How Parents Can Help

I hear it all the time from students: "My parents put a lot of pressure on me about doing well on the test." At the surface level, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. After all, you have high expectations for your child, and sharing those expectations with them will only make them better and stronger, right? Right? Not so fast.

No matter how much your teen may pretend otherwise, he/she places a lot of value on your opinion. Believe it or not, teens want to please their parents. And they are terrified of disappointing you. They may just not share these emotions openly with you :) They really are listening to your praise…but also your criticism and pressure. Each time you stress the importance of an upcoming test (be it ACT, SAT, or a classroom test), you may be unintentionally stressing your teen out. And I can’t emphasize enough how damaging that can be to test results.

Test anxiety stems from a multitude of issues, but 90 percent of the time it boils down to confidence issues and fear. I hear over and over from students how their parents are “on” them about the ACT or SAT test. Think about it...if you struggle from test anxiety and you have a loved one pressuring you to do well, it’s only going to create more anxiety for you, right?

The point is, there’s a HUGE difference between encouragement and pressure. These college prep tests are A) Long (4-plus hours) and B) Timed.

In case you haven’t thumbed through your teen’s ACT prep book, I wanted to break down the time factors involved in order of the test:

English: 5 passages with 15 questions each. Story Form. Students are expected to answer questions about the context of the passages, in addition to identifying proper grammar. Time: 45 minutes for 75 questions.

Reading: Four 85-line passages with a total of 40 questions. Time: 35 minutes. (That’s less than 1 minute per question, not even counting the time it takes to read the passage)

Math: 60 minutes for 60 questions. This is the only section that allows 1 minute per question. But it’s also algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, so we’re not talking simple math here.

Science: At this point, students have already been testing for approximately 2.5 hours (including two brief stretch breaks). They are exhausted. Now they are reading and interpreting scientific graphs and charts. 7 passages with 5-7 questions a piece.

Essay (optional): Students typically write their essay last. They have only 30 minutes. They have already been testing for nearly 3.5 hours before they begin the essay.

As you can see, this is a very involved test. It involves intense focus for an extended period of time, and that’s hard for anyone to do. I think I became most sympathetic to what my students were going through after completing comps for my master’s degree. I had two comps to prepare for – both were written exams (three 4-5 page essays per exam) within a three hour testing period. In spite of the fact that I had studied nearly all semester for these exams, I still felt the pressure of time, and the exams were still challenging. Even though I was prepared, the reality of the clock ticking away was very stressful. I definitely had to pause a few times and take a couple of deep breaths. And I was 27 years old at the time…not 17.

So how can you help?

1) Change your tone from pressuring to encouraging:

Try This: “Honey, I know you’ve invested time in studying, and I hope it’s helped you feel more confident and prepared. How are you feeling? Can we do anything to help? You know we support you 100 percent no matter what. Just do your best, and if you have to re-test, that’s okay. We know it’s a tough test.”

Not This: “I really hope you do well on this upcoming test. I’ve spent a lot of money on tutoring”.

Or This: “You need to do well this time and be done with this. Do you really want to spend your summer having to study more?

2) Help administer a few practice passages (timed) prior to the real test. I can give you more details :)

3) Make sure they’re doing assigned homework from me. I’m happy to keep you updated.

4) Learn to recognize attitude signals from your teen. Sometimes - and it's hard for me to say this - they are only really doing this for you. Case in point: In the past few years, I had a couple of students who just plain didn't care about prepping for the test. The parents did all of the caring. It made me so sad. These two teens weren’t even being honest with their parents about their post-high school goals, which did not include a 4-year college. (Hence the lack of incentive to focus and study for the ACT/SAT) I finally had to tell the parents that I could not ethically continue to tutor, knowing that the teen just wasn’t willing to work with me.

5) Be open to investing time into this process.

I get contacted all of the time to help tutor a student for an upcoming test just three weeks before the test! It takes at least a few months for the student to really feel prepared.

6) No two students are the same, so try not to compare your own kids to your friends’ kids. This even happens to me, so I know it’s frustrating, but hang in there. I’ve seen students get 5-8 point jumps in English, Reading, or Science in just two months. I’ve seen other students gain only a point or two, but see huge results later down the road…and all of my students follow the same curriculum. The explanation? Test performance relies on a variety of factors including anxiety, overall stress levels, confidence levels, comprehension of material, willingness to do homework, etc.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. As a teacher, I have learned through the years that honesty is always best. I know you want them to do well so they can go on to college, and it only seems natural to put a little pressure on them. But trust me...they've already put it on themselves. With a combination of tutoring with me, your supportive encouragement, and some time, they will see results!!


Erin R.

Patient and Successful Test Prep Tutor (SAT/ACT/AP English, Reading)

300+ hours
if (isMyPost) { }