Advice about the SAT & PSAT

Questions & Responses:
How to fight College board SAT accusation of cheating(3 responses)
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 Take the SAT Subject Tests?

Sept 2015

I've just realized that the SAT subject tests are required for some competitive private schools and have heard ZERO about these from his high school (Albany). Any thoughts about these?
trying to remain chill about this process
Sat2 tests are required at some private colleges. They often want to see two tests in different subjects. If the student is interested in something like engineering, they want to see Math level 2 and any science. Some people like to take a math/science test and a humanities test, but I'm not sure it matters. Check a few colleges that might interest your student and see what they require. As for *when* to take them, the best time is *immediately after* the highest level class your student will take in that subject.
Yes, competitive private colleges want subject tests. Just pick some in which
you think your child will do well. Preparation will help.

My teen just bombed the PSAT : how to cope?

Dec 2012


My 11th-grade daughter just bombed the PSATs. How do I cope with this ? What do I say when she gets back from prep school (in a week) ? Her grades are excellent, but she certainly did not inherit my test-taking genes. I've only dealt with her academic success so far, not with this particular shortcoming. What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college, even after working hard ? Worried Mom.

The way that you cope with this is to recognize that standardized tests are just one way that students are evaluated. You are placing way too much importance on this one test.

You say that you are worried about how to cope if she doesn't get into an Ivy League school. What is that about? The Ivy League is a group of schools in the same athletic conference; they are certainly not the only schools that provide academic excellence. You seem overly focused on a brand name educational achievement for your daughter. Please take a look around and notice that many of the brilliant people you know did not go to Ivy League colleges. It's also true that entry to the Ivy League does not guarantee life success or happiness.

I value academic success and hard work and want my kid to go to the best colleges they can get into, but I really don't understand your point of view. It seems that you are setting up yourself and your daughter for a lot of dissatisfaction. I hope she can get advice from adults in her life whose estimation of her worth doesn't fall precipitously when one test score isn't up to snuff. Yes, I know I'm Judgmental About the Fact You're So Judgmental

Is this query in earnest or a joke? If it is serious it deserves a response: let her be. If she is achieving ''academic success'' at school, she is clearly doing her best, so why torture her? Perhaps simply asking her what happened without an accusatory or disappointed tone might reveal things that are going on in her life or issues she would like help dealing with?

In addition, does she want to go to an Ivy League school or do you want her to? Why, honestly? I ask this as both the mother of a teen who had the opposite configuration (top test scores; mediocre grades for refusing to do homework) and an Ivy League professor who also serves as freshman advisor and in graduate admissions in my university. I see many, many different kinds of students every cohort, including kids like your daughter.

From what little I know of genetics, only intelligence is innate -- the other two can be learned and even mimicked behaviors. Kids in this country are increasingly being taught to follow formulas to ''success'' that range from how to construct perfect -- albeit usually unoriginal -- essays to how to reach the correct answers on a test sheet. Although rewarded by high grades and test scores, neither of these activities measure actual ''brilliance.''

Moreover, did you know that test scores are not the paramount admissions consideration in many Ivy League universities? This is because we recognize that test-taking abilities, academic brilliance, intelligence are not the same thing. In fact, a kid with a perfect test score, grades and a high IQ might prove a less attractive candidate to a college admissions committee than another one whose grades and tests were ok, but whose sparkling mind shows through in an essay, art, scientific work, a performance, activism -- whatever.

I see all sorts of combinations of the three characteristics in our undergraduates -- perfect test scores followed by mediocre to poor academic performance; academic brilliance following low SAT scores; excellent test scores, brilliant academic performance but totally unremarkable intelligence; sparkling intelligence with poor academic and test performance -- you get the picture. In addition, factors such as undiagnosed learning disabilities, however mild, or depression and anxiety can greatly affect a kid's test scores and performance.

In other words, I'd say that when she gets home you don't tell, just ask, and talk -- lovingly. Ivy League Prof and mom

:: My 11th-grade daughter just bombed the PSATs. How do I cope with this?

Here are two things you might consider.

First, the PSAT doesn't matter one whit. Students often know this, and pay it little attention. So worrying about a low PSAT score is usually unwarranted, yet doing so certainly increases tension (which correlates with lower SAT scores later). So worrying is probably the worst thing you can do, along with conveying that worry to your daughter.

Second, what you consider low might not match what her best-match colleges consider low.

:: What do I say when she gets back from prep school (in a week)?

Well, if you say something that indicates that you're disappointed with or worried about her score, then that's what she'll likely hear, and that is likely to serve you both poorly. What about simply letting her know that you read the score report, and you're interested in knowing whether she thinks it's worth discussing?

:: What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college, even after working hard?

I think it may be helpful to be clear on this point: no amount of hard work -- *no* amount -- is a guaranteed admission into an Ivy League college today. If the Ivy League is your only acceptable goal for your daughter, then I'm afraid you are very likely to be disappointed, no matter who she is or what she is capable of.

Thankfully, most would agree that such an education is not a necessary part of a happy and successful life at this time. Indeed, being a smart and capable student without an admission to an Ivy League school would put your daughter in very good (and very plentiful) company. Wes

I believe there are some excellent LACs that don't require testing for admission(try a google search on that topic); a few I know about are Sarah Lawrence and Smith, and I know there are many others. No, they aren't Ivies, but they are excellent schools nonetheless.The college counselor at your daughter's school probably knows of many. My own daughter has not done particularly well on her tests, either, especially the math portion; she is intelligent, creative and talented in other areas. I'm confident she will find an excellent school that's a great fit for her. Having gone through the college search process once before with my older child ( who tested well and got into his top choice; different kid, different needs and interests) I'm a lot more relaxed this time. I am more aware of the multitude of fantastic schools out there, and how many options there are for all kinds of kids. And if your daughter does well as an undergrad she can attend an Ivy for grad school! Trying to remain relaxed, against all odds

It is hard to avoid thinking that this may be a joke submission because you are jumping to conclusions from one piece of data and seem to be overly focused on your genes and goals for a prestige college for your daughter. You didn't even consider that she might have been sick on the day of the PSAT or upset about something that interfered with her concentration. So certainly that would be the first thing to ask her about. If test-taking is actually hard for your daughter, then consider hiring a tutor to prepare her for the SAT's. Lot of people do this. And think hard and long about how invested you are in prestige and what type of messages you are giving to your daughter. Her strong grades are a wonderful accomplishment and will play an important role in college admission. Anonymous

''What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college?'' Wow, are you serious? So, does that mean that everyone who did not attend an Ivy League school (which is most of us!) is a worthless failure? If your daughter attends a prep school and gets wonderful grades she must be doing something right. Many brilliant people are not great at taking tests. And many highly successful,intelligent, happy adults did not attend an Ivy League school. The fact that she didn't do well on the SAT practice test means nothing about her overall intelligence or ability to succeed in life. Please take a step back and think about what you wrote ''what do I do if she can't get into an Ivy League school'' This is what you do; give your daughter love and support, find out if she needs help learning the skill of test taking and accept her for who she is regardless of what school she may end up at. Heck, what if she doesn't even want to go straight to college! Please don't focus on test scores alone and start to appreciate your daughter for the unique individual that she is. Understand that she may have different challenges than you do and that's ok. This is her life, not yours Not an Ivy League Grad but still doing fine

My immediate response is ''Are you kidding?'' So she didn't do well on a PSAT? And does SHE want to go to an Ivy League school and WHY? Is this your dream or hers? And even if she wants it, if she doesn't go it isn't the end of the world. There are great schools out there. My 2 daughters are both doing fabulous things for this world--one went to an Ivy League and one didn't. One even got a ''D'' on her report card. I panicked also but she still went to UCSD--not a shabby place.

What message are you giving her? Not brilliant academically? Come on--you said she gets good grades at a good school. Get over it and support her in whatever she wants to do. And don't put your disappointment on her. She probably carries enough of her own. a mom


Send SAT Subject tests to colleges?

Sept 2011


I have a Senior at BHS. My child took ACT with writing. My child also took 3 SAT subject tests. I would like to know from those students who have already gone through college admission process if they also sent their SAT subject test results even if colleges didn't require it. I am getting mixed advise, some say send, others say don't send if they don't require them. Thanks.... confused

A lot depends on how well your student did on the SAT Subject Tests and what he or she wants to major in. Some colleges see high scores as a plus in the admission process, especially if pertinent to the student's planned major because high scores show the student's strength. However, if scores are mid-range or mixed, they may not illustrate strength. Anonymous

If the SAT scores are good, send to impress them. If they are just average, you'll give the college a chance to rethink what kind of student your child is! ~Mother of Two College Sons


Taking the SAT Subject Tests

Sept 2009


My son is a senior. He already took his SAT I's and did quite well, in his Junior year. I have some confusion about the Subject tests. I'm not sure if he has the grades (3.0 GPA & approx. 650-670 SAT scores) to get into a U.C.....and as far as private colleges go, we cannot afford much more than a U.C. education. My questions are: when do most students take the subjects tests, is it okay to take them in your senior year, do you need to have taken them already if you apply to a UC, how you decide which ones to take???? it worth taking them, if you & child are not sure if he needs them for the school he will go to? Thanks! Shelly

Hi Shelly,

Where does your son go to school? Berkeley High School has a wonderful College Career Center. They send out a ''College Application Handbook for Seniors and Their Families'' and do workshops for both parents and students. You can download last years handbook on the BHS website If your child goes to Berkeley High and you didn't receive the 2010 handbook in the mail you can pick one up at the school. If your child goes to another school I am sure they have college advisers that have a wealth of knowledge about deadlines and application procedures.

I am not an expert but here is what I know from reading the information I have been given at BHS. It is not too late to take the SAT Subject Tests. Most students take them in the Spring of their Junior year or early Fall of their Senior year. Which Subject Tests to take will depend on your son and which major he is applying for. I think it is better to take them and not need them then to need them and have missed the deadline. However, if your son has extreme test anxiety you may want to encourage him to apply to schools that do not require the extra testing.

UC's require students to take the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT Plus Writing. They also require two SAT Subject Tests. The SAT Subject Tests must be from different subject areas: history/social science, English literature, mathematics, laboratory science, or language other than English. If a student chooses to take a math test to meet one of the Subject Test requirements, the UC system will not accept the SAT Math Level 1 Subject test but will accept the SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test. Some UC campuses require specific SAT Subject Tests for certain majors. For example, UC Berkeley strongly recommends that students applying to the School of Engineering take the Math Level 2 test and a subject test on one of the sciences. The December 5th test date is the last test date to meet UC system deadlines. UC's require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Eligibility is based on a combination of GPA, SAT or ACT Tests and SAT Subject Tests. The UC website has great information. From the home page click on admissions and then download the ''Introducing the University'' .pdf. At the end there is a work sheet for calculating your students Eligibility Index.

I hope this information helps. Natasha


Where To Take The PSAT and SAT?

May 2009


My son is a student Holden High School in Orinda, which does not give the PSAT or SAT. We live in Oakland. Does anyone know how I can arrange for my son to take the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in the spring? Oakland Mom

You can call local high schools to inquire about an extra seat with their students. Usually schools are open to hosting outside students on test day- especially if test day is a Saturday. You should call now, and then re-confirm in August or September.

As a former director of college counseling, I used to allow students from other schools to sit for the PSAT along side my students. The key for the host school is for them to know well in advance.

There are special codes on the test booklets for students completing the PSAT at a different school. Just be sure that your son reads the instructions carefully.

As for the SAT, you need to go to to register for the exam. When doing so, you will have the option of choosing a test site. Usually there will be many to select from in your area. The registering process is fairly simple. Feel free to email me if you have more questions. Hope this helps... Ray

Hi Holden Mom. I know Joel and your school; seems like a wonderful place! The SAT won't be any problem. That is a national test administered by the college board. You sign up on their web site and pick any school where it is being held that is convenient. Same with the ACT. PSAT might take a bit more work. At least here in Orinda, it was administered by the high school, so info only went out to students. I would start by contacting a high school that would be a convenient location for your son to get to at 7:45 on a Saturday morning (groan) to see if you can sign up there. Good luck. Anne

Look at the website for information about these tests. Click on the ''for students'' section. The PSAT is given in October. If your high school doesn't offer it, your child can take it at another high school in your town. Ask the high school which date (a particular Wednesday or Saturday only) it will be offering the test this fall, and follow their sign-up procedures. Sign-ups usually must be done in September, so ask early in the fall.

To take the SAT, you register directly on the College Board website (click on SAT). The test is offered a number of times during the academic year. Your student can take the test at any of the test locations where it is offered. College test locations (for example UC Berkeley) may be more comfortable than taking the test in a high school. Ask the guidance counselor at your child's school if they have materials describing the SAT tests, but you can find out everything you need to know online. Anonymous


Taking the SAT in middle school?

July 2008


I have heard about having a gifted middle school child (GATE) take the SATs early because there are some programs that used them for admittance. Has anyone tried this -- did it work out? Were the opportunities worth it? What happens if your child takes the test and doesn't do well? How stressful was it? Did your child study ahead of time? anon

My son took the ACT in 7th grade in order to be eligible for the Johns Hopkins CTY program. They have great 3 week sleepaway camps at universities around the US, including Stanford. My son is at the Oceanography camp right now. Students need a certain SAT or ACT score in order to be accepted. Here is the link: programs.html My son was pretty discouraged taking the test, and he just barely qualified. Much of the material, particularly in math, was stuff he had never seen before. He said he felt really horrible taking it and I regretted my decision, but the score came and he had made it, so I guess it was worthwhile. I bought him SAT/ACT prep books which he barely looked at. The English part was okay, but the Math was very stressful and he said he felt like an idiot. karen

Two of my sons took the SAT early (in 6th and 7th grade) in order to qualify for the John Hopkins Gifted and Talented Program. I don't know the website, but I'm sure if you google it, you'll find it. If your child scores high enough, they become eligible to take a variety of challenging classes, which my sons did. Neither of them studied for the test -- I didn't want it to be stressful or a big deal, just a possible opportunity. For both kids, the program allowed them access to more interesting classes, especially in math, than what they were getting in school. marissa

My daughter who is now 18 took the SAT in 7th grade as part of a Talent Search sponsored by the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University -- The test was not stressful because we told her it didn't count for anything and was just to see how well she did. At that age the SAT and what the scores meant were not on the kids' radar screens yet -- for her it was only a few hours on a Saturday.

It was one of the best things she ever did, because she was able to qualify for summer programs offered by CTY where she met friends she will have for life, and the experiences were wonderful in many ways. Socially the summer programs (expensive, but there are scholarships available) can make all the difference for kids who may be unfavorably labeled ''the brain'' or ''the smart one'' in middle school and high school. Three of my daughter's CTY friends just came here for a visit, and in a few weeks the four of them will head off to UC Berkeley, Stanford, Penn and Harvard. So they are obviously a talented group, and very happy to have found one other as friends. As a parent I cannot recommend the CTY experience highly enough! Mary


When to begin SAT preparation?

June 2006


My daughter just finished her sophomore year of high school. She tossed her PSAT scores and said they were terrible (we believe her). We would like to get her solidly prepared for the SAT and would like recommendations for good classes, tutors, books, etc whatever. Is this summer too early to begin? I know some families whose kids are taking the SAT for the first (and only) time in the fall of senior year. Would love to get others' opinion on this Want to be Prepared

Dear Want,

Can relate to your concerns, my daughter has only recently begun to \x93test well\x94. Please tell your daughter that much of what is needed is learning how to take the test \x96 this can be learned \x96 the test results show what happened that day and are not a final statement of any kind.

That being said \x96 your daughter really needs to want to find a way to improve her scores. I would suggest seeing if the PSAT scores can be retrieved either from under her bed or from the College Board \x96 it will be very helpful to know where to start. The PSAT should come with complete scoring info \x96 which questions she missed, which were correct or skipped. If she has any learning issues you can work with her counselor to request additional time. Some students get time and a half, or double time if they have documented disabilities. Make sure she has had her vision tested this year, astigmatism can make test taking impossible.

Other test issues: Sometime students \x93over anticipate\x94 an answer and give the most creative response when the test is looking only for the most provable answer. Sometimes the student needs to improve vocabulary, or maybe tighten up basic math facts. Or they tested well on material they have learned and the test was asking questions on areas they haven\x92t studied yet. Or they skipped one question and half the test had their answers in the wrong place. Or simple panic can really mess things up. You need to see the scored and evaluated test to know where best to spend your collective time. If you can\x92t retrieve the PSAT there are commercial practice tests \x96 or she can take the SAT this Sept and you can pay additionally to have it scored and evaluated.

We have found the \x93Daily Spark Notes\x94 series on vocabulary, math, critical thinking from Barnes and Noble an inexpensive and approachable way to study. We are also using the Kaplan self-scoring software. Self directed study with the resources she has chosen has raised my daughter\x92s scores almost two hundred points since last fall.

We have had to take entrance exams since 5th grade to get into Middle schools and High School \x96 this has been a tough road. We have taken tutoring from various providers including Princeton Review and also classes with some East Bay private test prep groups. These worked to some degree. You can spend a bundle. What works best is what the student will use and get some satisfaction from. Tutors will say 50-100 points gain are average between testing with focused study. Take your student to a bookstore to look at the prep materials or take a free lesson at Kaplan or Princeton in downtown Berkeley or other location and try it out. See what her friends are doing \x96 sometimes going with your friends makes it easier. Also check out resources on the College Board website. Things need to be current because the test was changed this year.

One of the things that helped my daughter understand that additional study can be needed is that I told her that there were a lot of people doing it \x96 even the ones who tested well. If you don\x92t want to do a form of \x93test prep\x94, it helps to read widely and always read challenging books \x96 but many kids don\x92t enjoy it. We have a cousin who started memorizing epic poetry and went from a slightly struggling student to someone with perfect SAT scores. Perfect scores often come with offers of top college placement without applying AND often merit scholarships. You can also start reading with your daughter \x96 turn off the TV, radio, iPod, computer etc and read to each other or silently together in the same room. I confess to bribing/cash rewards/extra privileges for reading advanced books \x96 it can work.

There are people who have their kids tested from middle school at every test opportunity and tutored continually to get into Harvard. This is the world we live in. There are great colleges that do not require test scores or make submission optional. Sometimes these schools list very high SAT scores because the only entrants who submit them are students who have high scores. There are also Midwestern schools that prefer the ACT, which is in my opinion is a bit more straightforward than the SAT \x96 many schools will take either score, check their websites to be sure. Grades, good attitude, application essays, recommendations, and community service are all a part of the admissions picture too. For the Arts \x96 the portfolio presentation or audition can be the most important factor.

Every little bit helps but encouragement and praise go a long way. Setting goals and studying some every day or at least every week will make more of a dent than a crash course but any study usually will change the outcome Anon

As a high school English teacher, I'd like to say that it is absolutely NOT too early to be thinking about the SAT. Most of my students (at an academic, college-oriented suburban school) do NOT wait to take the test in their Senior years; in fact, most have taken it TWICE by the end of their Junior years...Prep classes do help orient students to the task itself, and this training is invaluable.

Having said that, I also want to stress that doing well on the exam does not somehow come down to simply learning a bag of tricks in a class over a few weeks. Kids who do well have been building these skills for years. There's an old cliche' I'ver heard for years that goes something like this, ''How do you prepare for the SAT? Read for the last 10 years...''

Reading is truly the skill that strengthens their comprehension, that builds vocabulary, that gives students a sense of language (and thus influences their writing abilities as well). They don't have to read ''classics,'' really it can be ANYTHING-- fiction or non-fiction... essays, novels, magazines, WHATEVER(as long as they are written with vocabulary and sentence structure that stretch your child's abilities...)

If your child has the opportunity to take an SAT prep class, s/he should... but truly, s/he needs to be reading consistently. This is the best training available for the language and writing portion of the exam, I promise.

Good luck!!!!!! an English teacher

Our experience has been that a great time to start working on SAT preparation is toward the end of sophomore year, or over the summer before Junior year. The pressure at this time should be low, and the studying somewhat low-key.( A kind of get your feet wet exploration.)

We recommend that students normally begin studying in earnest 8 weeks prior to the SAT. The information stays fresh, the techniques are able to be immediately applied, and the students are often ready to get it done. If your child studies a good deal earlier than this, and you may find that the precious element of cramming (specifically designed for standardized tests, of course) is often largely forgotten.

Depending on your child, you can seek individual, pair or small group tutoring, or you can take the many SAT workshops and classes that are out there. You are your student know how they learn best (and if not, then exploring your options may help determine this), so I would recommend talking to several SAT prep places and tutoring and support services.

Yup, we offer SAT help too, but again, check lots of folks out. I am happy to talk with you should you have any questions! Just call: 510-540-8646. Our site: Molly Gales Classroom Matters

Summer after 10th grade and after 11th grade is a good time to begin SAT prep, because the skills kids learn are good skills for high school. This is especially true of the math section. (the math part is definitely something you can study for). For tutors, try BHS grad Andrew Gordon-Kirsch, 526-7371. He's a friend of my college aged son, and aced the math section, and since he's more the kids age, can relate well with high schooler. His email is andrewgk [at] (as is in his email, he is at UCLA but home for the summer and tutoring teens for the SATs) Happy to refer Andrew Gordon-Kirsch as a SAT tutor

Many kids start preparing for SATs during summer after 10th grade because there is more free time and less stress without schoolwork. My daughter took a subject area SAT in Math in October of 11th grade and used a math tutor during the summer to prepare. She highly recommends preparing during the summer because she felt so much more relaxed about it. She was able to concentrate on reviewing math with the tutor without all the pressure of other classes. Email me if you want a recommendation (and over the years I have used the tutors listed in Berkeley Parents Network with great results) vetex

Ideally students should complete all testing requirements during their junior year, completing:

an SAT or ACT by March/ April, SAT subject tests in May or June, with June or Fall of senior year open for a potential retake of the SAT or ACT.

There are many factors in determining the best time to begin with SAT classes or tutoring.

Scheduling is generally the deciding factor - if students are involved in sports or are otherwise busy in the Fall, then the summer between sophomore and junior year may be a good time to start. However, for many students waiting until after the junior PSAT's in October and preparing for the January or March/ April SAT's works fine. And no, students do NOT need to prepare for the PSAT at all - the only exceptions being 1) if with some added preparation, the student may qualify as a national merit scholar or 2) the student has been diagnosed with learning differences, or has significant test anxiety, in which case a longer duration of test prep can be helpful SuccessLink Tutoring info[at]


PSAT for Sophomores?

Sept 2004


I hear various recommendations for when to take the PSAT. I guess most kids take it as Juniors the first semester but some kids take it as sophomores. Can you take it twice? Any harm to taking it as a Sophomore? Any advantages? Thanks
Interested Parent

Sophomores can take the PSAT for practice, but in order for it to count for National Merit Scholarship, students have to be juniors. Jamie

It's really, really nice for college-bound kids to have a chance to ''practice'' taking the PSAT. You can take it multiple times, and when you take it during the fall of your 11th grade year, it's pretty high-stakes, as it's the qualifying exam to be in the running to be a National Merit Scholar. At my kids' school (Skyline in Oakland) they're encouraged to take it even as 9th graders. Having some practice can really cut down on the anxiety later on, and also give you a sense of whether a prep course is a good idea. Kathy


PSAT Scores compared to grades

My daughter recently took the PSAT as a sophomore and I was surprised at how low her scores were considering she is a straight A student at Berkeley High. Does anyone have experience with how these scores relate to SAT performance? She tends to have a more difficult time with standardized tests in general and I am wondering what assistance we could provide to help her develop better test-taking skills. I would appreciate recommendations to programs or individuals who address this area, especially someone who could determine the problem she is having.


I don't think there is a very linear relationship between grades and the PSAT scores. My son is a a sophomore also and he got a 99th percentile in Math on the test and was receiving a B in Honors Algebra. He does take tests well, however, and I believe that has more to do with the PSAT success. I think it was wise of your daughter to take the test in her sophomore year to give her the time to practice up for the PSAT and SAT in advance of the required year. She probably just needs more familiarity with the testing to reduce her stress level. Regarding preparing to improve testing scores, I read a review on the various SAT prep courses and the Princeton seemed to be the most effective. Hope this helps. Gary


When should review courses for PSAT be taken, optimally?

Thanks for the discussion concerning PSAT testing. My daughter is bright and tests very badly. She's in 9th grade. When should review courses for PSAT be taken, optimally?


As those knowledgeable about these kinds of standardized tests will tell you, the SAT and the PSAT really only measure one kind of intelligence: How good somebody is at taking these standardized tests. They aren't accurately indicative of performance in college. They don't measure the most important ingredients for success, e.g. motivation, creativity, social skills, emotional intelligence, etc. All that said, though, sadly in this culture you must perform well on these tests if you want to get into competitive colleges/universities.

There are various things you can do if you want to boost your scores. First of all, if you have the money, taking the (extremely expensive) Princeton Review or the (slightly less-expensive) Kaplan test preparation courses promises a hike in your numbers (literally: the Princeton Review guarantees a substantial raise in scores). These programs develop curriculum by intensively studying the PSAT/SAT and figuring out lots of little tricks to beat the test. And the tricks work. The Princeton course also includes tips on stuff like how to overcome test anxiety, what to eat before the test, etc. If your child is very self-motivated, he/she can also pick up a copy of various SAT prep. books from a book store, such as the Princeton Review or Kaplan series. (These aren't as good as taking the course, but then again, $10 is very different from $1,000.)

Lots of kids don't perform well on these kinds of tests because of acute anxiety--and of course they're anxious, quite a bit of their future is resting in their number 2 pencil on an early Saturday morning. As parents, make it clear to them that these tests measure nothing important, and never shame your kids of they don't perform well. Tell them that these tests aren't indicative of success in life. Make sure that they prepare, but don't get all stressed out, that only makes it more difficult.

Colleges are paying attention to SAT's less and less--hands down, the most important thing in terms of getting into prestige colleges/universities is demonstrating some kind of passion that sets you apart from the crowd. Just ask an admissions officer if you don't believe me, they'll tell you the same thing. There are tons of people with good SAT's--but not many great writers, or mathematicians, or scientists, or singers/songwriters, or actors, or musicians, or butterfly collectors, or kind people who go way out of their own way to help others...these are the kinds of things that colleges really look for. (Of course, you have to try to get decent grades, and do your best on the SAT's, but these aren't the most important.) So do your best on the SAT, take the courses if you can afford it or work through the books if you can't. Having been through it myself, and also on the sideline with many others, I know it's stressful in the moment, but if you do these, it'll all work out in the end.


I don't know how your daughter learns, but if she is fairly independent and can learn by reading, I would strongly recommend having her look at one of the test prep books. The ones I've used are from the Princeton Review, but there are tons of them out there to choose from. I don't think there are any for the PSAT, but then she shouldn't need to take that again. The books are usually around $30, I think, and I used them when I was in high school to prepare for the SATs and again in college for the GREs. What I really needed was assistance in math, and my scores improved by a couple hundred points from using the books. In high school I actually did slightly better on the math than the verbal, which was my strong suit. The SATs (and I think most of those ETS tests) are really just puzzles. The main test is often not of how much you know, but of how well you understand the tests. The Princeton Review books (I don't have expe! rience with others) are very good at unveiling the mysteries of how the tests are written and the tricks put in place by the test makers. It is obvious that your daughter is performing well in school; she probably knows the material but is thrown off by the tests. If she is the type of person who can learn on her own, definitely buy a book. I don't have experience with the test prep classes (Kaplan, etc.), so I can't say how they teach or what their success rate is. But if your daughter needs structure and personal instruction to learn, I would guess that those classes are probably your best bet. Heather