But getting into those top-of-the-line universities is becoming harder and harder, and the pressure to perform in classes as well as on college entrance exams builds. Colleges use the scores on exams such as the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (originally, American College Testing program), along with high school grades and class rank, to determine admission.
“I felt like the test was a life or death situation,” Senior Victoria Estrada said. “While I was taking the test, I felt relieved that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was so stressed and tired though, I started guessing at the end.”
With the right preparation and focus, these college entrance exams don’t have to be as nerve-wracking as everyone makes them out to be. Counselor Yolanda Solis is busy helping juniors and seniors meet registration deadlines and get ready for the SAT and ACT tests.
“The tests are very important if you are applying to a university,” Solis said. “The scores identify students who have the skills necessary to succeed in college-level courses.”
A slate of dates is set aside throughout the year and into next summer, and Solis and several seniors encourage juniors to begin early.
“You should take the tests as soon as possible ‘cause if you don’t do well, you’ll still have the chance and time to take it again,” Estrada, who plans to attend Coastal Bend College in the fall, advised.
The SAT gauges more critical thinking and reasoning skills, while the ACT measures general academic development.
“The ACT is an achievement test. Your best preparation is a rigorous high school curriculum,” Solis said. “The SAT is a standardized assessment of critical reading, math reasoning and writing skills. Students have developed these skills over time, and they need these skills to be successful in college.”
Pressure to perform on a timed test scares most students; state-required graduation tests such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills allow students unlimited time.
“I’m nervous because I’ve never taken (the SAT and ACT) before,” Junior Dominique Garcez, who plans to take both the ACT and SAT and hopes to get into the University of Houston, said. “The PSAT scared me because I didn’t know how to study for it.”
Solis said preparation such as taking the timed PSAT and reviewing the many websites with tips can help ease students’ worries.
“Become familiar with the test format before taking the ACT and/or SAT,” she said, noting booklets are obtainable in her office and practice tests are available online. “Maintain your confidence in your abilities and do your best.”
Sophomores and juniors took the PSAT on Oct. 12.
“The only thing I’ve done to prepare myself is the PSAT so far,” said Junior Nick Quintanilla, who wants to go to the University of Texas at Austin as his brother 2007 graduate Travis Quintanilla did. “The PSAT wasn’t as hard as everyone made it out to be.”
Honors, Advanced Placement and dual-credit coursework should help students prepare but isn’t required.
“I went in thinking that it was going to be really hard, and I was nervous. But when I took it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Senior Darian Ramirez, who recently took the ACT, said. “The ACT is more based on high school stuff, which I think made it easier.”
Test scores on PSAT, SAT and ACT also can qualify students for scholarships.
“Most of the scholarships have a set minimum score requirement for a student to be eligible to apply for that specific scholarship,” Solis noted.
While criteria for every college and university differs, students still aim to score high so their options are open.
“I’m not scared; I’m just anxious,” Quintanilla said.