Parents: Tips for Teaming Up With Your Student on SAT & ACT Test Prep
Preparing for the SAT or ACT can be a stressful process for parents and students alike. The test is unfamiliar and high stakes, so it’s no wonder that at times emotions can run high. When parents and students partner together, though, the process can be one of teamwork and mutual investment.
If you’re a parent looking to team up with your teen in the test prep process, we recommend that you focus on establishing expectations in three primary areas. By developing common ground in the areas of communication, schedule, and goals, you and your teen will be on the path toward standardized test success, together. To learn more, keep reading.
Tip #1: Communication
Communication will be the backbone of the test prep process from start to finish. Students and parents will need to communicate regularly, honestly, and openly.
Parents, start by clearly communicating your expectations about the scope of the studying early in the preparation process. Do you envision weekends packed with study groups and online tutorials or do you expect a last-minute frenzied crunch? Find the happy medium between that works well with your family’s schedule, then check in regularly to hold your teen accountable.
Also discuss resources. Will you be able to invest in some study materials, should your teen rely on free online resources, or will you be able to hire a test prep tutor?
Of course, communication is a two-way street, so students should also be open and vocal about their needs. Parents should encourage their teens to share their needs during a discussion about resources. Students should also discuss how involved they envision their parents to be throughout the test prep process.
When both parents and teens are open and honest, they can become a cohesive team with common visions for the process.
For more about communicating with your teen throughout the college application process, see these posts:
Tip #2: Schedule
Sometimes, finding the time to delve into test prep can be a major obstacle. Remember, in addition to preparing for a high stakes test, your teen is also juggling demanding schoolwork, a variety of extracurriculars, and a social life. Add to this that your teen is likely still developing time management and organization skills, and it’s easy to see how some teens feel that there simply isn’t time to focus on test prep.
You can help by lending insight into the scheduling process. Identify the big picture, including chunks of the year that are less busy and may lend themselves well to more intensive test prep. Help your teen to outline a long-term schedule, including time for practice tests, content-specific study, and test strategy.
At the same time, encourage your student to be realistic about his or her commitments. Keeping an updated planner, calendar, or organizer can be a great start. Also, starting test prep in earnest during the early part of the junior year will allow more time for test prep over the long run, so starting these conversations early can be helpful.
Also, hold your teen accountable to the schedule. Check in regularly and communicate concerns early. Finally, be realistic and flexible. Sometimes schedules need to adjust over time, and it’s important that your teen be comfortable coming to you if something needs to change.
To learn more about creating a test prep schedule, see these posts:
Tip #3: Set Goals
Finally, the importance of agreeing on and establishing common goals in advance can’t be understated. Students will need to be open about their visions for the future, and while parents should do the same, they will also need to recognize that it is the student, not the parent, who will bear ultimate responsibility for the work that needs to be done towards any goal set. For that reason, students will need to be onboard with all goals.
Parents should focus on lending perspective and insight into any goals, without dashing them. For example, if a high-achieving student wants to attend a state school and study philosophy, a parent might choose to support this choice or might choose to point out the career paths afforded by it and offer alternatives that still honor the student’s priorities. Similarly, if a student with low preliminary scores and average high school achievements wants to attend an Ivy League, a parent might help the teen to look up admissions statistics that shed light on the realistic bigger picture.
Long-term goals for college and career can be used to help establish smaller steps, including target test scores. Help your teen to set a realistic target score that won’t close any doors for him or her. For help with this, check out our posts What Parents Need to Know About SAT and ACT Studying Prep and How Your SAT Score Impacts Your College Admissions.
Final Reminders for Students:
Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own work. Ultimately, they are the only ones who can take the test, so their performance will depend on their own hard work. Eventually, they will need to become self-motivated and build independence if they want to take ownership and move towards their goals.
In addition, teens need to understand and be open to the teamwork that’s required if they want to use all the resources available to them. Sometimes, the relationship between teen and parent can be contentious, but when teens and parents operate in opposition instead of tandem, both sides lose.
Final Reminders for Parents:
Parents need to be a source of calm and perspective throughout the test prep process. Remember, this is a stressful time for your teens and your primary role now is the same as it’s been throughout their lives – support them and make sure they know that you are on their side.
Check in regularly to help hold them accountable, but try not to be a nag. Don’t score their practice tests or observe their studying over their shoulders unless you’re invited. Instead, offer some space as your teens grow more and more independent and builds the skills necessary for long-term success, beyond standardized test scores.
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