Five Tips for SAT Success

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Portrait of pensive student carrying out test at lesson


We are entering PSAT prep season here in my house – and one of the ways my oldest is prepping for the PSAT is to prep for SAT, which will be coming soon after.  We are starting early, because there is a lot of work to be done.  According to Tom Rose, co-founder of Testive SAT/ACT Prep, mastering the SAT can have a tremendous impact on your child’s life but it comes at a cost. Preparing for the SAT can be a stressful process for both children because the stakes are high and for parents because they don’t have much control.

The good news is the process can be manageable. Here are 5 tips from Tom to  help make the process easier.

  1. Start prep early. The single biggest thing a parent can do to help their child succeed on the SAT is to help their child get started early. The best time to start prep is the summer before junior year.

           It’s important to leave time to take the SAT three times. Test ability can be improved with effort and learning, but lack of time is something that simply isn’t flexible. Test prep is also heavy, so putting it in the summer is usually easier for students to handle. The summer before senior year is too late to start if you want to take the test multiple times.

           “Score Choice” (released by The College Board in 2009) allows students to choose what scores they send, so there is now no risk of getting a low score. Students are commonly taking the SAT two or three times. Check out this article for suggestions on when to take the SAT.  

  1. Apply test prep pressure indirectly. Parents often report that getting their children to start test prep is like pulling teeth. Students are resistant to getting started because the stakes are high, and the process seems insurmountable. This leads to procrastination. Here are three favorite ways to get things started:

                       Schedule a college visit. This is great quality time for parents and students. It yields real, valuable information and it puts the topic of college (and therefore test prep) at the top of mind, without you having to discuss it.

                       Schedule a test date. Nothing lights a fire like a deadline. My favorite first-time test-date is May or June at the end of sophomore year.

                      Hire a coach. It’s a win-win because the coach solves your problem of managing the process, and eases the child’s job of preparing by making the process more efficient.

  1. Focus prep on weak areas. This sounds obvious, but it’s noteworthy because the execution of focusing on weak areas is much more difficult than it sounds because focusing on weak areas has a difficult pre-requisite: analysis. Analysis is difficult and time-consuming to do so more often than not, it never gets done. The most important thing you can do is make sure that your child is working with a tool that analyzes strengths and weaknesses for them and provides feedback. If you don’t have such a tool, you can analyze your child’s strengths and weaknesses by digging through the results of a full-length practice test or a PSAT score report.
  1. Regular, focused practice is the only method of effective test prep. This is the only reliable method of improving test scores. There are no good shortcuts. The single most common thing preventing students from achieving their goal scores is not putting in enough effort. This is the big weakness of test prep group classes and unguided online tools, both of which lead to low effort levels. If you don’t do enough work it doesn’t matter at all what method you are using, and no method at all can make up for not putting in the hours. My experience is that it takes a typical student about 100 hours of total prep time for them to reach their natural potential. Test prep isn’t magic. It’s just regular, focused practice.
  1. Spend more time reviewing work, than doing new work. Students who review every single question they get wrong and record review notes improve more than three times faster than those who do not. So how do you make sure that this happens?

Testive has software tools that manage this process and report back on whether it’s happening so that students, parents, and coaches can all track and manage the process. If you don’t have access to an automated tool like Testive, then watch out for what we call “churn-and-burn” where one does only practice questions with no review.

One final thought: Test prep is a stressful thing. Remember that you’re not alone. Check out the free tools from Testive in this article, and if you want to hire a coach, they do that too.


  1. My Teen Guide says

    One of the most stressful events in a high schooler’s life is the SATs. I think the best way for us parents to help them is to help them prepare early. Cramming will not do any good.

  2. Annemarie LeBlanc says

    These are all great tips! I have successfully breezed through that phase of parenting and happy to see all my kids almost done with college. I think focusing on the weak areas do help a lot.

  3. says

    These are really sensible and practical tips. The key, of course, is practice. Also, the focus should be on the weak areas, the strong ones will take care of themselves.

  4. says

    Oh this is such a stressful time for a student, I remember being so worked up over the SATS when I was in school. These are all really helpful tips!

  5. Rebecca Swenor says

    These are great tips for students to prepare for the SAT test. It is so important to prepare ahead of time when taking this test. This information I will have to share with my sister for her my nephew who will be taking the test next year. Thanks for sharing the tips.

  6. Pam says

    These are great tips for getting ready for the SAT. I didn’t hire a coach for either of my kids, but that would have been a good idea.

  7. says

    My kids didn’t have to take the SAT, but my daughter took the ACT. She did really well and it got her some good scholarships. It’s important to get all of the scholarship money you can in college!

  8. says

    Its been too many years to count since I took that test, but I have a grandson which will take this soon. I will pass this info on to him.

  9. says

    I remember those days when I was back in high school. Plus all my children studying for these tests. They all did extremely well but they still stressed over them like we all do.

  10. says

    As a former high school principal, I well remember the stress of students prepping for the SAT. I love the idea of hiring a coach to take some of the stress off. Great tips!

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