Standardized Test Prep for HS Students

A Quick Guide to Standard Test Prep for High School Students

Since I posted that my son (12th grader) is taking the SAT exam this weekend, I have gotten a lot of DM’s from moms who are curious to know what steps he’s taken to study for the exam. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to answer those questions. Mainly, I’ll give a brief explanation of what the exam is, how important it is, and what study resources our family has used over the years.

What is the SAT Exam?

The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions, primarily in the US and Canada. The SAT is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test created and administered by the College Board. It is made up of four sections that test students on reading and math, for a total of 3 hours. The purpose of the test is to assess students’ readiness for college.

Is it really that important?

How important SAT scores are in the college application process varies from school to school. Some schools, such as the University of California system have eliminated the SAT and ACT testing requirement, stating that they will no longer consider the scores when going through applications. This change comes as part of a settlement brought on by a group of high school students and nonprofit groups who claimed the standardized tests put minority and low-income students at a disadvantage.

In the past year since the pandemic, most schools are gone test-optional, meaning that students have a choice whether or not they want to disclose their exam scores. 

How is this relevant to my child?

College admissions officers will review standardized test scores alongside your high school GPA, the classes you took in high school, letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors, extracurricular activities, admissions interviews, and personal essays. 

Overall, the higher you score on the SAT and/or ACT, the more options for attending and paying for college will be available to you.

How I’ve coached my kids

Preparing for success on the SAT exam is not that different from preparing for success in high school. It’s important to build strong study habits from a young age because the SAT exam is not something you can physically cram for. It takes hours and hours of discipline and structure, something your child would develop for high school anyway. 

Elementary / Middle School years – Reading is a skill that is vital for success on the SAT exam.  Develop strong reading habits from an early age, so that when your child finds themselves reading long passages on the evolution of the goldfish (yes, they have weird topics), they’ll have the skills to understand the vocabulary, sentence structure and the sequencing of the passage.

9th grade – From this age, the only thing I focus on is vocabulary. If you just google “SAT vocabulary lists,” you’ll find tons of resources. I prefer physical flashcards, which is why I have the Barron’s SAT vocab flashcards. Every few days, I would work with my son to develop his own cards using Quizlet.

10th grade – Prep course. My kids have used two different prep courses: one through Kaplan and one through Princeton Review. Both are excellent at helping the kids develop test-taking skills.

10th-11th grade – Practice exams through Khan Academy. Starting with the 2015–16 school year, the College Board began working with Khan Academy to provide free SAT preparation. The great thing is that you link PSAT scores using your child’s College Board account and Khan Academy then analyses their weaknesses and strengths, creating a customized study plan for your child. 

12th grade – Re-testing. Students can take the SAT as many times as they want. It is strongly recommended that they take it in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year.

Most students get a higher score the second time, and most colleges consider a student’s highest SAT score when making admission decisions. Another reason to take the SAT a second time is that many schools use a process called “superscoring.” Superscoring is when a college combines a student’s highest Math section score with their highest Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score, even if those scores are from different test dates, to come up with the student’s total SAT score. 

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