It’s possible for parents to help their children to practice for the SAT.
For many parents, it can be hard to usher a child toward greater independence while also sharing practical tips that might guide their teen’s decisions—especially when it comes to something as personal and potentially stressful as preparing to apply to college and SAT practice.
Most parents are likely aware that some colleges require prospective students to submit an SAT or ACT score as part of their admissions process, and that those scores can be a major factor in who is accepted or who might get a scholarship offer.
However, many parents, understandably, remain confused over how to help their child to practice for the SAT test. Much has changed with the college admissions process over the decades—including modifications to the commonly used standardized tests. The SAT itself has undergone numerous revisions —and not just to the name, which has transitioned from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to the Scholastic Assessment Test, from the SAT Reasoning Test and finally just to the SAT.
The SAT now prioritizes skills researchers consider relevant to college readiness and success, according to the College Board. Some say the test is harder now than it was for generations past. Others argue that, at least in some ways, the SAT’s actually gotten easier. One thing college counselors can agree on, though, is that earning a higher score is important for those vying for admission into selective or popular universities.
When it comes to gearing a student up to apply for college, parents can play a major role in supporting their child’s success. Of course, ultimately, it’s the student who’s applying for admission. So, most of the heavy lifting—things like, practicing for the SAT—will fall to the high schooler. But, as your child preps, parents can serve as coaches, cheerleaders or time-managers— assisting with test prep, scheduling practice sessions, and maintaining motivation.
Wondering Where to Begin?
Parents may wish to start by familiarizing themselves with the college-testing landscape. To begin, they could compare the SAT to the ACT—the two most widely accepted standardized tests used in US college admissions. Is onea better fit for their child? While similar, differences exist in how each test is structured and scored. For parents and students who want a better feel for the two tests, The Princeton Review offers complimentary practice assessment for both the SAT and the ACT—including sample questions and scoring.
Parents who previously took the SAT themselves (or whose older children took the test before major
revisions in 2016) may want to consider how the exam has since changed before sharing first-hand tips or advice with their child. Keeping informed on changes to the test might also help parents to have a keener grasp of—and more empathy for—the test and trials that their teen is about to tackle.
For students who opt for the SAT, the College Board —the nonprofit organization that administers the test—recommends registering early to ensure there’s a seat available for the preferred test date and location. Generally, the board advises first timers to take the SAT in the spring of their high school junior year. In this way, test-takers can try again in the fall (if they want or need to improve their score) and still meet the most colleges’ application deadlines. Parents can find information about SAT test dates and deadlines, test-center locations, and costs on the College Board site.
Creating a Plan for SAT Practice
With the exact test and date chosen, parents and students might next turn their focus to SAT practice. Practice can span activities like taking sample tests, understanding the sorts of questions that are commonly asked, and figuring out how the test is scored.
Setting Baseline and Goal Scores
When starting out, many students choose to take a free practice test. Doing so gives them a baseline score and can help them to identify tough topics to brush up on. Practice tests can also help parents and teens to pinpoint the specific types of questions that cause individual test-takers confusion over and over.
Knowing the practice-test score can help students to peg an ambitious-yet-realistic goal score for the official test. It might help parents to gauge how their child’s current score compares to the average applicant to universities they’re considering. Other supportive figures in the child’s “SAT team” (relatives, teachers, guidance counselors, mentors, or tutors) can also help first-time test-takers to identify an achievable and motivational target score to work towards.
Creating an SAT Prep Schedule
Beginning SAT practice earlier can help alleviate students’ anxiety in the buildup to the scheduled test. The nonprofit Khan Academy, which partners with the College Board to help students prepare for the SAT, recommends starting test-prep about three months before taking the official test.
Months of SAT practice might seem a tad extreme, but it’s key to remember that some students need longer than others to get up to speed on the subjects covered in the SAT. Building in a cushion of prep time also gives teens ample time to adapt to the standardized test format—sniffing out the common types of questions asked and getting used to the time constraints required by the SAT.
Some students can cram last-minute for the SAT and still earn a solid score. But, many of the test-taking and SAT study strategies that could improve scores call for repeated practice over multiple weeks. Given months instead of a few weeks to get ready, parents can set up practice sessions that mimic test-like conditions, encouraging test-takers to further hone their time-management and concentration skills.
Students can use this time to finetune reading comprehension , study advanced vocab, and review math concepts or problems . Students might also utilize the “practice months” to self-check finishing the test in a limited amount of time—just as they’ll be expected to do on the actual test day.
Leading up to the test date, families may also benefit from a shared calendar that includes important SAT deadlines as well as other school, work, and social events. A shared calendar can help students dedicate regular study windows
— when they’ll work alone, with a parent, or with a tutor—that won’t clash with prior commitments.
To Push or Not to Push?
Some teens are disciplined studiers and may already have a test-prep routine that works for them. Others might need occasional encouragement (or more concrete guideposts) from a parent or educator to set aside adequate time for SAT practice. While some learners respond to personalized pointers provided by a test-prep service or tutor, other teens value a more DIY or independent approach to SAT prep—perhaps working off a commercial study guide or online testing site. (The previously mentioned Khan Academy, for instance, offers tailored practice plans, videos, test-taking tips, and other official content created in partnership with the College Board.) In either scenario, parents can help their child determine which method of test-prep works best with their study habits.
What About Paid SAT Prep Services?
When deciding whether to pay for a test-prep service, families may want to ponder a few factors. Parents could begin by comparing a child’s baseline score (on a practice test) with the goal score they’re hoping for the actual test day. This sort of future-oriented comparison might help families decide if investing in a professional SAT prep course would be worth the cost (some services cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars). Another factor to consider is the average SAT scores of applicants at your child’s target schools (compared to their current scoring range).
Families might want to investigate whether any test-prep services are already offered at their child’s school or by their educational organizations in their cities and towns. Some SAT prep services are available online as well. It’s likely that parents might also take into consideration the best study conditions for their student’s personality and academic strengths—with some approaches offering more guidance and others more independent practice.
Would the child benefit from a structured schedule and in-person classes? Or, would they prefer a more independent study approach? Parents may want to consult with a guidance counselor or teacher for input before signing up and paying for a private SAT prep service. Family friends with children already in college might also offer an opinion based on their previous experience. (But, be sure to double-check this advice with any recent changes to the SAT.)
What Else Can Parents Do for SAT Practice?
Perhaps the most important role parents can have in helping their children prepare for the SAT is to do what they’ve always done—and that’s to support and encourage the children’s growth. Here are some ways parents might motivate students, helping them to stay on track toward that college-admission goal:
Avoid Adding to the Stress
Students can feel a great deal of pressure when preparing for the SAT. They may fret about disappointing their parents’ or teachers’ expectations. Some might dread feeling embarrassed if they score lower than a sibling or classmates. And, if a student has dreamed about attending a specific college or pursuing a precise career path, they may worry that the “wrong score” will sabotage their future plans. Put another way: preparing for the SAT can elicit higher levels of stress than your everyday high-school quiz.
Given the potential for SAT practice to turn into a psychological pressure-cooker, parents may want to remind themselves that their words and deeds can lessen or intensify a child’s stress. Some parents may want to raise “concerns” about their teen’s current scores. Other parents might feel compelled to push their child to excel or “do better.” While understandable, this feedback may increase your child’s test anxiety (and potentially make it harder for them to learn new material).
To minimize the at-home testing drama, parents could avoid showing disappointment or frustration about practice test scores. Indeed, parents may want to celebrate incremental successes during weekly or daily practice sessions—honoring the progress being made towards the goal, not the distance still left to run. Gentle reminders that it’s possible to retake the SAT might also reduce a child’s overall testing anxiety.
Encouraging Healthy Habits
Studying late into the night or having a jam-packed schedule can leave high schoolers feeling burnt out. To avoid SAT practice burnout, it can be useful to institute a regular “timeout” from test prep—whether it’s a quick snack break or carving out down time for a walk around the block. Parents can help kids stay healthy by providing nourishing meals, scheduling time for exercise and other social activities, providing plenty of water and nutritious snacks, and helping their teens get ample rest each day.
Providing a Good Study Space
Here are some useful steps parents can take to create a more focused study environment for their child. First up, parents can help their children identify a quiet space for studying and practice sessions. Parents can help their child to gather here all the study guides, calculators, pencils, paper or computers they’ll need to prep. In addition, parents might also want to encourage their student to download an SAT prep app , so the student can practice during free time or when they’re riding the bus or in the family car. Many apps offer practice problems or a “question of the day.” If time is tight, a student can still squeeze in some studying in down moments.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Parental pep talks can help test-engrossed students to keep things in perspective. Although an SAT score is a significant factor in many college admissions decisions, it’s not the only (or primary) factor universities take into consideration when evaluating applicants. Most admissions committees review a student’s academic record, school and community involvement, personal statement, and letters of support.
Some schools have even moved to a “test optional” admissions policy in recent years, including Wake Forest University, the University of Chicago, and Texas A&M University. (Students at those universities are not required to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.) Open communication about the college admissions process can help students to focus on the short-term tasks at hand.
Helping with Time Management
Have you ever seen one of those black-and-white TV shows where the mom (usually wearing an apron and pearls) hands each of her children their books and a lunchbox as they hustle out the front door in the morning? Working parents don’t always have the time to orchestrate every detail of their child’s day nowadays. But, a little personalized attention can support a student who’s studying for the SAT.
Testing dates can coincide, after all, with some of the busiest months of the school year. For teens who work or are involved in extracurricular activities, prepping for the SAT on top of existing obligations can feel a bit overwhelming. Parents can soften the burden by helping their children with the SAT basics: registering for the test online, offering to help them study, and keeping the practice calendar up-to-date. Assisting with SAT prep can be a delicate balancing act for parents: some kids might push back if a parent seems to be micro-managing their studies (but many welcome a bit of gentle guidance from a caring adult.)
The SAT isn’t the only aspect of college planning students might want or need help with. Parents may be enlisted to lend a hand with determining a major, researching schools to apply to, making college visits, and completing applications. (They’ll also likely be asked to help with the college application costs. And, many students apply to more than one university.)
On top of this, there’s the whole matter of how students might pay for college for school once accepted. According to the How America Pays for College 2019 survey by Sallie Mae and Ipsos, on average, families spent $26,226 on college in the 2018-2019 school year, using a combination of family savings and income (43%), scholarships and grants (31%), borrowing (24%), and funds from friends and family (2%).
A school guidance department may be able to offer trustworthy tips on where to look for scholarships and grants. Online,there are some comprehensive lists of non-loan aid as well. Families also can complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA ) to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. (Federal, state, and college FAFSA deadlines
can vary, so this is yet another part of planning that parents and students have to stay on top of.)
The federal government offers several types of educational loans to students and parents. Federal student loans provide benefits many private student loans don’t, including income-based repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and deferment options. So it can be a good idea to check out federal loan options before moving on to a private lender.
Families who’ve exhausted federal options may want to discuss private student loans in their conversations about how to pay for college. The terms and conditions of private student loans are set by each lender, not the federal government, so families might want to shop around before choosing the right partner. For instance, private student loans with SoFi span undergraduate loans, graduate school loans, and even loans specifically for students pursuing law school or an MBA.
SoFi provides loans for parents who want to help their kids pay for school. All SoFi private student loans offer competitive fixed or variable rates and exclusive member benefits. Families who sign up for a free SoFi account gain access to Edmit Plus—a tool that could help with estimating financial aid, comparing the cost of attendance, and learning more about merit aid and scholarships.
The college-admissions marathon is a lot for any parent or teen. Helping a child prepare to apply to college can be as demanding as it is rewarding. There’s much to accomplish in a short window of time. Thankfully, as teenage children navigate the SAT practice tests and college admission landscape, parents can turn to numerous reliable resources—often in a quick click or phone call.
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