more important as college costs rise. Academic and emotional preparation are the keys to success.