It’s almost time to head back to school and for high school juniors and seniors, that means taking SATs, applying for colleges, and more. And in a time where about 20 million students are expected to enroll in college, it takes more than just good grades to get accepted to your dream school.
According to PrepScholar.com, the average SAT score for African Americans is 946, way below every other ethnic group.
Write a college wish list
Have your child write down which colleges he or she might like to attend. It doesn’t have to be an exact list, but having some idea of where you might apply can help determine your goals for the SAT or ACT. Find out the test score requirements for each college so you can set a goal as you prep for each test. Some schools only require one test or the other, not both. Find out if your student will need to take both tests based on their wishlist.
Create a test-prep plan
When preparing to study for the SAT and actually taking it on test day, your teen needs a basic plan to follow to help focus their time and energy productively:
Sign up for a test prep service to start coaching your student. The first thing to do is to work with a test prep service like Prep Expert. Why? Because services like Prep Expert have the expertise and materials needed to train students for the SAT. I went from an average SAT score on my first attempt to eventually achieving a perfect score. The very strategies I developed to get there are taught to students to both understand and put into practice.
Start taking realistic practice tests. Just like training for a sport, taking the SAT requires practice. Lots and lots of practice for a high score is necessary. No matter the service, your child should be prepared to take a full practice test at least once per week under realistic circumstances.
What that means is timing everything closely, following the section order, and stopping when the clock runs out, whether your child is finished or not. From there, assess your child’s scores and figure out which sections and question types present the most trouble.
Focus on your strengths and weaknesses with the various test sections. Assess and work on your child’s strengths and weaknesses for the various test sections. For example, in the Math section, there is a specific set of questions where you are not allowed to use a calculator.
These no calculator questions are designed to be straightforward calculations, however, it’s best for your child to have the most common math formulas memorized beforehand to help answer them quickly. Also, have a plan for tackling the Reading section. With every section rigorously timed, figure out whether your child would do better with only skimming the passages and then answering questions, or if he or she should read the questions first and then refer back to the accompanying passage to find the answer.
Become familiar with the new test
It has probably been a while since you’ve taken the SAT and there may have been changes. Here are a few of the most common ones to be aware of immediately:
First, the SAT is redesigned to be closer to the ACT in the overall structure. Today, there are relatively few differences between the format and subject matter of both tests. Many educators saw this update as a response to the increasing popularity of the ACT itself.
The new SAT is designed to test relevant skills for both college and future career success. There is less emphasis on questions designed to trick students and more focus on recalling and interpreting information. The overarching goal is to assess how ready your child is for the intellectual pressures created by college and the workforce.
The new SAT reverted back to the ORIGINAL score range of 400-1600, after being at 600-2400 for years. Keep those numbers in mind when thinking about target scores to hit for college and university prerequisites. Also, keep those target scores in mind when working with practice tests to keep track of progress.
The previous score penalty for incorrect answers was removed. As a result, you are now incentivized to answer every possible new SAT question because there is no additional punishment for it being wrong. Even with guessing, your child stands a good chance of still gaining points versus skipping questions altogether and receiving nothing.
The Essay section is now optional. Again, this new policy appears to make the SAT competitive with the ACT’s current Essay policy. Without doing the Essay section, the test is now only three hours long. However, electing to complete the Essay section will add an additional 50 minutes.
“Even with guessing, your child stands a good chance of still gaining points versus skipping questions altogether and receiving nothing.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once again, practice tests are useful tools for finding out which areas your child needs to focus their study time on. They also help your child get a feel for what the real test might look and feel like. The more they familiarize themselves with the test through these practice sessions, the more confidence they will gain when taking it for real. Make sure your child sets aside time for a practice test or two before test day.
Need to take the test again?
Most students take the SAT more than once to improve their final scores. If your student thinks a second attempt might help boost their scores, help them narrow their focus and work on previous mistakes so they can reach their goals. Remember that most colleges and universities know students will often take the SAT multiple times to improve their scores, so don’t think that your child has to get a perfect score on the first try.
Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies that we teach in our Prep Expert SAT and ACT courses.