Mastering the SAT can have tremendous impact on a student’s life, but it comes at a cost. Preparing for the SAT can be a stressful process for teens (because the stakes are high) and for parents (because they don’t have much control).
The good news is that the process is manageable. I’ve worked with hundreds of parents and helped send students to a variety of colleges (including Harvard, Duke, MIT, Cornell and Princeton). Here are five tips that make the testing process easier.
1. Start prep early. The single biggest thing parents can do to help their teen succeed on the SAT is start early. The best time to start prep is the summer before junior year.
It’s important to leave time to take the SAT three times. Test ability can be improved with effort and learning, but lack of time isn’t flexible. Test prep is also heavy, so doing it in the summer is usually easier. The summer before senior year is too late to start if the intention is to take the test multiple times.
“Score Choice” (released by The College Board in 2009) allows students to choose which scores to send, so there is no risk of sending a low score. Students commonly take the SAT two or three times.
2. Apply test prep pressure indirectly. Parents often report that getting kids to start test prep is like pulling teeth. Students are resistant to getting started because the stakes are high and the process seems insurmountable. This leads to procrastination. Here are my three favorite ways to get things started:
a) Schedule a college visit. This is great quality time for parents and kids. It yields real, valuable information and puts the topic of college (and therefore, test prep) at the top of mind, without having to discuss it.
b) Schedule a test date. Nothing lights a fire like a deadline. My favorite first-time test date is May or June at the end of sophomore year.
c) Hire a coach. It’s a win-win because the coach solves a parent’s problem of managing the process, and eases the teen’s job of preparing by making the process more efficient.
3. Focus prep on weak areas. This seems obvious, but the execution of focusing on weak areas is more difficult than it sounds. It requires analysis, which is difficult and time-consuming to do; therefore, it often never gets done. It’s helpful to utilize a tool that analyzes the student’s strengths and weaknesses and provides feedback.
4. Practice consistently. Regular, focused practice is the only method of effective test prep and reliable way to improve test scores. There are no good shortcuts.
The single most common thing preventing students from achieving goal scores is not putting in enough effort. If a student doesn’t do the work, it won’t matter what method is being used. My experience is that it takes a typical student about 100 hours of total prep time for them to reach their natural potential. Test prep isn’t magic. It’s just regular, focused practice.
5. Spend more time reviewing work than doing new work. Students who review every single question they get wrong and record review notes improve more than three times faster than those who don’t. So, spend a substantial amount of time taking practice tests and reviewing missed problems.
Written by Tom Rose of Testive. To access free SAT and ACT study tools and to learn more, visit www.testive.com. Published with permission by Testive.
Published August 2017