Parents: How To Help Your College-Bound Teen Study for the SAT or ACT
As your child starts thinking about college—and what he or she needs to do get there—one potentially anxiety-provoking hurdle to cross is standardized testing. Your child will probably take the SAT and/or ACT in their junior or senior year, and may be feeling stressed about it. So how can you help? Read on for CollegeVine’s strategies for supporting your college-bound teenager.
Know the Difference Between the Two Tests
Most colleges will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. However, some schools may require additional tests, such as SAT Subject tests, along with the SAT and not the ACT. Your child should check with the schools on his or her list to see which tests are required.
While the purpose and content of the SAT and ACT are similar in that neither measures content-specific knowledge, the two tests have a few notable differences. Understanding these differences will help you better prepare your student.
The SAT is favored on the East and West Coasts and is comprised of three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The ACT is more popular in the Midwest and includes four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science Reasoning. Both tests offer an optional essay.
Along with the additional Science section, the ACT contains more questions, but allots less time for students to complete them. The optional essays differ as well. The SAT asks students to analyze a text and the author’s argument, while the ACT tasks students with analyzing an issue and developing a new argument. Essentially, the measured skills differ: reading comprehension for the SAT, and critical thinking for the ACT.
The test your child chooses to take should depend on his or her academic strengths and skillsets. Learn more about the differences between the tests in SAT vs. ACT: Everything You Need to Know.
Make a Timeline a Month Before the Test
Check the SAT or ACT schedule to figure out when your child will take the test for the first time. An independent self-starter will probably need less guidance, but you should still check in from time to time. If your child needs more structure and relies on you for instructions, you’ll probably want to make a schedule with him or her and offer routine reminders.
Start by doing a practice test. Your child will take the actual test, while you serve as the administrator. Based on the initial performance, determine areas that need more focus and attention. Then set up a timeline for practicing with realistic goals.
Be Encouraging and Supportive (not Overbearing or Intrusive)
Your child is transitioning into young adulthood. Understand that your role as caretaker is changing along with this transition.
Focus on offering guidance and support, rather than telling your child what to do. Bear in mind that these tests and their significance have changed considerably since you took them, so don’t assume that you necessarily know more about them than your child does.
However, if your child seeks out your advice, give it! Just do your research first so you know what you’re saying is accurate.
Take Care of Your Child’s Well-Being
As your child enters college season, he or she may be tempted to devote 24 hour a day to studying while neglecting health and wellness. You may need to remind him or her to take a break and avoid staying up late to cram. Not only will that not help, but it may even hurt test and academic performance, not to mention mental and physical health.
For more tips on taking care of your child’s well-being, check out Being Well: How to Manage Stress and Cultivate Mental Health in High School and 5 Reasons to Prioritize Health and Fitness in High School.
Relax 2-3 Days Before the Test
Practicing until the 11th hour isn’t going to improve your child’s performance. Instead, encourage him or her to relax by playing games and making a healthy meal. Check out our guides for what to do in the days and hours before the SAT and ACT.
Find Great Resources
You don’t have to do it alone! There are plenty of resources to help your child with test-taking strategies. CollegeVine’s SAT Tutoring Program will help him or her achieve top scores on the tests through proven methods. Also check out our many guides to taking the SAT and ACT.
A Final Note
Remember to keep your child confident but realistic. You can provide support, but ultimately he or she is the one taking the test and needs to understand that it’s his or her responsibility to put in the practice time and make use of the strategies you discuss. For more advice, check out What Parents Need to Know About SAT and ACT Studying and Prep.
Want to help your child ace the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help him or her achieve top scores on the test. We’ll pair your child with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.
Want more SAT tips sent to you?
Sign up below and we'll send you expert SAT tips and guides.