6 Ways You Can Help Your Child Prepare for the SAT or ACT

For most students, taking the SAT or ACT is the most stressful part of a their high school career. But what most people don’t realize is that it can be equally taxing on parents as well. They’ve been watching their teen study and work hard for several years in high school and now it all seems to come down to one big test. In my twelve years of test prep tutoring, where I’ve spent thousands of hours helping students prepare for their SAT and ACT exams, I cannot count how many times I’ve had parents ask me, “what can I do to help my child prepare for the SAT or ACT exam?” Well, I’ve compiled a list.

1. Remember the Parentocratic Oath!

The Parentocratic oath is based on the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. I may have made it up, but the idea is that before you start worrying about all the things to do to help, make sure that you stop doing the things that make the situation worse.

Most teenagers cannot see things from your perspective. They haven’t faced countless life-changing intersections, and they’re also secretly worried about how you will react if they don’t “make it” into a good school. So before you can help your teen prepare for exams, you need to help them have a constructive perspective on ACT and SAT test prep. You need to help them see an exciting future unfolding before them, share positive college stories of your own, and make sure test prep for the ACT and SAT is framed as a challenge to be their best, not a moment in time that can make or break their future.

2. Focus on the Positive

Research has shown that positive reinforcement is crucial to teenager’s learning and retention process. During study time, check up on your child every once in a while to (hopefully) catch them studying and praise their efforts. Teenagers aren’t good at making a plan and sticking to it on their own. So instead of scolding them after they inevitably get distracted or procrastinate, be proactive and nudge them in the right direction. And don’t forget to praise them when they’re doing well.

3. Help Them Make a Plan, and Help Them Follow It

Remember to be your child’s teammate in this, not his or her boss. So instead of giving them orders, sit down with them and plan out a study schedule. Start from the finish line. Choose the test date, figure out how much study and preparation needs to be done, and help your teen create a schedule that will accomplish this. Consider other commitments as well: homework, soccer practice, school project deadlines, etc. so as to not overwhelm your child. Make sure it’s not you who’s doing all this planning. You’re there to give them a running start; they’ve got to keep running. Here is a more detailed breakdown of a study plan.

4. Give Them Enough Time and The Right Materials

Make sure they start early enough. Junior year or the summer before junior year is the ideal time to get your teen started on his or her test prep. Have them take an official practice test for both the ACT and the SAT in the summer before junior year to gauge their strengths and weaknesses.

There are tons of resources for SAT and ACT preparation, but the official SAT and ACT guides have the most realistic practice. Websites like Khan Academy offer free practice your child can use any time.

If you decide to get a tutor or enroll your child in a test prep class, ensure that the tutor (the one who will be teaching your child, not just the founder of the test prep company!) has several years of experience. Also, make sure your child is motivated to learn from a class, otherwise, you might spend hundreds of dollars for your teen to catch up on sleep in the back of the classroom.

Trying to choose between a class and private tutoring? If your child is shooting for an exceptionally high score or struggles with fundamentals, private tutoring will serve your child’s needs best. If your child is closer to the middle of the pack in scoring, can meet at regular times, and price is an issue for your family budget, a class might be the best option. As a parent, you can’t take the ACT or SAT for your child, but you can do a lot to to set them up for success with the best resources for test prep.

5. Consider both SAT and ACT, and be Ready to Have Them Taken More Than Once

Familiarize yourself with the scoring, test format, content, and other details of both the ACT and SAT. Despite these tests becoming more and more similar in the past few decades, there are still enough differences that your child could score significantly higher in one test than the other. Not to mention that you’ll be more helpful when you understand the test and the hurdles your teen is facing. Here is a thorough breakdown of the differences between the SAT and ACT.

As mentioned before, have your child take an official practice test for both the SAT and ACT (the PSAT should be enough to judge the SAT). For accurate feedback on your teen’s strengths and weaknesses, make sure the practice tests are official College Board or ACT tests, and make sure the testing is timed, in a quiet location, and with realistic breaks.

Know that it may be necessary to take your child’s preferred test more than once to see the best scores your teen can get. Often times, children are too nervous or anxious during their initial test and thus do not perform to the best of their abilities. Others simply do not prepare seriously until they see their first test’s results. However, I do not recommend taking the test absolutely cold. Instead, make those practice tests as close to the real thing as possible.

6. Do your OWN homework

If you want to do your best as a parent to prepare your kid for SAT or ACT test prep, you’ll need to do some homework first. No, I am not asking you to take out old books and start practicing. I am asking you to find out about the test dates, talk to high school counselors, attend info nights at school, and do online research. Find out if the schools you are looking at are test optional and what the average test scores of their incoming students are.

Let’s be honest, whether our kids realize it or not, they are not taking these tests alone. All the tips I’ve mentioned above are important in helping your child with their SAT/ACT prep. These are the things I have seen work time and time again when preparing my students for their SATs or ACTs.

If you’re still unsure about how to proceed with test prep or don’t know where to start, leave me a message and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction to get the ball rolling.