Eustress: Your Performance Enhancer for the ACT/SAT

Ever heard of eustress? Probably not. Is that from an ACT Science passage? Is that a SAT-word? No, it’s neither. Think of eustress as good stress. Wait. How can stress be good? Isn’t stress by definition something that is bad? No. Stress is simply the body’s physiological response to a stimulus or stressor. That response can be good or bad or be transformed into something good or bad. For example, an increased heart rate can be good or bad depending on the situation. When the stress is bad, we call it distress. (Note: when your heart is in distress seek medical attention!)

When the stress is good, we call it eustress. That increased heart rate that you feel when you take the ACT or SAT? It might be a sign of anxiety or distress. It might be a sign of intensity or eustress. How do you know?  Well, a lot depends on your level of preparation.

Athletes often refer to the experience of eustress as “being in the zone” or artists refer to it as “being in the moment”: the pressure brings the best performances out of the athlete or artist; they rise to the occasion; they transform themselves. That increased heart rate moved them to move! Indeed, eustress is a performance enhancer. However, it is only a performance enhancer for the prepared. Eustress can really only be utilized by the experienced. Those who work for a goal know how to respond to and cope with stress because they’ve prepared for it. For the unprepared, for the inexperienced, there is no eustress; there is only distress. And that distress is usually followed by defeat.

“Experience is the teacher of all things,” Julius Caesar.

With regards to the ACT and the SAT, more is better. Studies have shown that scores increase as preparation increases. A study by the ACT states “research using longitudinal data has shown that ACT scores steadily increase with more instructional time.” A study by the College Board states “new data show studying for the SAT for 20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points.” And, do we really need studies here? Anyone who has played a sport or an instrument knows that practice makes perfect.

Now, do you need Khan Academy to do well on the SAT? Probably not. Do you need Khan Academy to do well on the ACT? Definitely not. What you do need is good old fashioned hard work. Prepare for the ACT. Experience the SAT. Do it over and over again. If you truly know the test and yourself, you will rise to the occasion (your scores will rise too). The eustress will help you focus and excel!

This blog post was written by A-List Senior Tutor, John Oh.