Parents: Take the SAT Challenge!

Parents: Take the SAT Challenge!

I keep a box of tissues on the table where I tutor because,

as an SAT tutor and college application consultant, I listen to

high school juniors and seniors who are so overwhelmed

by college pressure that they begin to cry. Not just girls. Not

just Ivy League aspirants.

High school students are always convinced their parents

don’t understand them. This time the students are right.

Parents don’t understand because the college admission

process is so much more competitive than it was when

most parents applied to college.

These are the ten things I wish I could tell parents:

1. I am convinced that parents have to walk a mile in the

student’s moccasins to gain some appreciation for the

stress the students are under and to reverse the tension at

home. If parents will take an SAT practice test they will feel

some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and

discover that the test is hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of

SAT study books on the desk, parents can commiserate

with students over missed problems. Parents and students

can become allies rather than adversaries as they face the

college admission process.

2. Hire SAT prep tutors who focus on the applicable

academic material rather than just the tricks. Increasing a

student’s academic preparation for the test in addition to

teaching the tricks increases their confidence on the test

and in the classroom; teaching only the tricks makes

students more insecure because they are relying on tricks

rather than on actual knowledge.

3. Have the tutors keep the parents informed about each

session so that the parent tracks progress with the tutor

rather than pestering the student for information.

4. Have the student try the ACT. All colleges accept it and

some students do better on it than on the SAT.

5. Make learning fun. For example, have the students

memorize vocabulary using the book Vocabulary Cartoons

by Sam Burchers, et al. Also, have the student do the

crossword and other word puzzles in SAT Vocabulary

Express, the fun book of word puzzles that will increase SAT

scores. I wrote it with Michael Ashley, a nationally known

puzzler, so that our students would learn to play with words,

an important skill for the new SAT.

6. Emphasize getting good grades rather than good SAT

scores. Bs in honors classes are better than As in regular


7. Hire an independent college counselor who will work

with the family to create a realistic college list, brainstorm for

essay topics, establish deadlines for the student, and check

all college applications. High school college counselors

are overworked and do not have the time to walk families

through the process.

8. Realize that the schools parents attended may not be

within reach for their child. The number of high school

students planning to attend college has increased

dramatically; the student may be well qualified for a

particular college and may still not get in.

9. Look for colleges where the student will thrive

academically and socially. Choosing colleges based on

their name recognition and prestige value is a formula that

will increase stress, not decrease it. Everyone else wants

to go to those schools, too, making them even harder to get

into; they are not necessarily the best place for the student.

Loren Pope’s book, Colleges That Change Lives, is a good

place to start.

10. Support your child through a difficult process. Leave the

prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college

counselor. The independent college counselor will tell the

student to work harder so the parent doesn’t have to. Why

ruin the student’s last year at home?

Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not be so

fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each

other. And, I hate it when my students cry.

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