ACT and SAT Tips for Parents
Published: September 30, 2015
By: Alyssa Chirco
Guiding your high school student through college entrance exams can be intimidating, especially for parents navigating the process for the first time. But there’s no reason to worry. While you may not be able to teach trigonometry or syntax, you can still provide the support and guidance all high school students need as they move forward towards the next chapter of their lives. The following tips will help you along the way.
Know the Basics
The two most widely used college entrance exams are the ACT and the SAT. Both are designed to assess a student’s academic readiness for college level coursework. To help your high school student perform to the best of his or her ability on one or both of these tests, it is important for parents to know a bit about both, as well as how they fit into the overall process of college admissions. Key details to be aware of include:
- Some colleges require scores from one test specifically, while others allow students to take and submit scores from either. Once you know where your child plans to apply, it will be easier to determine which test he or she should take.
- College admissions advisors recommend that students begin taking the SAT or ACT as early as possible during their junior year of high school.
- Students can take both the ACT and the SAT multiple times. Encourage your child to view a disappointing score as an opportunity to do better next time.
Seek Expert Advice
There is a wealth of information about college entrance exams – and how to best prepare for them – available to both students and parents. In fact, an entire test prep industry revolves around helping high school students raise their scores on the ACT and the SAT.
Jake Johnson, instructor at Mathnasium of Inverness Corners, says parents should explore any and all options that can assist their child in preparing for the test(s). “Learning centers, test prep courses, and online practice tests are all excellent options to maximize a child’s success and full prepare them for the test,” Johnson adds.
In addition, Johnson says they have worked with kids as early as 8th grade to prepare for the ACT, but they feel it is best to take the test for the first time no later than 10th grade. “By then, most students will have completed Algebra 1 and will possess the skills necessary to attain a reasonable score.
“Test preparation courses should focus on sharpening critical thinking and reasoning skills, as well as increasing aptitutde in basic computation, Algebra, Geometry, physical science, biology, language arts and reading comprehension, says Isaac Ziedan of the Tutoring Center.
Ellie Grossman Cohen, who has already been through college entrance exams with one child and is now going through the process again with her second, strongly suggests that parents hire a tutor. “Of course every student is different and results vary,” she admits. “But if the student focuses and studies and learns the necessary test-taking strategies, it should pay off.”
Grossman Cohen knows firsthand that when a student works with a qualified tutor, test scores can often go up by a couple of points. And she reminds parents concerned about cost that working with a tutor can raise not only a student’s test scores, but also his or her scholarship potential. “It’s all worth it if it means more scholarship money,” she advises.
“Parents should know that the most successful students are the ones who take advantage of every opportunity to sharpen their skills and enhance their knowledge,” Zeidan adds.
Focus on Your Family
While many students benefit from tutoring, it isn’t the right fit for every family. Ultimately, how you help your child prepare for ACT or SAT will depend on several factors, including your family’s budget and how much preparation your child needs to achieve his or her desired outcome.
A strong student who is highly self-motivated, for example, might prefer working through a study guide or workbook on her own. Companies like Kaplan Test Prep and The Princeton Review offer small group classroom courses for the more traditional learner. And if you simply cannot afford to spend extra money, free sample questions and practice tests for both the ACT and SAT are available online.
Every student is unique, so what matters most is tailoring a plan that best meets your child’s individual needs and goals. If you start to feel confused and overwhelmed by the many options before you, the high school guidance counselor is an excellent resource for discussing what is right for your family.
Show Your Support
Even if you are unable to help with the academic aspect of college entrance exams, your support is still crucial to your child’s success on testing day. Make sure that he or she gets plenty of rest the night before, and insist on a healthy, protein-packed breakfast. Also review test-taking basics, like the importance of being prepared with several sharpened No. 2 pencils and reading all directions thoroughly before answering any questions.
Remind students of the importance of good study habits in the days and weeks leading up to the test too. “I knew he would do well,” says Barbara Gremaud of her son, now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. “But he needed time management help. I drove him to the library a couple of times to study so he was not at home, distracted.”
Maintain a Positive Attitude
High school students, especially those with learning disabilities or test-taking anxiety, need to recognize that ACT and SAT scores represent only one portion of the college admissions process. And since most children – yes, even teens – take their cues from their parents, one of the best things we can do for them is to model a calm, positive attitude about the entire process.
Remind your son or daughter that while it is important to perform to the best of his or her ability, it is even more important to see college entrance exams for what they truly are: a stepping stone designed to help students find their way as they embark on the exciting next chapter of their lives.
Alyssa Chirco is a freelance parenting journalist and mother of two. She is also a former college test prep tutor, who has helped many students improve their scores on both the ACT and the SAT.
The ACT vs. the SAT: At a Glance
- Is a curriculum-based test, designed to measure what students have learned in school.
- Is comprised of four sections of multiple-choice questions.
- Covers four subject areas (English, Mathematics, Reading and Science).
- Lasts a little more than 4 hours.
- Does not penalize for incorrect answers.
- Includes an optional Writing Test.
- Is more of an aptitude test, with an emphasis on reasoning and vocabulary.
- Is comprised of three sections (Math, Critical Reading and Writing).
- Includes multiple choice questions, grid-in math questions and an essay.
- Lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes.
- Penalizes students for incorrect answers.
- Features several optional Subject Tests, which allow students to display advanced knowledge.