SAT Prep: A Parents Guide

Of course, when it comes to getting ready for college, students have to take the lead in ensuring applications are filled out and submitted on time, essays are well-written, and good test scores are obtained. As a parent though, you may be wondering, “how can I lend a hand or provide support to my child as he or she prepares for the next big step of life?”

One way parents can get involved in their child’s final high school years is helping them prepare for standardized testing, more commonly known as the SAT. SAT scores play a pivotal part in the college admissions evaluation process, so it’s important that students do their best to earn competitive scores.

The thing is though, not every student is great with standardized testing – no matter how well they’ve excelled through their high school classes. The good news is that with enough studying and practice, students can increase their chances of getting a higher score and in turn, up the odds of getting into their dream school. Here are a few ways parents can help their child ace the SAT and be a competitive college applicant:

Encourage Reading Often

A big portion of the SAT exam requires strong reading comprehension skills. One way to boost that is to have your child read a variety of reading material like historical documents, classic literature, newspapers, online articles, fiction and non-fiction books, scientific papers, and more. Encourage active reading and comprehension by having your child summarize each chapter or piece of literature either verbally for you to hear, or written in paragraph form. The more often, the better!

Praise Efforts, Not Just Results

Taking the SAT can be stressful and nerve-wracking for students, so it will go a long way when they know that their parents are supportive of them not just when they yield good results, but also put in the time and effort to get there. Remind your child that he or she is worth much more than their score, and that they should be proud as long as they’re doing their best. It can be hard to see this from a student’s point-of-view especially when they’re so focused on doing well on the exam.

Consider Enrolling in Professional Prep

If you don’t have a lot of time to monitor or help your child personally with their prep progress, you can consider enrolling them in professional prep. There are plenty of after-school professional prep programs offered for SAT preparation. These “classes” are aimed at helping students stay on track with studying, administering plenty of practice tests, and providing tips and tricks for tackling the exam.

Simulate Real Testing Conditions

Practice makes perfect! The more your student takes practice exams, the more familiar he or she will become with not just the format of the SAT exam, but also the material within it. To help your child fully prepare for the exam, it’s smart to also mimic test day conditions when taking practice tests at home. For example, make sure that the test environment is distraction-free, and that breaks are administered only when assigned. The desk should have nothing but a pencil, calculator, and a water bottle – just like what would be available on test day. By simulating real testing conditions, your student will know exactly what to expect on test day.

Take Advantage of the Official SAT Question of the Day

The College Board, the company that created the SAT exam, releases a real SAT question on its website everyday. It’s not a made-up problem, but rather, an authentic SAT question. Students can sign up to have this question e-mailed to them. This is a good way to prepare for the SAT without needing to burn through many hours of studying on a busy day. After some time, students will accumulate a bank of real SAT questions that they can use to improve their skills and be prepared for questions exactly like the ones they’ve seen, on test day!

Teach New Vocabulary

Having a scholarly vocabulary is an asset that students must have to ace the SAT. With so many words out there, it can be overwhelming to think about this. But, there’s a simple way to learn new vocabulary. Making an SAT “word of the day” as part of your student’s SAT practice routine can help immensely. You can even get creative with your family by challenging everyone to use the SAT vocabulary word in at least one sentence throughout their day. After some time, be sure to quiz your student regularly to make sure they remember the SAT words they’ve learned and what they mean.

Reinforce Self-Motivation

Self-motivation goes a long way, even well beyond standardized testing. It’s a skill that comes in handy in college and in the workforce, too! That being said, it’s never too early to encourage your student to be self-motivated. Foster the drive by having your child identify three reasons why he or she wants to score well on the SAT. Is there a dream school in mind? Does he or she wish to earn a significant scholarship? A list of reasons and goals can help students keep their eyes on the prize and self-motivate when they begin to lose focus. As parents, you can be on the sidelines cheering them on and reminding them of what they are working hard towards.

Suggest Testing More than Once

Aside from the fact that it’s not free, it doesn’t hurt to retake the SAT a few times. In fact, many students score higher after multiple takes. This could be due to improved knowledge and more practice, higher comfort level, familiarity with topics and questions, or even external factors on test day.

These days, many colleges use the “superscore” approach where they combine a student’s best subject scores from any tests to create the best possible composite score. So, if on one test your student performs exceptionally well in math but not so well in reading, but on another not so well on math but well in reading, the best scores can be combined to make an overall appealing score for college admissions consideration.

Make Sure They’re Ready

As a parent, it’s your duty to ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep, eats a healthy breakfast, and goes into the test day with a positive attitude. These steps may seem insignificant, but will make a difference in how well he or she performs on the test.


It’s never too late to help your child prepare for the SAT. While standardized testing has its flaws and is not everyone’s strength, it’s required as part of many college applications these days. That being said, it’s important for students to do their best, and for parents to encourage them to practice often, read regularly, keep trying for a higher score, and be their personal cheerleader!