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Resource CenterParent ResourcesCollege PreparationA Parent Guide to SAT/ACT Preparation

A Parent Guide to Test Preparation

If your child is college bound, there’s a strong possibility that he’ll have to sit for the SAT/ACT. And, as we all know, these tests often generate a modicum of fear and dread (for student and parent alike). Therefore, preparation will be integral to stemming this tide of anxiety and building confidence. The more familiar your child is with the test, the greater the chances he’ll do well. Hence, you should urge him to spend adequate time studying.

There are a number of ways to prep for the SAT or ACT. Certainly, you can enroll your child in a class run by a reputable test prep agency. Typically, these classes meet once or twice a week. Instructors run practice drills and teach students how to really read/understand the questions. They usually have students take timed practice tests for diagnostic purposes. It should also be noted that most of those firms offer private, one-on-one tutoring as well. 

Of course, for many families, the high cost of these classes is prohibitive. Don’t fret if you fear these courses are out of reach. There are many more affordable ways to prepare. For example, some schools offer classes at discounted rates.  Have your child inquire with his guidance counselor to see if his school has arranged such a deal. 

There are plenty of options outside of courses as well. Indeed, many companies also publish test prep guides and materials. Though they require your child to be slightly more proactive, he can certainly read up on different strategies and take multiple practice tests on his own. The internet also provides a wealth of free (or low cost) material. There are a number of websites that offer everything from advice to practice problems (see our Test Prep section). Even just visiting a site that provides a daily practice question or new vocabulary word can really help boost your child’s score. 

Beyond studying for the test, the ability to maintain focus will be incredibly important. After all, these are marathon exams.  Between text messaging, Twitter and the like, your child is living in an age of distraction. To help him prepare, encourage study habits that limit phone, iPad and computer usage. Simply spending a mere 30 minutes solely concentrating on one task will help. Therefore, unless it’s absolutely necessary to complete an assignment, have him (temporarily!) set aside all technology. 

Additionally, your child’s emotional response to the SAT/ACT will be nearly as critical as logging test prep hours. And he can easily pick up on your own attitudes. Consequently, it’s important for you to remain calm and keep the test in perspective. Don’t get too anxious on behalf of your child or put too much weight on the exam. Yes, it’s an important factor in college admissions. However, it won’t necessarily make or break his future, academic or otherwise.

Moreover, try and persuade him to not discuss his scores with his peers. Comparing results is a dangerous rabbit hole and there’s no need to go down that path. We all have different strengths, goals and expectations. Your child should simply aim to get the best score of which he’s capable. Finding out he scored 150 points higher or lower than his best friend has the potential to foster an unnecessary inflation/deflation of ego. 

Finally, understand that it’s fairly common for students to take the test more than once. Colleges don’t hold multiple attempts against applicants. They typically only consider the highest scores achieved for each section. Further, many students are less anxious the second time around since they have a better sense of what to expect. Even if you and your child are satisfied with the initial results, it might make sense to sit for the test again if there’s a chance of improving the score. After all, strong test results could increase the likelihood of earning scholarships.

The SATs/ACTs are frequently the most nerve-wracking part of the college application experience. As a parent, you need to push your child to treat the process seriously. And yet you must also help rein in any angst surrounding these tests. It’s a fine line to walk. Thankfully, by encouraging him to prepare to the best of his ability, you’re ensuring that he’ll be able to stride confidently into the room on test day and knock it out of the park!   


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Don Munce