4 SAT and ACT Test Prep Tips for Families

Parents can help their students to determine the best strategies for them.

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Qualifying high school students can take the SAT or ACT twice for free.
Qualifying high school students can take the SAT or ACT twice for free.

There are many ways for high school students to prepare for the ACT and SAT, and sometimes the choices may seem overwhelming. What's necessary? How much will test prep help? Which is the best test prep?

It's hard to answer those questions with any certainty, but by examining the different options, you're likely to find one that's a good fit for your family.

JULIE:

Different families will approach test preparation in different ways. Even the same family will sometimes choose different options for different kids.

In our family, Lindsey took her first ACT before doing any test preparation. She then used a formal ACT prep class to raise her score. Our son, who is currently a high school junior, is choosing to take a test prep class through his school before attempting the test for the first time. Different kids, different choices.

[See how parents can help their students prepare.]

Here is some of what we've learned about preparing for these standardized tests.

1. Plan to take the test more than once: One of the best ways to prepare for either test is to take it. The tests can be taken as many times as your time and budget will allow, and schools will consider you for admission and scholarships based on your highest score.

Once your student has sat through the test, he or she will have a better feel for what's included and which areas they need to study to improve the score. Academically talented students can take the tests as early as seventh grade, through Duke University's Talent Identification Program or the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

2. Use the Question of the Day: Busy high school students may find it difficult to set aside large blocks of time to study, but a question a day is something most anyone can handle. The ACT and SAT both offer a free question of the day on their websites.

LINDSEY:

The ACT or SAT test can be one of the more stressful parts of the college admissions process. Most students have taken standardized tests before, but the ACT or SAT are most likely the longest, the most difficult, and have the highest consequences of any prior tests taken.

Luckily, there are many ways for students to prepare for both the ACT and SAT that make the experience much less stressful.

1. Know the rules: There's no way to know which questions will be on the test, but you can still look into the length of each section, how the test is graded, and whether guessing will penalize you.

You will feel much more at ease if you know exactly what to expect about the structure of the test; this way, you can focus solely on the content.

[Get test prep tips for international students.]

2. Don't compare scores: It's natural to want to share your scores with your friends and see how you stack up, but doing so really only accomplishes one of two things: give you a false sense of confidence if you scored higher than them, or make you feel worse about your own score if you scored lower.

It's my belief that each person has a range of scores they can achieve based on their ability and preparedness, but that also means everyone has a limit. If you're happy with your score and the college prospects it offers, then that's enough.