BARSTOW - The pressure's on. Holly Murphy, 16, will take her SAT on Saturday morning but she won't be staying up all night to study. She feels ready.

"I feel more confident now, she said "I think I was just nervous before."

Reducing Murphy and her classmates fears about the SAT was the goal of a new effort this year at Barstow High School to better prepare students for the test. For the first time, the school hired testing company The Princeton Review to teach an after-school class about testing strategies for the exam, a necessary step in the application process for most four year colleges and universities.

The SAT consists of 10 sections - on subjects such as critical reading, math and writing - administered over four hours. Each section is worth a maximum of 800 points, so the perfect score of 2400 points is the ultimate goal for any test taker, but it's one few will achieve.
For many students, the stakes are high.

"It's make or break," Murphy said. "If you don't do well, your options will be limited. Maybe you'd have to look at other schools that look more at your GPA."

The national average score on the test is 500 points per section, although Barstow students have typically fared about 100 points lower per section, said Anastasia Curran, a teacher at Barstow High.

Curran, coordinator of the school's college preparatory Advancement Via Individual Development Program, came up with the idea to bring in the outside testing company. She said that Barstow grads need to get their SAT scores up in order to excel in a increasingly competitive college admissions process.

"It's not because our students aren't smart," she said. "They're as smart if not smarter than students from bigger cities, they just aren't doing as much to practice."

She said that even the PSAT, the exam many students take as sophomores to accustom them to the SAT is becoming more competitive. High performance on that test can mean awards and scholarships.

Close to 40 Barstow High School students participated in the preparatory class, which normally costs more than $1,000, but district subsidies kept the price down from $20 to $100 per student, depending on financial need, Curran said. Despite the expense, she said its worth it as the average student improves his or her score by about 150 points through the class. She hopes the program will allow students whose parents don't have a strong educational background to go to college for the first time.

"It does matter so much," she said. "We have to educate our students to take this seriously."
Due to increased pressure to get into a good school, some students are increasing their preparations for the exam.

Nick Scott-Blakley, 17, said he isn't too worried about any particular topic on the test, but is concerned about his ability to concentrate.

"Focus is the biggest thing," he said. "It gets a little old, especially sitting in a desk for hours."

He said he would like to someday work in field of special effects and hopes to get into California State Northridge, which places heavy emphasis on the SAT score. Still, he said he saw the danger in taking it too seriously. When asked what advice he had for other test takers, he advised staying calm.

"The biggest thing you can do is relax and get some sleep the night before," he said.

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