Surviving Junior Spring (How, and Why, Not to Throw In the Towel)

I love hearing from students and parents who have questions about test prep and the college process, and sometimes I have a chance to answer them on the blog. To send one in, contact me here.

This question is from last Spring, and I hope that reading it now—before second semester starts—will help you navigate the last half of your junior year!


Dear Kristina,

Help. My last SAT I was only a 1390 (EBRW 700 Math 690), and I need a solid 1500 to get into my top choice schools. I am not where I need to be with my SAT II Subject Tests, either, and may need to re-evaluate which ones I'm taking.

I'm beginning to feel pretty hopeless about this stupid standardized testing process and honestly want to start applying to colleges that don't require standardized tests at all. Especially since studying for the June SAT conflicts with studying for my final exams. I just feel like it's too much. And besides, I don't think doing a timed test has any real correlation to what type of student I am or how I think.

So, I guess my question to you is: what the heck should I do? Can't I just throw in the towel?


Losing Hope



Dear LH,

Whoa there! I hear the desperation and anger between your sentences, and first of all, want you to know that it will be okay. You need to understand that EVERYONE in your grade has the same sucky state of affairs: you have multiple attempts of the SAT I or ACT to take, SAT II Subject Tests (depending on the type of schools you're applying to), possible AP or Regents or IB exams, and then final exams and projects for your actual end-of-year grades. That's a lot!

The thing is, you are not the only one who's dealing with the crunch that comes at the end of junior year. All your classmates are, too. Pretty much everyone who's applying to any college in the US is dealing with this same thing. So sadly, this isn't really an excuse. It’s time to buckle down and make time for schoolwork AND standardized testing.

I hate to say it, but this whole cocktail of pressure and time crunch and stress is a microcosm for what college is really like—and what LIFE is really like. In college, you will have midterms for all your classes during the same couple weeks. All your papers will be miraculously due on the same day—which happens to be right after your national debate team tournament (that took a month to prep for and takes place in another city). If you want to apply to graduate school (or med school, or law school...), you'll be completing applications while you finish out your coursework and exams during your senior year. The PhD program you're applying to won't care that you were stressed while you were filling out the application; they'll just assess your packet alongside everyone else's.

Jump cut to the real world. Pretty much no matter where you work (even if you work for yourself), you will have deadlines. You'll have emails to your boss or briefs due to clients who are paying your company for a service, and frankly don't really care if you were stressed because you are also training for a marathon or moving or going through a breakup at the same time. Even if you're an artist, you will have deadlines—that sculpture that the city of Waco, TX commissioned from you has a date when they want it delivered. And it better be finished on time, because there's a town ribbon-cutting ceremony on the calendar.

That's life. You have to learn to stop making excuses and deal with doing things that are inconvenient for you. That's what the standardized testing process is REALLY testing: how much grit you have. How much you can call on your inner resolve and get done what needs to get done when life demands it. Learning to call on those resources is hard, but you can do it! It's mostly a matter of not losing your cool.

So now, Losing Hope, you've hopefully realized that your anger towards this process does not serve what you want, which is getting into the right college for you. What will serve you now is that grit, and digging deep for every last grain of it in this difficult stretch. Remind yourself that it’s not supposed to be easy, and being stressed out doesn’t mean you’re a failure, and keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

But wait—what about testing-optional schools?

I don't want to gloss over your idea of applying to schools that have no SAT or ACT requirement. There is a small (but growing) list of quality schools that make testing optional. If you LEGITIMATELY love some of these schools, they could be the answer to your conundrum. If you have a learning issue that medically or psychologically makes standardized testing a problem for you, this may be a fantastic option.

However—and you need to be honest with yourself here—if you have your heart set on other choices, please, don’t sell yourself short just to have a few months of lower stress! Now is not the time to start settling and putting your dreams on the shelf. Especially since you've already locked in some pretty awesome SAT I scores! Seriously, you are much closer than you think!

Hang in there and let me know how it goes!