Every once in a while I get a call like this:
“Hi, this is ____. My son is taking the SAT on Saturday. Can you, like, help him get ready for the test so he can score real high?”
“Real high.” That’s what I wonder if the parent is.
I’ve been tutoring students to prepare them for the SAT and the ACT for many years now, and there’s one thing I’ve found to be true: there is no shortcut to doing well.
While there are steps students can take to do better on these tests — including a few time-tested test-taking strategies — there is nothing I can do as a tutor (or a test-prep coach) that substitutes for solid academics over a student’s entire school career, and a longterm approach to the high-stakes tests.
What I’d like to do in this post, then, is to sketch out a road map that will help parents take a longterm approach to the SAT or the ACT.
1st) Simply ensure that your child has solid academics from 1st grade through 12th grade.
2nd) Encourage your children to read a great deal. Read yourself to model the importance of reading.
3rd) Have a lot of discussions with your children. Talk about intellectual issues, politics, science, math, literature, the news, etc.
4th) Starting in 8th grade or around that time, find a list of 1,000 or so words that are on the SAT and the ACT and help your child learn 5 words a week. Use the words during discussions. Encourage your child to use his newly learned vocabulary. Help your child learn the nuances of the words. The best way to learn vocabulary is through hearing the words spoken correctly, and trying to use them yourself.
5th) Starting in late 9th grade or early 10th grade, get your child a book on the ACT or on the SAT. Have your child start to take short practice tests. Help your child get familiarized with the tests.
6th) Talk with your kids about the importance of these tests. Discuss how much good scores on the SAT or the ACT can open up doors to the best colleges and universities. Discuss the importance of scholarships and correlate high test scores with scholarship opportunities.
7th) Toward the end of 10th grade, start to look for a good test-prep program. Or look for a tutor who can help your child start getting ready for these tests.
8th) After your child has had experience taking some practice tests, sit down with your child and together set some goals for test scores. Make clear that the goals are being set just to give your child something to aim toward.
If you take these steps, your child will have a big head start toward doing well on the SAT or on the ACT. And you will never find yourself in the position of thinking that a couple of sessions before the test will “do the trick.”