Yes, your teenagers should still study for the SAT while schools are closed. Here’s why…
With schools closed and the June SAT cancelled, it might be tempting to throw SAT prep out the window along with all other semblance of normality. However, even with the SAT cancelled, it is important for students planning on applying to college next fall to continue to prepare for their exams.
While some schools have announced that they will be going test optional, the majority of schools (as of right now) are still indicating that they will be expecting scores. And even for schools that are completely test optional, a good SAT score can bring some balance to weaker grades or extracurriculars. A strong SAT score can also still help students earn scholarship money: some schools that have waived SAT requirements for admission are still requiring that students submit scores if they want to be considered for merit scholarships.
The good news is that with exams cancelled until at least August (if not later), there’s more time for students to study. The bad news, of course, is that with classes moving online and the daily stress of being at home in isolation, many students may not feel that they have the bandwidth to focus on something as far away as a distant August test date. Here are a few ways to discuss SAT preparation in the time of COVID-19 with your teenager.
Focus on consistency over intensity
People always overestimate the amount they can get done in a day and underestimate the amount they can do in a year.
This is especially true when it comes to preparing for the SAT when there isn’t another test for several months.
Coach your kids to do a little prep every day and not to worry about packing in the practice tests or doing a ton of problems in one sitting. This is a time to create a habit that sticks, not a time to sit in front of a book or a screen and grind out practice problems.
If your teen can commit to doing ten minutes of SAT math or a single writing and language or reading passage every day while they’re stuck at home, their scores are going to improve.
In test prep there is always going to be a push towards improving by as many points as possible in as little time as possible. Now is the time to help students resist the urge to overload themselves and burn out. Encourage them to focus on getting just 1% better every day.
Treat studying for the SAT as a way to be together…. Or apart
One of the worst parts of pushing education online is when it turns into a solitary exercise. Think about the best classroom experiences – they aren’t just with a teacher who lectures at you nonstop or builds around studying on your own. A lot of learning happens both in on-topic classroom discussion and in the incidental chatter between classes as students are trying to finish their homework as quickly as possible with the help of their friends.
But for our students who are stuck at home, they don’t need to be learning alone. Getting together with friends over video chat is not as fun as sharing TikToks, but it can be a way to structure face-to-face time with one another that they might not otherwise get. Encourage your teenager to self-organize small study groups online when appropriate.
Of course, some students have the opposite problem. Students with siblings or who live in small spaces may not feel that they can get away or have any time to themselves. If you sense that your teen does need that alone time, studying for the SAT can be a good way to leave them to their own devices for an hour or two.
But more than anything, focus on the process
A great (and easy-to-implement) strategy for helping your teenager focus on process and build self-accountability is called habit stacking. According to author James Clear, “one of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.”
You can easily work with your students remotely to help them create SAT study habit stacks of their own. Here is the formula for habit stacking:
After/before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
For example, let’s say you’re stressed out and want to relieve your anxiety. A habit stacking statement would be:
After I eat dinner (current habit), I will meditate for five minutes (new habit).
Now, since our mission is to help our kids build a healthy and consistent SAT study habit, we can work with them to fill in the blank to create a habit stack of their own. Like this:
After/before __________, I will dedicate 10 minutes to my SAT studies.
We all know that cramming for the SAT at the last minute is always stressful and mostly ineffective. But 10 minutes a day can go a long way when students have more time to prepare, as they do now.
This is a stressful time for everyone, and chances are that the compression of testing season into next semester is going to make a lot of seniors’ fall semester stressful in other ways. Now is the time to help students with their plans on when they are going to take their tests, and how and when they are going to study. Even if those plans do have to change, that sense of structure will help set students up for success and give them a sense of normalcy.
Laura Hubbard is Head of Academics at Everydae, a digital SAT tutor that makes studying bite-size and fun. She was previously Director of Academics for the adaptive learning product ORION, directed curriculum creation at AJ Tutoring, and was a course writer at Chegg and manager at The Princeton Review.