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Parents, Help Your Student Get Ready for Standardized Tests

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Update, May 2016: The next deadlines to register for 2016 exams are May 11 (SAT) and May 6 (ACT). And, since The College Board rolled out a new SAT two months ago, be sure to get the most up-to-date resources and pricing at the links below. Finally, ACT and Kaplan announced a live teaching prep service, available this fall—learn more here!

Spring is a season dedicated to rain, flowers, and—for your college bound son or daughter—standardized tests. Between February and June, aspiring college students will create a timeline for scheduling, studying for, and taking the SAT and ACT exams.

As a parent, you can help your student succeed by staying up to date on deadlines and available study resources, some of which are free. Across the United States, exams are given on specific dates only, and each date has its own corresponding registration deadline. This year’s remaining SAT tests will be administered on May 2 and June 6, with respective registration deadlines of April 6 and May 8. The ACT exam dates are April 18 and June 13, with registration deadlines of March 13 and May 8. Registration for both exams is available online or by mail.

Which Tests Should My Kid Take?
It’s also important for your student to take the appropriate exams for the university they wish to attend. In years past, the SAT was generally the test of choice for coastal schools, while colleges in the South and Midwest largely used the ACT; fortunately, these days, virtually every four-year school will accept scores from either exam. But the basic test isn’t the only thing to consider: the ACT offers an additional writing test, which is required at some colleges (including eight of the Big Ten’s 14 universities: Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Penn State and Northwestern.) Similarly, many of the most prestigious schools—including most of the Ivy League—require applicants to have taken at least one SAT Subject Test. For requirements for specific programs within a university or for colleges not listed, check with the institution’s admissions office before your student’s testing season starts.

Your student may be taking additional exams, such as Advanced Placement (AP) tests, the PSAT/NMSQT, or the CLEP. Talk with teachers and counselors at their school to know which exams apply to your student, and to learn the registration deadlines, test dates, and policy regulations for each one. Different exams will require different study material.

Accommodations, Fees and What To Bring
If your student has a disability, both exams offer accommodations. To get accommodations approved for the SAT, the process can take up to seven weeks. Begin this process as soon as possible, and be sure to register as a standard test-taker to secure your spot; the accommodations will be updated after approval. For the ACT accommodations, students may request one of three options: standard time with accommodations, extended time, or special testing, which has alternate formats and extended time available.

There are fees for these exams, with the SAT costing $52.50 and the ACT costing $54.50. Fee waivers are available to help low-income families cover the cost of the exam. Check the appropriate test’s website for more details, or call to speak with a representative.

Every exam has its own checklist of materials to bring on test day and items that are prohibited. The SAT checklist includes the admission ticket, #2 pencils, photo ID, and a graphing or scientific calculator. Review the policy on calculators to make sure your student has an acceptable model. The ACT has its own checklist and different calculator restrictions.

Preparing for Test Success
In addition to these basics, knowing the topics covered on the exams is essential for your student’s score. English, history, languages, mathematics, and science will all be relevant for studying—and there are a variety of free and low-cost resources that can help. Khan Academy offers access to a full-length online SAT practice test. Kaplan offers free online cram sessions covering topics such as math and reading. For a limited time, the website also offers free quizzes and digital flash cards. The College Board, which administers the SAT, offers its own materials on its website, including a free question of the day, free sample practice questions, and the Official SAT Study Guide for purchase (for $21.99).

Before any exam, you can help your student succeed by prioritizing self-care practices. Make adequate sleep a priority for consecutive nights before an exam and stay well hydrated. On exam day, students should arrive well-fed and bring a light snack for during the break. Help your student identify the stress reduction practices they find most effective, and encourage use of them throughout this process. When the exam is over, congratulate your student on all of the time and effort they’ve invested. And give yourself a pat on the back too: you did great job of guiding them through this process.

Originally posted Thursday, March 12, 2015.

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