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Helping Your Student Succeed on the SAT

You value education. This is evident by the time you’ve spent cruising the internet, looking for ways to help your child excel on the most important standardized test of their high school career. Believe it or not, you have already given your child the single greatest advantage on the SAT and in college admissions. Children who are raised in an education-oriented home typically perform better in school, on standardized tests, and in the admissions process.

However, your job as an SAT coach is not yet finished. There are many steps you can take in the months leading up to the test to ensure that your son or daughter has the competitive edge on test day. The test preparation experts at PowerScore have found that our top-performing students have supportive and enthusiastic parents who help their children in the following ways.

Set a Goal

The goal of every student is an ‘A’ in each one of their academic classes, but sometimes this just isn’t realistic. If Stacy struggles in Chemistry, she might aim for a ‘B’ or ‘B+,’ because she needs a practical and reachable goal. The same goes for the SAT. If she’s only averaging a 1530 on her practice tests, it is unrealistic for Stacy to aim for a 2200. An 1800 is a practical goal; a 1950 is possible with dedication and determination, but may not be right for every student.

Help your child by setting a reachable goal. To begin, use their score on a practice test as a guide. You can download a free practice test at, or enroll them in a prep class that gives practice tests in class or at home. Then, research their top college prospects and choices. What is the average SAT score at each university? You can find this information on the school’s website, through online search engines at U.S. News and World Report ( or the College Board (, or in many of the college guides published in books and magazines. Finally, use all of this information to set a realistic goal. Maybe your child has already surpassed the average score of the colleges to which he or she plans to apply. If so, set the goal 200 or 300 points higher to open up more opportunities in case there are unforeseen events in the next year. Or, suppose your child is well below the average SAT score needed for his choice of schools. Set the goal at the score needed for admission, but begin looking at other schools that have a lower average. Remember, every child is different and has different attributes and abilities; just because the neighbor’s teenager made a 2000 does not make this a realistic goal for your son or daughter. Nor does an easily-attained practice test score make a suitable goal; set the bar higher and make your child work to their full potential. PowerScore guarantees a 200 point increase in our full length course because we believe that nearly every student can improve with repeated practice and exposure, whether the student begins with a 1200 or a 1900.

Create a Practice Schedule

Jameel is a typical high school student. A member of the varsity soccer team, he enjoys learning the drums and playing video games. On average, he spends 12 hours a week playing soccer, 5 hours a week practicing drums, and over 20 hours a week conquering his favorite video game. He knows that practice is the only way to improve.

However, when his mother asks him to take a practice test for the SAT, he bellows that he doesn’t have the time and that it won’t help anyway.

Jameel might be typical, but he’s definitely wrong. For one thing, he has the time. Right now, he spends nearly 40 hours a week on hobbies and extracurricular activities. These leisure activities are important, but unless he is extremely talented, they won’t get him into college. He shouldn’t give them up, but he can definitely set one aside for a month or so in order to prepare for the exam.

He is also incorrect in assuming that practice won’t help him improve. Just as practice enables advancement in athletic ability and musical skill, practice also facilitates academic success on the SAT. The exam is very “coachable,” meaning that there are patterns to test questions and concepts which students can learn to recognize with repeated exposure.

Help your teenager by creating a practice schedule to prepare for the SAT. This might come in the form of a classroom course or practice test questions from the College Board. Some parents have their children read a Reading Comprehension passage every morning at breakfast, or go through vocabulary flashcards every night before bed. You know your child best; taking into consideration their schedule, their academic ability, and their SAT goals, create a schedule that allows them to practice test questions and concepts. For many students, a course is the most structured option, but only you know the best practice method for your active teenager.

Offer an Incentive

While most parents and teachers feel that personal satisfaction and achievement should be sufficient motivation to study for the SAT, these reasons have little effect on many of today’s teenagers. Most are looking for an extrinsic reward for their success. If your student needs extra motivation, offer up a creative and fun reward for an official SAT score at or above the goal you set together. Your incentive does not need to be expensive; rather look for rewards that are funny, original, or meaningful to your child. For example, offer to take the next official SAT (there is no age limit), promise not to chaperone the prom, or vow to dye your hair blue for one week. Remember, though, that if you do promise an incentive, you must be ready to follow through when the goal is met!

Avoid Excess Pressure

There is a lot of pressure associated with the SAT. Students are worried about letting down their teachers, scoring lower than their friends and peers, and failing to gain acceptance to college. However, students report that the largest source of pressure is from their parents. Some parents create this pressure themselves, but more often the student is simply afraid to disappoint their mother or father. Therefore, anything you say about the SAT can be interpreted as added pressure. It is extremely important to remain positive and encouraging throughout the testing process. It is okay to stress the importance of the SAT, but assure your child that you are confident in their abilities. If you have older children, do not cite their former test scores in comparison to where you expect this child to score. During practice tests, avoid expressing any disappointment in results or in your child’s ability to grasp a certain concept. Never make statements like, “How could you miss this?” or “This is an easy one.” Instead, assure them that all questions are valid and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Your teenager might not appear to be the most motivated or serious student, but he or she will perform to the best of their ability on test day.

Encourage Plenty of Sleep

The entire SAT experience takes about five and a half hours to complete, from the time the students arrive at the testing center to the moment they are released. The test is ten sections long, and the last two or three are grueling even with a good night’s sleep. Limit your child’s activities the night before the test. Our instructors have heard horror stories of students who were out late the previous evening, resulting in the loss of concentration and focus at the end of the exam. One student even claims to have fallen asleep while working through a reading comprehension passage! We know that it is sometimes impossible to avoid athletic competitions or school events, but strongly encourage your child to get at least eight or nine hours of rest before the test.

Make Breakfast

Your child must eat breakfast the day of the test. Not only will breakfast provide the energy needed to perform well, but it will keep your child’s stomach from growling in a silent testing room. Many students report that a rumbling belly—either their own or the nearest test takers’—has distracted them from a top performance on the SAT! You should also ensure that your son or daughter takes a snack and a bottle of water in a backpack. While students cannot eat or drink in the classroom, they do have short breaks at the end of every testing hour. Remember, the test finishes around 1:00 p.m., long after most high school students eat lunch!

In the end, your child’s SAT score is dependent on dozens of factors, many of which are beyond your control. However, by providing positive support, encouraging practice and study, and helping set realistic goals, your son or daughter will have the confidence required to master the test.