SAT® Parent’s Guide
Ways to Help Your Child Prepare For The SAT
As the parent of a high school student, you likely already know the advantages a high SAT® score brings to both college admission chances and scholarship opportunities. Although you can’t take the test for them, there’s a lot you can do to help your child give their best performance on the SAT. We have compiled all the SAT information for parents and created this SAT parent’s guide to get you a headstart on how you can help your child prep for the test.
When Should Your Kid Start Preparing for the SAT
Students need plenty of time to take SAT practice tests to familiarize themselves with the exam formats and get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Starting early provides a built-in backup plan, as students who don’t score well the first time will have the chance to retest before colleges’ early or regular decision deadlines. Not only that, but retaking the SAT also helps your child take advantage of superscoring for their college admissions. An SAT prep schedule that includes one retake should look like this:
|Fall (September - November)||
Take a diagnostic test
Create SAT study plan
Start SAT prep
|End of fall through winter||6-month prep time|
|Spring (March - May)||Take the SAT for the first time|
|End of spring through summer||SAT prep for retake|
|Fall of Senior year||Retake the SAT|
Encourage your child to take the PSAT® and other diagnostic practice tests that predict how well they’ll score on the actual SAT test. These assessments help students determine which subject areas they need to work on and how much practice they can expect to put in to obtain their dream score. If your child is already near the score they’re hoping for, it may be sufficient to only prepare for a few months before their first test date. If your child is more than a few hundred points below their target score, expect to begin studying at least six months ahead of their expected test date.
While scheduling obstacles are sure to come up, work with your child to put together a study schedule that will see them preparing little by little regularly in the three to six months before the test. An ideal study plan will start in the spring or summer before junior year. However, any prep time is better than none, and even students who establish their study strategies just a few months ahead of the test can make better use of the time available than those without a schedule.
How Can Parents Help Their Kids for the SAT Test?
The core components of an effective study plan are an early start and a realistic outlook. The following are the key pointers to help prepare your child for the SAT:
- Understand the SAT
- Make sure your child follows a schedule
- Find quality test-prep resources
- Become a study buddy
- Engage a tutor or other study resources
- Be there for emotional support
Understand the SAT
By better understanding the SAT, you can not only help your child study for the test more effectively but also limit their stress and misconceptions about the test. Even though the SAT has been given for many years, its content, format, and scoring are often changed, so parents may not be familiar with the current version.
Also, the new digital SAT will be given worldwide in 2023 and in the U.S. in 2024, so it's important to know what to expect from each version. The infographic below is here to help you learn about each version of the SAT and the differences between the two.
While the SAT test format, topics and concepts tested on the digital SAT will see significant changes, the scoring will remain the same as the current paper and pencil SAT. Both versions of the SAT (2015-2023) are scored on a 400–1600 point scale, with 100–400 points awarded for performance on the Reading section, 100–400 points awarded for performance on the Writing and Language section, and 400–800 points awarded for performance on the Math section.
Students are awarded points for correct answers but do not lose points for wrong answers, and while the test is not curved, scores from any given administration of the test are equated. This means that the number of correct responses required for a given score varies from test to test (on some tests, a student who missed one question in each section could still get a 1600, while on others, they might get a 1560).
The SAT is administered multiple times throughout the year, generally on a Saturday in early March, early May, early June, late August, early October, early November, and early December. The deadline to sign up for a test is usually about a month before the test date, and scores are typically given out about two weeks after the test. For the current SAT test schedule, visit our page on SAT Registration and Test Dates.
Make sure your child follows a schedule
Consistency outweighs intensity when it comes to practice. An hour, or even half an hour, five days a week will go further toward preparing for the SAT than a few nights spent cramming. Below are a few pointers to help you get started:
- Talk with your child about how much time they can reasonably set aside each week for the SAT test prep.
- Create the study plan based on their learning aptitude and prep time.
- Save important SAT-related dates on your calendar to ensure your child can take the tests with plenty of time to submit scores.
As you’re developing that schedule, consider partitioning off time by exam section. A few days or a week spent studying the Reading section will provide more opportunities to develop and test new strategies and learn from mistakes than would a week spent working on each section each day.
If you need help creating a study plan, our SAT study guide will show you how to develop a 6-month, 3-month, or 1-month study schedule based on the amount of prep time available.
Find quality test-prep resources
Even with a schedule firmly established, your child may feel lost about where to begin. There are numerous test-prep resources, and it can be challenging to assess the quality of each in advance. Focus on finding resources that fit your student’s needs as well as your budget. The most valuable resources will provide questions like those on the actual exam and supplement those questions with information to fill any knowledge gaps. Practicing questions not only actively engages students in learning but also makes them feel more at ease on test day, as they will have already seen hundreds of similar questions. Our article is here to help you choose the perfect SAT test prep for your child.
Practice alone doesn’t make perfect; encourage your kid to keep a journal logging their progress—tracking strategies that work and identifying mistakes. Immediate reflective analysis of practice questions facilitates student growth and ensures they learn from, rather than repeat mistakes.
Become a study buddy
Even though you can’t sit with your child while they take the SAT, you can certainly ensure they do not feel alone on their journey to exam success. Whether in holding them accountable to a study schedule, working through practice problems together, or cheering them on as their performance on practice tests improves, there’s a role you can play in every step of your child’s SAT preparation.
Help your child minimize distractions and burnout as much as possible. Having a designated study area away from the noise of the television and younger siblings can make it easier to stay on task.
Engage a tutor or other study resources
Some students struggle to practice without a structured environment. While that environment can sometimes be achieved through a dedicated SAT study schedule, if your child has a hard time focusing during self-study, you might look into SAT prep courses near your home. Although options vary from city to city, the SAT is a widely taken exam, so preparatory courses and institutions exist almost everywhere. Reach out to your student’s guidance counselor at school for a list of local prep options; public libraries often also contain test-prep materials and host prep courses.
Tutors offer a middle road between self-study and preparatory courses. Not only will most SAT tutors come with a repository of SAT prep materials and recommendations, but regular meetings with a tutor can help to structure a student’s study schedule and hold them accountable for their practice. If you’re not sure where to begin looking, many private tutors self-advertise at local libraries or have contacts with high school guidance counselors.
Be there for emotional support
On top of juggling everything else that goes with preparing for college, maintaining an SAT test-prep schedule can be a challenge. While holding your child accountable to that schedule can ensure they get the practice they need, your reassurance can help them keep things in perspective. Try not to pass judgment, point out how you think they could be doing better, or compare their scores and practice to someone else’s. Instead, discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses and prepare them to retake the tests if time permits. Getting into college is important, but even without the scores to get into their first-choice school, students can succeed and have a rewarding experience somewhere else, or even re-test or apply to their dream college later on as a transfer student.
Your child’s mindset plays a large role in the effectiveness of practice. Although many students will find the exam difficult, the SAT is an extremely preparable exam. Students who believe they can improve their scores consistently and reliably are more likely to do so than those who don’t, even with the same practice.
How Do You Motivate Your Teen to Prepare for the SAT?
Explore college options with your teen. If a particular college strongly appeals to them, look into the average SAT scores of students admitted to that college. Also, enquire whether the college offers scholarships tied to particular score ranges. An awareness of exactly how much the SAT can benefit their admission and scholarship chances provides a powerful motivator for many students.
Make sure your teen understands that the SAT is not a test of intelligence but rather of preparedness. Students who score poorly on a practice test might assume a low score is a foregone conclusion and that there’s little point in studying. However, with consistent practice, even an SAT score in the 1500s is achievable for everyone.
Oftentimes, students who tend to perform well in their classes frequently assume they will perform similarly on the SAT, but unfamiliarity with the exam’s questions, format, and timing can prevent even the brightest of students from performing as well as they expect. Make sure your kid is well prepared but not overconfident!
Tips for Parents on SAT Test Day
The last thing you want on SAT test day is for your kid to feel unnecessarily stressed about whether they have everything they need. Review the instructions for what to bring, and not bring, on test day. Ideally, encourage your child to organize all these items together the night before so they can focus on the test that morning.
Similarly, encourage your child to rest well before their SAT test day. If they’ve been following a study plan, there is little that can be gained from cramming the night before or the morning of test day. Instead, focus on a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast.