What to Do the Week Before the SAT

We’re in the thick of exam season and juniors everywhere are feeling anxious about taking it. It doesn’t matter how well-prepared students are for the test – there’s no mercy when it comes to feelings of apprehension and cases of the jitters.

If your teen is gearing up to take it, by now they should have at least an idea of what’s on the test and have taken a practice exam or two to become a little more familiar with the format of it.

Knowing how to prepare and and what to expect will help greatly on test day, too. Here are some tips to keep in mind for the upcoming exam:

The Week Before

  • Have your teen take a practice SAT exam early the week prior. You can find 4 official SAT practice exams, along with information about how to prepare and strategize for the test, in the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide. You can also find these practice exams free online via the College Board website.
  • Know where the testing center is and take a practice drive there. Many times it’s not at the high school your teen’s familiar with, and I’ve had more than one mom let me know on Monday that they got lost on the way to the testing facility. That’ll make your kid an anxious wreck for sure, and it could also make them lose their seat! Consider driving with your teen to the facility now to ease any tension they might feel the morning of the test.


The Day Before

  • Let your teen take it easy today by doing something fun and relaxing.


  • It may seem like a good idea to have your kid crack open the book for one more go at studying, but think twice about that! Cramming right before the exam can increase anxiety, and sleep can often be interrupted the night before the test by dreams of filling in bubbles and proctors yelling “time’s up!”

Make sure all of the documents and materials needed are lined up and ready to go for the exam in a backpack. And be sure you’re following the rules here. Exam proctors are ruthless when it comes to not admitting students or confiscating things!

The things to put together include:

Admission Ticket – Your child should log in to their College Board Account to print this out.

Photo ID – There are rules about this. A few of my students have been turned away for not having an appropriate ID.

Calculator – There are also rules about which calculators students can use. Make sure it’s the right kind, or they’ll lose it at the door.

No. 2 Pencils – Have at least two, with erasers.

Watch – Make sure there’s no alarm on it or it’ll be taken. Sometimes students are placed in the room where they can’t see the clock, so this is very important.

Snacks and a Drink – Students can consume these during breaks and they’re important for maintaining energy.

  • An early bedtime is best. A tired exam-taker absolutely won’t perform in peak condition.

Check out the College Board website for a full list of do’s and dont’s for what to bring on test day.

Test Day

  • Eating a healthy breakfast is so important today because your teenager needs to maintain energy throughout this 3 1/2-hour exam. Drinking water (not juice – sugar crash!) for hydration is important.


  • I know a lot of teens like coffee – I do too. And it’s definitely fine to have that. But I also like to offer a warning: it doesn’t help with test performance to be squirming in the seat before the next bathroom break. Just be reasonable with the amount, is all.


The Day After

  • BREEEATHE. It can be an overwhelming experience getting ready for these big tests and trying to keep your teen in a low-stress state leading up to them.
  • Tell your teen to set a reminder on their calendar about score release day. You can check out the College Board’s Score Release Schedule for the exact information on when your teen can expect their scores.
  • Decide whether or not your teen will be taking the SAT exam again. I almost always recommend taking at least two exams. May 8 is the deadline for registering for the last SAT of the school year, held on June 6. The next exam won’t happen again until October.

Wishing your student the best on the test!

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

Why Your Teen Should Take The SAT Or ACT More Than Once

Test day. Dreaded by most, but essential for almost all who are college-bound. Taking college entrance exams isn’t really fun for most teens, so my recommendation for students to take the official ACT and/or SAT more than once can seem like some pretty unfair punishment.

There are a few instances in which sitting for the test just once is perfectly fine, and I’ll explain those here, too, but it’s an absolute advantage for most students to take one or both exams at least twice. 

Why Most Teens Should Take The Same Test Twice:

1. Many colleges use superscoring for admissions decisions.

Superscoring is an informal way of saying that admissions offices will take the highest scores from each section across all of the ACT or SAT tests that a student sits for in order to average out to the highest total score possible.

You can easily see that this is a total advantage! Section scores vary on tests almost inevitably for each sitting. For example, students may have an “off” testing day or encounter more difficult reading prompts on some test days. Having more than one test to borrow a section score from takes some of that pressure off.

The Superscore Formula:

  • ACT – Average together the highest scored sections (Math, English, Reading, Science) across all ACT exams taken
  • SAT – Add the highest scored sections (Reading/Writing and Math) across all SAT exams taken

Remember that not all colleges superscore the ACT and SAT exams. To find out for sure if a school superscores for admissions, contact the admissions offices directly. Some consider only the highest total test scores, for example. You can do some initial research with the College Board’s SAT Score-Use Practices by Participating Institution document, too, but best connect with the colleges individually to be sure.While superscoring is a pretty stellar policy for college-bound students, it wasn’t conceived as a benevolent gift to students from schools. Many colleges are actually moving toward the superscoring model because it makes them look good in rankings when they can show students admitted with higher test scores.

Ok. Whatever. We’ll take what we can get.

2. Higher test scores tend to happen the second time around.

Test day jitters are real. In addition to the pressure of doing well on the exam, your teen will be a little apprehensive about not really knowing exactly what to expect. Things like where the building is, what the testing room is like, who the proctor will be, who the other students are, what the test will be like in that structured environment – it all compounds on the anxiety of an already-stressful day.

When teens are able to get that first test under their belts, the second test day just flows easier.

  • They know what to expect
  • Confidence tends to build
  • A little pressure is relieved

And, they have an advantage over the students in that same testing room who haven’t taken the test yet. A beautiful reminder for your teen!

3. Flukes can happen on test day.

Two years ago, 4 of the students I worked with came down with the flu just in time for the May SAT exam. They all took it anyway. And they all bombed it. Luckily they had other opportunities to take the test in June and October that year, and they all increased scores like champs.

Here’s a short list of what can screw teens up:

  • Feeling hungry or tired (Remember to have a good night’s sleep and breakfast, for the love of Pete!)
  • Distractions within the testing room (Some kid popping gum, the proctor typing loudly on a laptop, a weird smell)
  • Distractions outside the testing room (One year there was a construction crew with jackhammers on site. Can you imagine?!)

Whether it’s one of these or another variable, if it can affect a student’s test performance, it probably will. Planning for additional test days is really a no-brainer.

That Being Said…A Disclaimer:

There are a couple of instances in which your teen doesn’t have to, or shouldn’t, take the exam twice. Or, in some cases, not even once.

  1. Some colleges have test-optional admissions policies.

According to FairTest.org, there are over 850 schools in the U.S. that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admissions. Check out the site for an updated test-optional schools list.

If your teen’s list is comprised of all test-optional schools, then taking the test isn’t necessary. If there’s a mix of colleges on the list with different requirements for testing, however, it’s important to have at least one set (preferably at least two sets!) of scores.

  1. Some students are VERY anxious and are easily overwhelmed.

There are some teens who put so much pressure on themselves and get so anxious about exams that they really shouldn’t take more than one.

Anxiety plays such a huge role in how a student performs overall on entrance exams that an extremely nervous teen will sabotage any chance of success and will potentially do more harm than good to his or her own health. And chances are high that a student in that state of mind will not live up to potential on the exam, anyway.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

SAT or ACT – Which is Best for Your Teen?

I have a confession to make: I’m definitely not a fan of these entrance exams for college admissions.

I know I help prep students to take the ACT and SAT exams, so that might sound strange. I’m happy that I can do my little part in helping kids figure out how to “beat the test,” though – to jump through those hoops so they can get that major stressor over with and move on to other, more important admissions stuff.

Regardless of my feelings about these tests, they’re required to get into college. So let’s be productive about this and discuss how to figure out which test your teen should focus on.

To start out, let’s take a short quiz:

  1. True or False: Most colleges in the U.S. require the SAT for admissions.
  2. True or False: Students in the Northeast should take the SAT, and those in the Midwest should take the ACT.

The answer to both of these questions is…False. But these are the two misconceptions I hear most frequently from parents. They hear it from friends or even their teen’s school, the latter of which I find more than a little alarming. The truth is: both the SAT and ACT are used by every college in the U.S. for admissions, so your teen can take one or both of them.

So, which test is best?

Let’s pretend you’re entering a competition to win $100,000. You have the choice of competing against others to either a) ride a unicycle 100 feet or b) ride a hoverboard 100 feet, but you’ve never done either of these things before. Which one would you choose? You might be pretty uncertain. A good way to go about deciding would be to try each of them, see which one “feels” better or comes easier to you, and then train your butt off on that one thing to win that sweet, sweet cash.

Same goes for the SAT and ACT. Since your teen can “win” at college admissions with either one, it makes sense to try each exam to see which is a more comfortable fit and which he or she performs better with, and then focus on preparing for that specific test. Ok, you’re paying – not winning – the $100,000 with this one, but the prize is admissions. You get the point.

There are a couple of ways to try ’em out.

1. The ACT and the College Board (the folks who create the SAT) each release practice exams for students. Your teen should definitely, definitely download those exams to print out and take. The key here is to make sure the testing area is distraction-free, that the test is taken all in one sitting and that your student accurately times him or herself. Even better, you administer the exam. The closer you can make this to what will be experienced on testing day, the more accurate results your teen will get. The tests are each about 3.5 hours long, so you’ll need a nice chunk of time for this.

2. The ACT and SAT are given multiple times throughout the school year. I recommend to parents that they register their high schooler for an official exam early on for each test (typically in the winter of their junior year). All, or almost all, of the content that is needed for the exams is learned by then, and that first crack at them in the testing center itself is the best “dress rehearsal” ever. Your teen will then have the experience of taking the test in the anxiety-ridden testing environment with an official proctor, knowing he or she will have more opportunities to take the test later on. This gives a particular advantage over other students who are sitting for the exams for the first time in the spring and have more anxiety going into it, not knowing what to expect.

Then, compare scores.

Whichever test your student comes out strongest on in the end is the one I recommend that he or she continues to prep for. That focus will really allow for great gains on a future official test date.

Remember…YOU choose which test scores to send colleges.

Your teen should take the exam more than once for this reason – there’s absolutely no harm in taking an exam, because it won’t automatically reflect on the college application unless you say you want it to. Your teen should definitely have more than one exam score to choose from.

Hot Tip: NEVER enter college names on forms when registering for the SAT and ACT! They’ll ask which colleges you want to send the scores to. Since you don’t know how your kid will do on the test that day, you need to be able to see those scores before deciding which schools to send them to. That’ll come later on when your teen’s applying to specific schools.

Has your student already taken one or both tests? Which one did they prefer? What other common misconceptions have you heard about the tests? Leave a comment below!