For well over a year, we’ve been writing posts aimed at students (“How to Get a High SAT Score”, “How to Spot a Dangling Modifier”, etc.). Not that there haven’t been useful tips for parents; there just hasn’t been anything directly targeted towards parents. Until now.
But if you are the parent of a high schooler, you probably have plenty of questions regarding the SAT. Below are some of the most common ones.
Why is the SAT such a big deal?
The logic goes that we can’t rely on GPA alone. A student with a 4.0 from Phillips Exeter is probably different academically from one who gets a 4.0 at a small country school. That is not to say the Phillips Exeter student is brighter; indeed, maybe the one from the small country school is just as bright, if not brighter. So we need a test, and that test is the SAT.
Of course the SAT is not a perfect test for “brightness”, but it’s the main one we’ve got, and the one that colleges consider a decent gauge of bookish brainpower. In other words, it’s one of the best ways for a student to make him- or herself stand out intellectually.
Which materials to use?
One of the most daunting parts of SAT prep is navigating through all of the material out there. There’s McGraw Hill, Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s, Sparknotes…and those are just the big names. The list goes on for a while, encompassing everything from online test prep (like Magoosh) to some SAT tutor in Delaware with a heavy blog presence.
A great way to avoid getting buried under this mountain of information is to check out our book reviews. We’ve reviewed the big players in the market, as well as some of the smaller ones, making sure that you are left with the best material. And remember, we’re not biased (or least doing our best not to be). Our aim is not to brazenly tout our own material. Rather, we want to make sure that we give a fair assessment of what is out there, whether a student ends up using Magoosh or not.
How long should students study for the test?
As parents you are probably wondering how hard to push your kid(s) when it comes to the SAT. While there is no easy answer, doing well on the SAT isn’t a matter of forgoing two summers in favor of grueling SAT boot camps. Nor is it a good idea to assume that with one week of study, a student can make significant improvement on the test.
There are two things you need to figure out: your child’s baseline score, and what college/program he or she wants to attend. If your child wants to go to a decent private school in the area and major in, say, economics, then he or she probably doesn’t have to work too hard at the SAT with a baseline score of 1800 (assuming that his or her GPA and admissions essays are relatively strong). If that score is 1500, then getting to 1800 would be the goal. With a serious summer of prep, those 300 points should be in reach.
Again, the lower the GPA, the higher the SAT score should be. The higher-ranked the school, the higher the SAT score needs to be. At the same time, a student with a 3.3 GPA shouldn’t put their life on hold until they can raise their score 800 points. That’s neither feasible nor wise.
Class vs. Tutor vs. Self-study
The short answer is it depends on the student. The long answer is as follows: figure out the type of environment in which your student thrives. If he/she is typically a straight-A student, my hunch is that he/she will be fine with a classroom format. On the other hand, students who tend to have trouble focusing in classroom settings may benefit greatly from a tutor.
Finally, there is the self-study option, which is not for everybody. Those who require lots of discipline and a constant system of reward or recognition can easily get lost studying with an on-line program.
Often the best answer to this question is all of them. Combining the three will lead to the highest score increases. Yet tutors and classes can be expensive, especially the latter, so self-study is by far the best way to go economically.
But I shouldn’t make the self-studying process sound as bleak as all that. A great way to become part of the SAT self-studying process is to talk to your child a lot as he or she studies. Keep in tune with your kid’s progress or lack of progress. Help brainstorm ways to improve, and, in general, be their cheerleader, since SAT-prep takes a lot of positive reinforcement. One great way to get directly involved is to quiz your child on SAT vocabulary, and, if you are up to it, throw some SAT vocab into your daily conversations.
Why not just take the ACT?
With more and more schools accepting the ACT — and indeed weighing it the same as the SAT — most students are asking themselves the natural question: Why should I take the SAT?
The quick answer may surprise them: You may actually do better on the SAT than the ACT. This may sound counterintuitive since the SAT is regarded (rightly so) as the more difficult test. However, one’s score depends on how well you do compared to other students taking that same test.
Some students will excel on the SAT, a test which rewards a mixture of strategic and big-picture thinking. The ACT, on the other hand, tests knowledge directly accrued in school; while few, if any, students learned the meaning of “effrontery”, most will be pretty comfortable with almost any word that will show up on the ACT.
So a straight-A student who remembers most material learned over the past few years should likely fare better on the ACT. By contrast, a student who was more prone to finding shortcuts, reading outside of class, or effortlessly crunching numbers, may do better — compared their peers — on the SAT.