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Preparing for College Entrance Exams: How Parents Can Help Students Succeed

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

The ACT and SAT—almost every high school student and parent is familiar with these college entrance exams, and for many, they come with a big sense of trepidation. But, preparing for these tests doesn’t have to be intimidating. With some early planning and intentional studying, parents can help take the fear-factor out of these tests for your children. Check out these eight tips!

1. Understand what’s at stake

As your child starts preparing for college entrance exams, make sure they fully understand the purpose of these tests and how much weight they carry. While no test score is make-or-break in the long term, these exams do have significant influence on college admissions committees’ decisions, and are often used in determining grant and scholarship awards as well. Putting forth their best effort, both during preparation and on test day, can lead to big payoffs for your child.

2. Take stock of your students’ strengths and weaknesses

Every child has academic areas that come naturally and those that are more of a struggle. As you and your child work to make a game plan for preparing for college entrance exams, it’s important to keep this in mind. Be realistic about which areas your child consistently needs more support in, and be sure to dedicate more time to those subjects during preparation efforts. Signing up for a test prep class or an online practice program like Study Island for Home can be a huge help!

3. Choose your test wisely

Most parents are familiar with the two primary college entrance exams—the ACT and the SAT—but do you know which your child should actually be taking? Have a discussion with your child on what types of colleges they’d like to apply for. Traditionally private colleges and those on the east or west coast lean towards the SAT, while public schools and those in the Midwest gravitate toward the ACT. Some schools will accept scores from either, so it’s important to check beforehand. The SAT also tends to focus on more vocabulary and critical thinking, while the ACT is known for presenting more straightforward questions. Finally, it’s important to note the SAT offers additional “Subject Tests”, which some more selective schools consider in the admissions process.

4. Get familiar with the test

No matter which test your child chooses to take, make sure to help them get familiar with what the test will actually entail, both in terms of content and question format. Be sure your child is aware of how much time will be allotted for each section of the test, and what specific subjects or question types will be focused on. The official ACT and SAT websites both offer great resources to help you and your child know what to expect.

5. Take advantage of practice tests

Practice tests for both the SAT and ACT are available through numerous outlets, and they’re a great resource as your child is getting ready for exam day. Practice tests are the best way for your child to get familiar with the format of the test, and gain an understanding of which topics they need to focus their time studying on.

6. Be clear on test-day logistics

When your child’s test day rolls around, the last thing both of you need is to be scrambling to make sure you know the logistical details. As soon as your child registers for an exam day, write down important information like the address of the testing center (including instructions for how to get to the actual testing room), what time your child needs to be at the center by, and what items they should or should not bring (for instance, calculators, ID, registration confirmation, scratch paper, cell phones, etc.). Be sure to map the testing center location ahead of time.

7. Sleep and nutrition are key

Never underestimate the power of a good night of sleep and a nutritious meal. These simple things can go a long way in helping your child be sharp and perform to the best of their abilities when the time for their exam comes. Avoid scheduling your child’s exam for the morning following any late-night activities, and make sure they don’t walk out the door without something filling in their stomachs like oatmeal or scrambled eggs and toast. Avoid sugary options like donuts, and save the fast-food run for a different day.

8. Always be encouraging

Confidence is key when it comes to taking tests. As a parent, you can do a lot to build your child’s belief in their own abilities. Remind them of how hard they’re working and the progress they’ve made as they prepare for these tests. And, always help them keep these exams in perspective—one disappointing score does not mean failure, many other factors go in to college admissions, and maybe most assuring of all, retakes are always possible.

Looking for an online tool to help your child get ready for college entrance exams? Study Island for Home offers grade-specific practice in math, ELA, science, and social studies. Start your free trial today