Tips for Helping Your Teen Prepare for Their SATs

We spoke to some of the local pros to see what advice they have for parents of teenagers preparing to take their SAT or ACT tests.

by Jamie Thomas

Aug 01 2022 at 8 a.m.

Teenagers taking exams
Photo courtesy Shutterstock

Whatever level of education you have, you most likely remember taking at least one serious test when you were in school. Chances are you also remember how stressful it was sitting in an exam hall in silence, waiting to be told to begin, knowing you’ll only have a limited time to work through the questions and wondering if you’ll remember anything you studied, how to do basic math or how to spell your own name. If you’re the parent of a teenager who has dreams of college and higher education, there’s a good chance they’re going through the same cycle of study-stress-study now that you did then. It can be tough to know when, how or even if you should ask them how they’re doing, or if they need help. To give you some guidance, we spoke to a couple of pros here in Springfield.

Sylvan Learning Springfield, Missouri Owner Kristen Fischer on preparation and long-term goals.

417 Magazine: Is there general advice you’d give to parents of teens getting ready to take their SAT or ACT test?
Krysten Fischer: The exam is not that thing that is going to determine the rest of their life. It’s determining how they're doing in that moment—it's not going to determine the person that they are going to become. The test is designed to help the colleges figure out if your child is ready in that particular moment, it’s not a be-all-end-all to the rest of your life.

417: What are some long term considerations that both parents and the kids sitting the test should think about?
K.F.: You need to start figuring out where you think you might go because some schools require the essay portion, some schools don't. If you take these exams and you only take the four core components, then all of a sudden, you decide you’re going to go to a school that requires the essay section, you have to take the whole thing over again—you can't just sit for the essay. So it's really important, even before you begin to study, before you contact a tutor, you need to know what score you need to have. And whether or not you need to take the fifth component. Another thing would be, when do [colleges] start giving out scholarships? Schools have a number that they want the students to have with regards to being accepted. And then there's another magic number—the number that they start giving out money.

417: What kind of preparation do you think is important on the day of the test?
K.F.: Get up early the day of the exam, eat some breakfast, take a snack with you. If you’re not taking the exam at your school, make sure you know where you’re going, have all your stuff ready [...] Have your I.D. with you so that you're not panicking when you get there and you realize you don't have everything and either you're going to be late and go back to get it or not get to take the test at all.

Kristen Fischer, Sylvan Learning
Photo courtesy Kristen Fischer

Sylvan Learning Springfield, Missouri Owner Kristen Fischer

Kevin and Leisha Baker
Photo courtesy Kevin and Leisha Baker

Kevin and Leisha Baker, owners of Club Z in Springfield, Missouri

Club Z Springfield, Missouri Owner Leisha Baker on pressure and stress

417 Magazine: What advice would you give to parents when it comes to recognizing that their child might be feeling the pressure of a looming SAT or ACT test?
Leisha Baker: Anxiety can present itself in multiple ways. Typically it could either be physical, like headaches, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, shakiness, those kinds of things. It can [also] be problems with focus and memory—racing thoughts, having a hard time concentrating, blanking out or forgetting information. It could also be a combination of these things. The big one that we see a lot [at Club Z Tutoring] is self-defeating thoughts with [students] telling themselves that they’re not going to do well.

417: Are there any tips you can offer for recognizing that their child might be overly anxious or stressed about an upcoming test?
L.B.: To me, the best advice I can give to parents is really listening to their child. As parents, we see the bigger picture a little more than maybe what the students are able to see. We want them to have all those options and possibilities. In some cases, a parent happened to do very well on all of their tests, and they're going to expect that their child will do the same. But that may not be the way their child is wired. It may not be what that child wants, they may want to do something different that doesn't require the same kind of score. It's a give and take when with children and, and parents and, and trying to help them navigate.

417: What about advice for both parents and teens when it comes to alleviating some of that pressure?
L.B.: We work on some things like that with our students. We talk about scenarios like, “what's the worst thing that could happen?” If you don't get the score that you wanted, is the world going to come to an end? If you don't get into this school, are there other schools you can go to? Have you thought about these things? There are so many options out there.

Got tips of your own? Share your stress-busting or general advice for dealing with SAT and ACT anxiety with us.