You know that you need a certain score on the ACT or SAT to be competitive for college admissions (not to mention scholarships!), but you just don’t know if you can score that high. Perhaps in the past, you found you didn’t grasp the material. Perhaps you have a series of scores locked in the closet from when you took the test in the past that you aren’t particularly proud of, so you think that it’s unlikely that you can improve any more. Or perhaps you’ve frozen up before, so that even though you knew the answers, you still did poorly.
So now, here you are. You’re fretting about what irreparable harm will occur to you if you can’t score highly enough. You are seriously considering canceling your plans of becoming a doctor to join the carnival. Do you want to be the Bearded Lady (are you not actually a lady? Surely, that doesn’t actually matter..?) Whether your case is similar or different to the ones previously mentioned, admission test stress is weighing on you and it may be causing you to think irrationally. There is no need to join a circus.
Some stress is good. Stress is a sign that you recognize the importance of something and are properly concerned for the outcome of that thing. However, stress should raise your awareness and allow you to proceed cautiously to minimize mistakes and failures. When your stress interferes with your ability to perform, there is a problem.
Identify why you are stressed out. Ask yourself, “What causes admission test stress anyway?” Generally, if you feel you don’t know the material (or at least aren’t comfortable with the tested material,) then you can’t be confident of your abilities. If you aren’t confident of a positive outcome, then you will stress over it.
So, to “beat” the stress, you simply need to do anything to make yourself more comfortable with the test. If you have practice tests for the ACT and SAT, take them. However, you must not only take them to become familiar with the material but also, you must take them to become familiar with the PROCESS of test-taking. Have someone proctor you if this is possible. Replicate the actual exams as closely as you can so that the WHAT and the HOW of test-taking become natural to you.
Particularly, whether math is your weak subject or your strong subject, it is the best subject to prepare for when taking the ACT and SAT. Math is rule-based, and moreover, admissions tests do not try very hard to deceive you, so if you can recognize which rules you should use for which problems, you can be confident of higher scores. Learn formulas for basic geometric and algebra concepts and learn why they work, so that if you can’t figure a specific formula out for the test, you at least can reason out answers.
For the ACT’s science section, at least, you can easily improve it in a similar way: learn the basics of reading charts, graphs, and tables in science format. The ACT’s science section doesn’t test knowledge of science, so don’t worry if you have no idea about whatever topics they have picked for the test. Instead, cut directly to the problems and find out which graphs they refer to. Find what items the questions ask for and it should be logical as to what the answer is.
To help yourself in reading and writing, learn the rules of grammar and composition, and read. Read to be comfortable with the most popular writing styles and vocabularies of the English language’s literary repertoire, so that when you take the test, mistakes will jump at you and you will recognize how to correct them.