These SAT tips will help your child get started on test prep. Mastering the SAT can have a tremendous impact on your child’s life but it comes at a cost. Preparing for the SAT can be a stressful process for both children and parents. Prep is stressful for the test-taker because the stakes are high and stressful for the parents of the test-taker because they don’t have much control.
The good news is the process can be manageable. I’ve worked with hundreds of parents and helped to send students to Harvard, Duke, MIT, and many others. Here are 5 sat tips that make the process easier.
SAT tip 1. Start prep early. The single biggest thing a parent can do to help their child succeed on the SAT is to help their child get started early. The best time to start prep is the summer before junior year. Here's why:
It’s important to leave time to take the SAT three times. Test ability can be improved with effort and learning, but lack of time is something that simply isn’t flexible. Test prep is also heavy, so putting it in the summer is usually easier for students to handle. The summer before senior year is too late to start if you want to take the test multiple times.
“Score Choice” (released by The College Board in 2009) allows students to choose what scores they send, so there is now no risk of getting a low score. Because of this, students are commonly taking the SAT two or three times.
Because this is a complex topic, I have written an article extensively on when to take the SAT.
SAT Tip 2. Apply test prep pressure indirectly. Parents often report that getting their children to start test prep is like pulling teeth. Students are resistant to getting started because the stakes are high, and the process seems insurmountable. This leads to procrastination. Here are my three favorite ways to get things started:
a) Schedule a college visit. College visits are great quality time for parents and students. It yields real, valuable information and it puts the topic of college (and therefore test prep) at the top of mind, without you having to discuss it.
b) Schedule a test date. Nothing lights a fire like a deadline. My favorite first-time test-date is May or June at the end of sophomore year.
c) Hire a coach. It’s a win-win because the coach solves your problem of managing the process, and eases the child’s job of preparing by making the process more efficient.
SAT Tip 3. Focus prep on weak areas. This sounds obvious, but it’s noteworthy because the execution of focusing on weak areas is much more difficult than it sounds because focusing on weak areas has a difficult pre-requisite: analysis. Analysis is difficult and time-consuming to do so more often than not, it never gets done.
The most important thing you can do is make sure that your child is working with a tool that analyzes strengths and weaknesses for them and provides feedback.
If you don’t have such a tool, you can analyze your child’s strengths and weaknesses by digging through the results of a full-length practice test or a PSAT score report.
SAT Tip 4. Regular, focused practice is the only method of effective test prep. This is the only reliable method of improving test scores. There are no good shortcuts.
The single most common thing preventing students from achieving their goal scores is not putting in enough effort. This is the big weakness of test prep group classes and self-serve online tools, both of which have a track-record of low effort levels.
If you don’t do enough work it doesn’t matter at all what method you are using, and no method at all can make up for not putting in the hours. My experience is that it takes a typical student about 100 hours of total prep time for them to reach their natural potential.
Test prep isn’t magic. It’s just regular, focused practice.
SAT Tip 5. Spend more time reviewing-work than doing-new-work. Our data shows the correlation that students who review every single question they get wrong and record review notes improve more than three times faster than those who do not. So how do you make sure that this happens?
Testive has software tools that manage this process and report back on whether it’s happening so that students, parents, and coaches can all track and manage the process. If you don’t have access to an automated tool like Testive, then watch out for what we call “churn-and-burn” where one does only practice questions with no review.
One final thought: Test prep is a stressful thing. Remember that you’re not alone. You can find a tutor or coach in many places. Testive is one such option.