Tips for Parents About the SAT, ACT and AP Tests

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Testing, Testing, One, Two Three….

The two big tests needed for college admissions are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Assessment (ACT.) How much time and effort your kids put into preparing for these tests is up to you and your kids. Some kids are great test takers while others are not. I have one of each in my family and our approach to test prep was based on their individual needs. In my opinion, too much emphasis can be placed on test scores. A perfect score doesn’t mean your child will get into the school of their dreams, and likewise, a low score doesn’t mean your child can’t get into college.

Here’s a simple checklist of what to do to prepare for the tests:

1. Take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) the sophomore year. This is a good practice for the SAT. Plus, they’ll take the PSA again in their junior year in October to qualify for honors in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.*

2. Check out sample questions on the SAT website (collegeboard.com) and the ACT website is actstudent.org.

There is a question of the day for the SAT, which if your child answers starting in their freshman or sophomore years, they’ll get plenty of test practice.

3. Plan when to take the tests during the junior year. Most people take tests a couple of times. If your kids are happy with scores the first time around, don’t take it again.

SAT tests are offered in August, October, November, December, March, May and June.

ACT tests are in September, October, December, February, April, June.

For example, if your child takes a SAT test in November, you may want to wait several months to retake the test, like in March, so your child has time to get their results and take some practice tests.

4. There no longer is a penalty for guessing. It used to be that if a student guessed on an answer and got it wrong, they’d lose .25 of a point. That’s no longer the case and it’s okay to fill in answers and guess. There’s a 20% chance of getting the answer correct.

*The National Merit Scholarship takes the top scorers in the PSAT their junior year and sends out commendation letters to about the top 3 percent. The very top kids move onto semifinals and finals, and the finalists, selected by their high schools, then submit applications and enter into competition to be named National Merit Scholars.

From the website National Merit Scholarship Corporation History and Facts:
National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) was established in 1955 — a time in which there was concern that the United States was lagging behind in the cold war scientific race, but the public was indifferent to rewarding intellectual accomplishment. In response, the National Merit Scholarship Program was founded to identify and honor scholastically talented American youth and to encourage them to develop their abilities to the fullest. Through this nationwide competition, National Merit Scholarships are awarded to program Finalists and Special Scholarships are awarded to other high-performing participants who meet a corporate sponsor’s eligibility criteria.

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After the tests are done–graduation.

AP TESTS

Should your child take AP Tests? There are only two choices to answer this question. Yes and no.

One reason to take AP tests includes saving money in college. Each AP test costs upwards of $80, but if students score a 3 or higher (AP Tests are scored 1 – 5), they may earn college credit and not have to take that class in college. Please check with each college to find out how they treat AP tests. If a quarter tuition costs $5,000, say for three classes, then your student will save more than $1,500 per class if they score a 3 or higher.
Another reason to take the test is if your child scores a 3 or higher on three or more AP tests, they’ll earn an AP Scholar award. That will look good on the college application.

More information about AP Scholars can be found on the college board website.
Why wouldn’t your student want to take an AP test? Two reasons. First, it may be too expensive, at $80 a test, and second, they may not be prepared. If they struggled with the AP Class, the last thing they may want to do is take the test and get a lousy score. It can be time-consuming to study for the AP Test, and if they didn’t cover the material in class during the school year, it can be very difficult to get a 3 or higher. There is no shame in getting a poor score and it won’t reflect badly on your child, but then neither would not taking the test. My best advice is to talk it over with their teacher and your child.

imgresWhat advice do you have for parents of kids taking the big tests?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How parents can help their kids get into college

Parents can offer a lot of help and support on the road to finding the right college. But, don’t take over and do it all for your kids. I can’t tell you how tempting it can be to lead the college hunt—if you’re a parent who helps out on a daily basis—like driving forgotten lunches and papers to school when they’re in high school. Yes, guilty! I know one parent, whose son failed miserably out of college after college. This parent admitted that he had written all the college essays and filled out the applications. He begged me not to do the same for my children.

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My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

On the other hand, someone needs to keep track of what’s going on and that your child is meeting deadlines. The junior and senior years can be really tough with crazy, hectic schedules, proms, AP tests, etc.. We can’t back off at this critical moment and expect our 16 or 17-year-old to know instinctively what to do. Also, you can’t count on your high school to get your child into college. Not all high counselors are created equal. Some are really good at talking to kids and helping them through the process, while other counselors might not see it as their responsibility. They may have so many kids on many different tracks that they can’t offer one-one-one college counseling.

Here’s a check list of what can parents do:

1. Set up a master calendar. It’s a good idea to get a big, giant calendar or white board for your student and mark down all the important dates like SAT, ACT tests, college visit, deadlines for applications, FAFSA, etc.

2. Here’s what your child needs when it’s time to submit applications (don’t wait until the last minute to get these! You’ll only add to the stress if you wait):
—Official transcripts from all secondary schools attended.
—One letter of recommendation from an adult guidance/college counselor, coach, employer etc.
—One letter of recommendation from a teacher who can speak about academic ability.
—SAT or ACT scores

3. Review the essays. Don’t write them, but read them with a critical eye and get some feedback from other adults who you admire in terms of their writing or smarts.

4. Research schools. You can do initial research into schools’ majors, costs, and find out what their admission standards are. Every college has a website and if you dig deep into the admissions sections, you can find out the ranges of grades and SAT scores.

5. Make sure your child is taking the necessary classes and keeping the grades above a C. Don’t nag, but don’t let them slack, either.

6. If your child needs help with testing, enroll them in a SAT prep class. I did this for my daughter, who is not a good test taker and although she hated going, she thanked me afterward. She said the class, taught at a local high school over the summer, really, really helped.

7. Stay calm. This can be a bumpy road with pot holes and rocks along the way. Your teenager may procrastinate or suffer from anxiety over getting the college applications done. Parents can set the tone and keep the stress at bay, or they can add to it.

How do you think parents can help their kids through the college application process?

 

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My son’s high school graduation.