To succeed on the ACT or SAT, high schoolers often require support from adults. Students may turn to school professionals like teachers and guidance counselors, as well as their own parents, guardians, and mentors.
However, some forms of well-intentioned support can be counterproductive to a student’s test preparation. Here are three mistakes that parents may make when they assist their children in preparing for the ACT or SAT:
• Becoming involved too early or too late in the test prep process.
• Drawing on their personal knowledge of the test.
• Placing undue emphasis on achieving a target score on a single exam date.
• Becoming involved too early or too late in the test prep process. High school students should plan to complete the PreACT or the PSAT before they sit for the ACT or SAT. PreACT and PSAT scores can provide students with a baseline for designing their personalized ACT and SAT study plans.
Outside of these officially proctored practice tests, it is difficult for students to simulate genuine testing conditions and thus to have a clear sense of how they might perform on exam day. The PreACT and PSAT, therefore, represent an invaluable test prep tool for students of all skill levels.
The ideal moment for parents to get involved in their student’s test prep efforts is just before the PreACT or PSAT. Intensive, lengthy review is generally not necessary for these exams, thus mitigating the need to become involved many months before them.
Parents can help their students identify their test date and familiarize themselves with the overall content and format. Then, after the PreACT or PSAT, parents can carefully assess their student’s score report to know the extent to which he or she needs help before the ACT or SAT.
Drawing on their personal knowledge of the test. The ACT, created in 1959, and the SAT, created in 1926, have been used to assess students’ college readiness for decades. Since their implementation, however, both exams have undergone a notable number of changes. A well-known example is the elimination of the SAT analogy section in 2005.
From time to time, some parents who have taken the ACT or SAT in earlier years make a key mistake with their children: They coach their students based on their knowledge of an obsolete version of the test. For example, in 2016, the College Board launched a revised version of the SAT that did away with obscure vocabulary questions. A parent who is unaware of this change may overstress the importance of learning vocabulary during the prep process.
Rather than solely relying on personal experiences, parents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the latest versions of these exams. In the same breath, parents should also ensure that they use only the most up-to-date study resources with their children.
Placing undue emphasis on achieving a target score on a single exam date. Many students take the ACT and SAT more than once. Few students are completely satisfied with their scores from their first sitting, so retesting is common.
Parents who want the best opportunities for their children can sometimes create anxiety by pressuring their students to earn a target score by a certain date. This can exacerbate an already stressful situation for a teenager.
Instead, parents can help their students set realistic test prep goals that are neither too high nor too low. They can also help to balance any unrealistic score expectations that their children voice through frequent communication during the study process.
Statistics from both the College Board and ACT show that more than half of SAT and ACT test-takers score higher on a second exam. Furthermore, many colleges now “superscore,” meaning they accept a student’s highest-ever score on each section – another reason that a low first score should not be a deep source of concern, given adequate planning.
To ensure proper planning, families can work together to develop a timeline with check-ins and milestones, such as dates for an initial and second test that satisfy application deadlines. Parents can also help by enrolling their children in an SAT prep class to help them prepare.
While many parents are understandably eager to help their children study for the ACT or SAT, they should remember to avoid the mistakes described above to ensure success.