Prepping for the SAT: Survival tips for students and parents

The prospect of taking the SAT test will intimidate just about any college-bound teenager, as well as their stressed out parents. Not only is it a grueling test, but preparing for the exam can also be a difficult experience.

Deb Stier, a mother of two teenagers in New York, decided to prep and take the test herself -- seven times. She shared her experiences on her blog and recently wrote a book filled with advice called The Perfect Score Project.

Here are some of the tips that Stier shares in her book:

Getting Help

1. Understand the traits of a great SAT tutor. An excellent tutor will primarily use College Board material and will teach both strategy and content. A great tutor can customize his or her approach and provide many references.

2. Ask tutors the right questions. Questions you should ask potential SAT tutors include:

  • What's your average score gain per student? It's a red flag if the average gain is excessive such as 200 points in a month.
  • How long do you advise students to prepare for the SAT and how much will it cost? The length of time will depend on where the student begins and his or her goal.
  • What test-prep material do you use? If it's not official College Board material, be wary.

3. Look for bad test prep signs. A good test-prep outfit will use real SAT practice tests from the College Board. Avoid mock SAT tests because they can intentionally be designed to be harder than the real test to inflate score gains. Mock tests can also produce inaccurate scores and give false readings.

What Teens Should Study

Use College Board material. An absolute must, Stier says, is purchasing what insiders nicknamed the Blue Book. It's the College Board's Official SAT Study Guide with DVD. Stier recommends the following resources to supplement the Blue Book:

Test Tips

1. Improve your math score. Always use a calculator, even for the easy questions. Know all basic math facts, such as what is the first prime number. Look out for special right triangles - they are everywhere.

2. Use the right vocabulary words. The Critical Reader website that's run by Erica Meltzer, an SAT tutor in New York, contains all the top SAT words. Word-Nerd, which is a paid service for as little at $25, organizes the 1,500 most commonly tested SAT words by themes.

Appreciate how tough the SAT is

Understand the odds of a perfect score. During one year, cited in the book, just 273 students earned a perfect score out of 1,534,457. Put another way, .018% of test takers earned a perfect score.

Even fewer teenagers get ALL the answers wrong. In 2011, 180 test takers out of 1,647,123 got every answer wrong.

Advice for students with learning disabilities

Seek test accommodations early. If your child will need accommodations to take the SAT, including a longer test period, ask the guidance office to make the request and provide the necessary documentation. This process can typically take five to seven weeks.

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