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How parents can help their kids get a higher score on the redesigned SAT

Upon graduating from Dartmouth College with a BA in History, Rob became a high school history teacher in Paterson, NJ. He then joined the Huntington Learning Center where he ran the largest of the approximately 270 centers, as well as a...

Why parents and teens shouldn't be scared by the SAT redesign

This March, the SAT is getting a major overhaul. The completely redesigned format will place significant emphasis on college and career readiness and skills such as critical thinking, data analysis and multi-step, application-based math. With a focus on real world knowledge, the test will require students to master root academic concepts — there’s no getting by on superficial tips and tricks. For the nearly 2 million students who take the exam each year, that means greater preparation and hard work.

As their kids prepare for the exam, parents can be their greatest resource. Below are a few strategies that parents can help their children utilize so that they get a higher score. Before diving into these strategies, one quick note — the SAT isn't the only option. The ACT is another viable college-entrance exam choice for those who may not want to face the uncertainty of a changing SAT.

Adopt a growth mindset

Whether it’s learning a new subject or skill or getting a better score on a standardized test, it is possible to improve over time with deliberate practice. The SAT is an accurate measure of your math and verbal achievement, and achievement changes over time if you put in the work to get better. The thing is, this type of work is not easy — it requires practice and pushing beyond your comfort zone. Deliberate practice is about pushing the boundaries so you keep growing to mastery, never remaining complacent.

When preparing for the SAT, parents can focus on helping their kids continually move beyond the subject areas they are comfortable with and dedicate time to areas of struggle. When they’re praising their children, the most effective thing to focus on is complimenting hard work, not saying, “You’re so smart.” By focusing on smarts, students get stuck and become afraid to try and fail and thereby plateau. By complimenting hard work they develop the sort of grit that research finds contributes to a better education and eventual higher earnings.

Read often and critically

Reading presents a potentially enjoyable way to build achievement. As the idea is to continue pushing yourself past the comfort zone, students can find an area of interest and then read progressively more difficult books. To know the grade level of a book, parents can go to AR BookFinder, select parent and then enter the title. The goal is to eventually read college level material with complete comprehension.

To take it to the next level, parents can help their child think about what they’ve read — discussing the thesis, key inferences, what the author was trying to convey and why they chose to structure their story in a certain way. Finally, it doesn’t need to be books that a student practices with. Regularly reading concise, higher-reading-level, point of view pieces like those found in The Economist or the Op-Ed section of The New York Times can do a good job of building the sort of reading skill necessary on the SAT.

Write often and challenge yourself

The new essay format in the redesigned SAT no longer calls for students’ opinions but their ability to comprehend and analyze how an author develops an argument. Deliberate practice is a way for a student to improve their writing ability and flex analytical muscles. Parents should encourage their children to practice analyzing others’ writing, a method that worked very well for Ben Franklin.

To improve his writing after his father called it inferior, Franklin (using deliberate practice) began reading journalistic essays, rewriting them in his own words, comparing his draft with the original, identifying his mistakes and correcting them. While this requires hard work and dedication, this method is one of the most effective in improving a student’s writing and analytical skills. Students can use the same material they’re using to build their reading and news publications like The New Yorker or The Atlantic.

Get math reps in, too

The redesigned math section focuses on content considered essential for college and career readiness, placing a strong emphasis on algebraic problem solving and data analysis. Students must practice and put the work in to ensure that they have mastered the basics and can move onto more advanced concepts.

Think about it as the chapter questions at the end of a given unit in a math textbook. You start easy on number one with questions becoming increasingly difficult until you can tackle the last few challenge questions. The SAT is like a test full of mostly challenge questions. To do well, you first need to develop the foundation for each topic on the test and then work up to the point where you can do the challenge questions. While it takes time, anyone can do it with focus, well-informed guidance and a few words of encouragement.

Ultimately, by putting in the work, any student can develop the reading, writing and math skills it takes to get a good score on the SAT. In many ways, it’s up to the student when it comes to how much work they want to put in order to attend the college of their dreams.

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