Holly McGreevy was in the top 5 percent of her class at North Harford High School, took honors and Advanced Placement courses and studied for the Scholastic Assessment Test by reading through the sample test booklet provided by the College Board.
But during the drive to the test site, she panicked.
"My friend was quizzing me with vocabulary words from handmade flash cards during the trip," she said. "It made me feel really stupid because I didn't know any of the words."
The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, says this type of cramming the morning of the test isn't the right thing to do. It will only stress students.
If you're one of the 2 million teen-agers who take the test each year, you can reduce some of that anxiety by following a new list of tips put out by the College Board, which includes doing stretching exercises before sitting down to write, and taking a stress-free shopping trip after the test is over.
Preparation for SATs should begin long before the test date, says the College Board. They recommend students read through test packet materials provided by the board, take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, in their sophomore year, and enroll in challenging school courses that help prepare them for material on the test.
Kathy Mathias, 34, a guidance counselor at Loyola High School, agrees and advises against spending time and money on SAT prep courses such as the Princeton Review, which boasts it has raised student test scores by hundreds of points.
"It's a huge time commitment and may be taking away from school work," she said.
But Tiana Wells, a graduate of Woodlawn High School, credits the Princeton Review with raising her test score by 200 points, from 800 to 1,000. She paid $75 for the 3-week course, which met three times a week. Wells, 20, took the course twice.
The College Board emphasizes such other things as the need for a good night's sleep before the test, and a healthy breakfast the morning of the exam. It also recommends watching a funny movie the night before the SAT ' so students can relax and take their minds off the test.
"I double-checked my alarm before I went to sleep," said Amy Kozak, 20, a graduate of Pikesville High. "I made sure my mom would wake me up if my alarm didn't go off."
Although PSATs often are administered at the student's school, the SAT is given only at select schools throughout the state. The College Board warns that students should know where the test center is and leave with enough time to get there.
"Think about morning traffic," said Kozak. "And make sure you turn off your [car] lights before you go in to take the test." Kozak learned the hard way; she finished the test to discover her lights on and her auto battery dead.
The College Board suggests that students do stretching exercises before settling in their chairs and beginning to write. The board claims that stretching not only relieves muscle tenseness and increases circulation, but also improves mental alertness and focus. But it may not work for everyone.
L "Stretching just makes me want to go to bed," McGreevy said.
McGreevy went blank during the verbal portion of the test. Instead of dwelling on the words she didn't know, she skipped them, answering the questions she did know. This rebuilt her confidence.
"Looking back, I wish I had studied prefixes, suffixes and roots so I would have been clued in to the meaning of a word," said McGreevy.
The College Board recommends panicky students sit back, put down their pencils, take a deep breath and slowly exhale while counting to 10.
It also advises students not rehash the test after it's over.
McGreevy disagrees -- she chatted about the test with friends at a local Friendly's.
"It's better to know the right answer to a question than to dwell on whether or not you answered it correctly," she said.
However, the College Board would approve of McGreevy's post-SAT outing. It suggests that students reward themselves with a stress-free activity, such as shopping or going to the movies.
When scores come back, the College Board advises, students should not compare results with friends. They suggest students simply tell friends they tried their best.
Kozak said it's impossible not to share scores with friends. "As soon as you get it back, everyone asks, 'What did you get?'" she said. "But it doesn't mean the person with the higher score is smarter. All it shows is how well you can take the test. I know people who got 800s on the test but who had straight A's."
By all means, the College Board says, if students are unhappy with their test scores, they should take the test again.
"The more you take the SAT the better," said Steven Kronberg, 22, admissions assistant for the enrollment department at Towson State University. "We take the highest combined score of the math and verbal."
Perhaps most importantly, the College Board urges students to keep the SATs in perspective.
The board says the SAT isn't the only thing determining college acceptance. Grades, extracurricular activities and personal information provided on a college application can make a difference.
All are advised to remember that in just a few years, the SATs will be only a memory.
Said Kozak: "Now that I'm in college, the SATs are no big deal."
Pub Date: 12/01/96