Studying for the SATs and ACTs

Tribune Media Services

Many parents know the frustration that can arise when a son or daughter is preparing for the SAT or ACT test.

Most colleges rely on these scores as part of their admissions criteria. And just like any test, preparation is the key to success. Of course, the object of the game is to get the best score possible – 2400 for the SAT and 36 for the ACT – experts recommend taking the testing process one step at a time and try not to become fixated on the score.

"Test day is the worst time to learn what kind of questions appear on the test," explains Rusty Greiff, vice president of Sylvan Learning College Prep. "Your child can become familiar with the test format and decrease his or her anxiety level on test day by practicing with questions they will encounter on the test. But real preparation begins years before."

Yes, you read that right. Years.

Greiff says preparing for college can begin as early as middle school or freshman year of high school. He advises parents to encourage their children to take challenging, academically rigorous courses to prepare them for the college years ahead.

"The SAT is designed to measure reasoning and problem-solving skills," he says. "The ACT is designed to measure a wider range of subject matter learned in school. Although they are different tests, each measures skills learned in the years – not weeks – before the test."

Whichever test your child chooses to take, be sure you know how each differ. For example, there is no penalty for guessing an answer on the ACT. However, the SAT deducts one-fourth of a point for every wrong answer and awards no points for every wrong answer.

Before diving into a study program, parents should ask their kids how much of Mom and Dad's help they want, says Nikki Geula, president of Arete Educational Consulting Inc. A high schooler who doesn't want his or her parents' help can create added stress for the both of you.

For those students who do want their parents' help, start out by purchasing two sets of study books – one for the student and one for you. Then, systematically go through each section, says Geula, who works with high schoolers in the New York area and flies both nationally and internationally to help students prepare for their SATs and ACTs.

"[Parents] should first administer a full-length practice test inclusive of timing to get a sense of where the student is starting from," she says. "They should administer one for the ACT and one for the SAT to see which test is a better fit.

Next, keep an organized notebook and have your child write out each wrong answer. Focus on these areas first.

Then, set up daily study times, and if possible, proctor a 4-hour practice exam once a month. But most importantly, have patience and don't berate or pressure your child, Guela says.

"Understand that they, too, want to do well," she says. "Sometimes a tutor is the best option so that they can act as a go-between. If obtaining a tutor is financially impossible, sit down with your child and make specific goals, [such as getting] a 2200 for the SAT, so that you know when to stop taking the test and practicing for it."

A tutor can be a good investment in your child's future, particularly if you don't have the time required to help them study. College prep can be a difficult time for both of you, especially your math or vocabulary skills are a little rusty. Tutors can offer the proper tools and your child may prefer working with an unbiased coach.

© 2009, Tribune Media Services

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette