ACT and SAT Test Prep for Parents

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Your high school student will need to take one or both of the college entrance exams during his junior year of high school. Here are an expert’s tips for helping him prepare for the test.

Guiding your high school student through college entrance exams can be intimidating if you’re navigating the process for the first time. There’s no reason to worry. While you may not be able to teach trigonometry or syntax, you can still provide the support and guidance high school students need as they move forward toward the next chapter of their lives. Consider the following tips to help you along the way.

Know the Basics

The two most widely used college entrance exams are the ACT and SAT. Both are designed to assess a student’s academic readiness for college level coursework.

To help your high school student perform to the best of his ability on one or both of these tests, it’s important for you to know a bit about both and how they fit into the overall process of college admissions. Key details to be aware of include:

•   Some colleges require scores from one test specifically, while others allow students to take and submit scores from either. Once you know where your child plans to apply, it will be easier to determine which test he should take.

•   College admissions advisors recommend students begin taking the SAT or ACT as early as possible during their junior year of high school.

•   Students can take both the ACT and the SAT multiple times. Encourage your child to view a disappointing score as an opportunity to do better next time.

Seek Expert Advice

There is a wealth of information about college entrance exams — and how to best prepare for them — available to both students and parents. In fact, an entire test prep industry revolves around helping high school students raise their scores on the ACT and the SAT.

Ellie Grossman Cohen, who’s already been through college entrance exams with one child and is now going through the process again with her second, strongly suggests that parents hire a tutor. “Of course, every student is different and results vary,” she admits. “But if the student focuses, studies and learns the necessary test-taking strategies, it should pay off.”

Grossman Cohen knows firsthand when a student works with a qualified tutor test scores often go up by a couple of points. She reminds parents with concerns about cost that working with a tutor can raise not only a student’s test scores but also his scholarship potential. “It’s all worth it if it means more scholarship money,” she advises.

Focus on Your Family

While many students benefit from tutoring, it isn’t the right fit for every family. Ultimately, how you help your child prepare for ACT or SAT will depend on several factors, including your family’s budget and how much preparation your child needs to achieve his desired outcome.

A strong student who’s highly self-motivated, for example, might prefer working through a study guide or workbook on his own. Companies like Kaplan Test Prep and The Princeton Review offer small group classroom courses for the more traditional learner. And if you simply can’t afford to spend extra money, free sample questions and practice tests for both tests are available online.

Every student is unique, so what matters most is tailoring a plan that best meets your child’s individual needs and goals. If you start to feel confused and overwhelmed by the many options before you, your child’s high school guidance counselor is an excellent resource for discussing what’s right for your family.

Show Your Support

Even if you’re unable to help with the academic aspect of college entrance exams, your support is still crucial to your child’s success on testing day. Make sure he gets plenty of rest the night before, and insist on a healthy, protein-packed breakfast. Also review test-taking basics like the importance of being prepared with several sharpened #2 pencils and reading all directions thoroughly before answering any questions.

Remind your student the importance of good study habits in the days and weeks leading up to the test, too. “I knew he would do well,” says Barbara Gremaud of her son, now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. “But he needed time management help. I drove him to the library a couple of times to study so he was not at home, distracted,” she continues.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

High school students, especially those with learning disabilities or test-taking anxiety, need to recognize that ACT and SAT scores represent only one portion of the college admissions process. Since most children — even teens — take cues from their parents, one of the best things you can do for them is model a calm, positive attitude about the entire process.

Remind your student that while it is important to perform to the best of his ability, it’s even more important to see college entrance exams for what they truly are: a stepping stone designed to help them find their way as they embark on the exciting next chapter of their lives.

ACT vs SAT at a Glance

• A curriculum-based test designed to measure what students have learned in school.
• Comprises four sections of multiple-choice questions.
• Covers four subject areas (English, math, reading and science).
• Lasts a little more than 4 hours.
• Doesn’t penalize for wrong answers.
• Includes an optional writing test.

• More of an aptitude test, with an emphasis on reasoning and vocabulary.
• Comprises three sections (math, critical reading and writing).
• Includes multiple choice questions, grid-in math questions and an essay.
• Lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes.
• Penalizes students for wrong answers.
• Features several optional subject tests which allow students to display advanced knowledge.

Local ACT and SAT Test Prep

Carraway Center
Nashville • 615-279-9376

Club Z In Home Tutoring

Huntington Learning Center Brentwood

Huntington Learning Center Hendersonville

KAPLAN Test Prep
Nashville • 800-527-8378

Knowledge Points Tutoring Center
Franklin  • 615-771-1226

The Learning Lab
Brentwood • 615-377-2929
Franklin • 615-790-3200, ext. 116
Nashville • 615-321-7272

New Point Learning Center
Nashville • 615-298-4112

Omega Learning Center
Nashville • 615-678-1927

The Princeton Review
Nashville • 800-273-8439

Goodlettsville • 615-860-9111
Murfreesboro• 615-893-3542


Alyssa Chirco is a freelance parenting journalist and mother of two. She is also a former college test prep tutor, who has helped many students improve their scores on both the ACT and SAT.

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