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After the PSAT Comes the Prep

Posted on 01/16/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)

PSAT scores are out, so hopefully you've taken the time to review your teen's score report.  (If you're not sure how to get that online, read my previous post.)

Some fortunate students got fabulous scores and are ready to take the SAT without further ado. But for most of the juniors I've worked with, the SAT scores predicted by their PSAT performance were not as high as they would like them to be. If your teen falls into that category, what should you do?

Plan for Testing

The first step is deciding when your teen will take her junior SAT. Consult the available test dates here. Then check her calendar to see if you need to rule out any potential dates that conflict with sports tournaments, a band trip, or the like. Next, find out when her other high-stakes exams, like state curriculum tests (SOLs) and AP tests, will be administered so you can take those dates into account as well when helping her determine the best time to take her junior year SAT.

Don’t forget to also schedule any SAT Subject Tests she needs to take. The best time to take those is generally in May or June, toward the end of whatever curriculum a student is being tested on (e.g. United States history, Chemistry, etc.). For more information on Subject Tests and who needs them, read Admissions Testing in the guide section of this website and the SAT Subject Tests page of the College Board website. 

Prepare for Testing

Once you and your son have created a testing timeline, you’re ready to choose his test prep strategy. One option that every student should avail himself of is the free software available through the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that has partnered with the College Board. Each student can arrange to have his individual PSAT results sent electronically to the Khan Academy, which will use them to generate customized test prep content. To learn more about this, click on the link to the College Board video (found at the end of this article).

Additional options include studying independently with a workbook or commercial company software, taking a prep course at school or a private organization, or studying with a tutor.

All of these methods can be highly effective, unless your teen approaches them the way I did the tennis lessons my parents signed me up for one summer. I showed up, put in my time and went through the motions. But that’s as far as I went. If I’d wanted to sell my tennis racquet at the end of the summer I could have honestly advertised it as barely used. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a very poor tennis player. My point – that in order for any SAT preparation method to have much impact, your teen must commit to diligently practicing the techniques he’s taught. 

For more detailed information on how to select the best test prep strategy for your teen, based on his baseline scores, learning style, etc, read the article on Preparing for the SAT in the guide section of this website. 

Don’t Overlook the ACT

With all this talk about the SAT, I’d be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention that there is an alternative college admissions test that's widely accepted by colleges and preferred by many students - the ACT. In fact, in 2012 the ACT overtook the SAT in terms of number of test-takers nationally. Its format is different and some students perform significantly better on it than on the SAT, so I recommend that every student try it.  For more information about the ACT, read about it in my article on Admissions Testing.

In conclusion, I hope that parents of students whose PSAT scores were disappointing will not feel too discouraged. The PSAT is like a self-assessment that a teacher might create to help students gauge their readiness for the final.  A low score on it doesn’t affect a student’s ultimate evaluation – it just provides a signal that more preparation is needed.

May the force be with all of your kids on their test day!


College Board video: How to Link Your Khan Academy and College Board Accounts

Sidelines Articles:

Admissions Testing

Planning for Testing

Preparing for Testing



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Posted on 01/16/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments) « Previous Entry    Next Entry »




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