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Are you and your teenager desperate to escape the clutches of SAT or ACT anxiety? It can be done! We’ve coached parents and students for years—even those who’ve never had trouble with test anxiety before.
What is it about these tests? The stakes are high, pacing is tough, and the content is wide-ranging. It’s unlike any other test they’ve taken! In addition, kids (and, let’s be honest, their parents) talk and get caught up in comparing their scores to others’. Is it any wonder they feel anxious about these tests? Fortunately, there’s a lot they can do to take back control.
Stick to the Plan
Kids who determine a realistic plan and stick to it greatly reduce their anxiety and ultimately perform better on test day.
How do they do it?
- They choose the ACT or SAT and prep for that one test only. All schools with testing requirements/recommendations accept either test, so it makes sense to become an expert in the one that better suits them.
- They take a pre-test to get a baseline of scores. This helps them decide where to focus their learning, and will also give them something to measure their progress against.
- They take their schedule into consideration and work around it to the best of their ability. If they’re in the spring musical, they’ll do their prep and test-taking during first semester (and maybe even start the summer before junior year). If their weekdays are packed with homework, sports, and a job, they’ll meet with their tutor on Sundays.
- They commit on day one to completing homework and taking practice tests. They build the homework into their weekly routine and see how a little bit of independent work most days makes a big impact on test day. Putting their practice tests on the calendar well ahead of time not only ensures that they won’t double book and miss them, but also gives them a goal to work toward.
The other benefit of dedicated practice is improved school work. That leads to more confidence, which will definitely affect their ACT/SAT performance!
Focus on Progress
The road to your child’s best score will likely include some bumps, pit stops, and detours. This can be frustrating in the moment, but reframing those interruptions as part of the learning process will put them back on track.
Attitude is everything, and these tips will help keep the focus on progress:
- Expect and work through mistakes—it’s the only way to learn from them.
- Look behind the scores of homework, practice tests, and their first real test. Given the questions your child is able to answer within time limits, are they answering a greater percentage correctly then the previous assessments? Are they consistently applying the strategies? Are they getting a good handle on how to allot their time?
- Ask questions and offer specific praise about what your child is able to control. Instead of asking, “Are your scores up on your homework?” say, “Tell me about the strategies you’re using on your homework.” Or rather than saying, “I can’t believe your scores aren’t budging!” ask, “Which strategy is making the most difference for you at this point?” Opening up a conversation will help your child reflect on their learning and pinpoint what’s working and what they need to further improve.
Keep Your Anxiety to Yourself
Chances are good that you’ll feel anxious, scared, frustrated, or helpless at some point during this process. That’s totally normal—these tests are a big deal! The key is not to pass that anxiety on to your child.
Think beyond just your words:
- What is your tone communicating?
- How about your facial expressions and actions?
- If there are other adults in the mix, make a pact that you’ll keep an eye on each other’s reactions since it can be difficult to accurately self-assess.
Put It into Perspective
Once you’ve reduced (or at least contained!) your own anxiety, you can help your child get some perspective on the tests. While test scores are a very important part of the college admissions process, they are not the only part. The score is a snapshot of what your child was able to do one Saturday morning, not a complete assessment of their ability and potential.
Do you know what’s just as important to schools?
- Grade point average. They want to know they’re getting a hard worker who’s dedicated to learning.
- Schools also want to see a rigorous course load (appropriate to your child), community service, extracurriculars, essays with a strong voice, and teacher recommendations.
Becoming fixated on the scores from one test will not leave space to develop these other areas. Helping your child find balance will actually lead to better scores!
Block out the Noise
While you’re hearing other parents brag about their child’s test scores or panic about their child’s low scores keeping them out of college altogether, your child is hearing the same from their peers. Here’s the thing: the fib factor is high when discussing test scores. Sure, some students actually do get a 34 with no test prep; but there’s no shame if that’s not how it goes for your child.
So how can you help your child block out the noise?
- Encourage them to compete against themselves. How are they improving week to week – not just with scores, but also pacing, strategy use, and confidence?
- Determine what goals they need to achieve in order to be in the running for their top-choice schools, and then map out what steps they need to take. Celebrate the small and big victories along the way!
- Talk about all of the factors that influence someone’s test performance so that they understand how important it is to focus on what they’re able to control.
Managing anxiety around the ACT and SAT enables students to do their best work. It takes vigilance, but the payoff will extend well beyond test day. We’re happy to help you and your student navigate, just give us a call!