Test prep tips: How parents, counselors, and mentors can help


One of the biggest challenges for parents and mentors is how to support a student as she transitions to high school and later to college.  The older the student is, the more she studies content that the parent or mentor no longer remembers, or has to navigate a system that is new or different from what parents and mentors experienced (we all know college admissions looks very different than it did 20 years ago).

Overwhelmed parents often mistakenly leave the preparation for SAT, ACT, and college admissions to schools or tutors. Many parents will be shelling out money to provide children access to test preparation tools and educational support, but we can’t let that be the end of our involvement. These tips will help you support your child’s test preparation (and college readiness) efforts even when you don’t fully understand the content or know the system. Here are two tips for helping your child even when you don’t quite get it:


Be the Planner

One of the best roles for parents as students approach high school and college should be as the “keeper of the calendar.” A parent should help the child make a plan and stick to that plan. This plan should be jointly created by you and your child (and maybe even an admissions counselor) and be revised periodically. You should include registration deadlines, filing deadlines, recommended test dates, summer enrichment activities, sports, etc so that both of you will have target dates readily available. There are lots of online college planners available online to give you a starting point. One such site to check out is http://www.knowhow2go.org/ .  In general, all planning for transition from one level of school to the next should start at least 18 months before you expect to start. So to go from junior high to high school, parents need to have the calendar planned out by the spring of 7th grade. Here are a few things the parent or mentor can help schedule and plan for:

Academic record: Make sure the right classes are taken and excelled in.

Enrichment activities: Help find enrichment activities for the summers and weekends that will help students prepare for school and life (internships, academic summer programs, creative outlets, etc).

Extracurricular activities: Guide students to explore their areas of interest via programs and clubs that will allow them to participate for the long term and gain leadership experience.

Interviewing skills: Practice for the types of questions asked will put the child at ease.

Applications: Be the monitor and proofreader and make sure applications are filled out properly and submitted before deadlines.

Test scores: Make sure they reflect the student’s abilities by preparing in advance and taking the exam more than once if necessary and applicable.


Be the Student

One of the best ways parents and mentors can help a student prepare for admissions tests (and concurrently make sure that the student is doing their work) is by having the student teach them. We often learn more and better when we are forced to explain to others. You can help your child lock in classroom lessons by not simply asking him if he did his homework, but instead by asking him to teach a problem to you. This way you can participate actively in his learning, support him by letting him see you struggle, encourage him by letting him see you figure it out with his guidance, and reinforce the work by helping him “study” by teaching. Since you know your child best, you’ll know best how to motivate him. You can make this competitive (by challenging him to get more of the questions right than you), you can make it supportive (by showing him that you struggle with the test as well), or you can make it a bonding experience (by sharing the challenge of figuring out problems). The key is to work with them and allow them to show you what they are learning from their prep book, prep class, or prep tutor.


Blog connections:

An awesome example of a parent helping their child with testing can be found by checking out our friend Debbie’s blog. To help and support her son she took every SAT offered in 2011 and blogged about the process.

We cross-posted this blog by Lawrence Watkins, who traced his success, summer program by summer program.

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For more advice about college admissions, testing, and supporting your students, check out our free events, courses, and tutoring options.

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