Jun 07, 2017
Professional tutor and guest blogger Josh Sohn's advice to parents of rising juniors and how to deal with standardized testing time.
Much of tutoring is damage control. Kids miss some school, or a few homework assignments or an exam doesn’t go well, and (especially with math and science) things compound and academic problems arise. That’s usually when parents pick up the phone or reach out to friends for recommendations, or fire up Google in search of a remedy.
When it comes to standardized testing (SAT I, ACT, SAT II’s, AP’s, Regents, etc.) there’s a similar pattern. More often than not, parents wait until the test is a few months or even weeks away before summoning support, if they do so at all. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this impulse. Testing has assumed an outsized role in education today, and many parents believe hiring a tutor well in advance of an exam only contributes to that trend. Other parents are simply too busy managing their own myriad responsibilities to keep careful track of which tests are coming for their children and when and how to help them be as prepared as possible.
With all that in mind, I’d like to talk to parents of rising juniors in an effort to ease what is a particularly challenging time for both kids and parents. Here goes...
Your son/daughter just finished sophomore year and you’re finally able to take a breath. They didn’t end up with A’s in all of their classes, but they should have some good options when it comes to college.
If only it weren’t for the SAT/ACT.
They’ve always fared better in school than on standardized tests and you’re nervous that they’ll underperform on the test that matters most for colleges. You’ve thought about hiring a tutor, but you’ve heard horror stories of expensive tutors and mediocre results. You’ve even done some research on test-optional schools, but what you found was less than inspiring. Is the ACT easier? Which colleges accept it? What about SAT II’s? Someone told you the SAT changed recently — what’s the story with that?
First off, relax. I have good news. This process doesn’t need to tear your family asunder. What you need most right now — before junior year starts — is information. You need to know which test your son/daughter should ultimately take: the ACT or the SAT.
Doing your own test research is nice, but the best info you can get will come from a mock SAT and a mock ACT. Not in your living room. Not online. You need two properly-proctored mock tests, ideally a week or two apart, to get a true sense of which test fits your son/daughter better. There are lots of companies that offer mock testing, but the three I tend to recommend above the others are: Bellcurves, Cates, and Bespoke. I’d strongly recommend doing this in June or July, after sophomore year is complete, but before the summer is fully underway.
Let’s assume you pull this part off. Your son/daughter took the mock tests and got the scores back. Because you’re on it, you looked at SAT/ACT conversions to determine which score was better, and it seems like they should take the SAT. Now what?
When you were in high school, everyone took the test in May or June and then whatever you got, you stuck with. Well, times have changed. But hang on, you’ve taken my advice on mock tests and now you’re out in front of a process that most parents leave to the last minute or disregard altogether. Did you know the SAT is offered 7 times a year? In other words, your son/daughter has lots of options and, if you play your cards right, they can be done nearly a full year before their friends!
Yes, I’m telling you not to let them fall into the natural state of teendom — endless procrastination.
May and June of junior year may be the most intense academic stretch of your son/daughter’s entire life. I am begging you: PLEASE DO NOT ADD TAKING THE SAT TO THAT HEAPING PILE OF RESPONSIBILITIES. November, December, and March all represent superior options. (Even October of senior year is preferable to May or June.) Check your calendar for conflicts, ask them which two dates they prefer, and then register for both. Do it early to ensure convenient locations, so that you’re not asking them to spend extra time on test-day getting to a remote test center.
They probably won’t completely understand why you’re doing all this now, but that’s okay. They’ll thank you for all this later. (Okay, they might not thank you, but it won’t be because they’re ungrateful — it’ll be because of the mountain of junior year work they’re buried under.)
Now, about the tutoring piece.
Tutoring efficacy and tutor-student rapport aren't an exact science. The best tutors are experts, yes, but they are also honest with you about your child. And invariably the best tutoring is borne out of a strong relationship between the student and the tutor. With all that in mind, I would highly recommend you meet at least two tutors face to face before making a commitment. Any tutor who won’t at least speak with you on the phone about their work and their SAT learning plan for your son/daughter probably isn’t worth hiring.
And look — it’s possible that finances or schedule or (if you’re really lucky) your child’s extraordinary self-motivation obviates the need for a tutor altogether. In that case, maybe they should take a conventional SAT prep class. Or work on their own. In that enviable scenario, your key responsibility will be to arm them with the materials they needs for self-preparation. Regardless, all of the above still applies.