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A Parent’s Guide to ACT Prep: 5 Tips for Setting Your High School Student Up for Success


If you’re a parent, it’s understandable you’d want to be involved as your child begins preparing for college application season. After all, you watched them grow from a fresh-faced kindergartener to a full-blown high-school graduate.

However, it’s necessary to strike a healthy balance between helping your children along and helicopter parenting. Your role in their college application process should be as a motivator and administrative assistant. Help your child keep track of deadlines and plan campus visits, but don’t write their essays for them or call college admissions counselors on behalf of your child.

One of the areas where you can offer support is with standardized testing, as most four-year colleges factor SAT and ACT scores as a part of their admissions consideration. While exam scores aren’t the top factor colleges consider, high scores will still boost your child’s admissions chances and qualify them for scholarship money.

With admissions being highly competitive, your child may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed as they balance graduation, application, and regular coursework. Luckily, you can show your support and aid them through complex processes as they prepare for testing season.

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Finalize a test timetable

Both the SAT and ACT offer standardized practice tests for students in their sophomore or junior years. Once your child has taken one or both of the exams—or utilized various practice variations—and is familiar with the formatting, you can work with them to establish a reasonable study plan.

While your child does need to prioritize test preparation, keep in mind that you’ll need to work around your child’s extracurricular activities and regular homework assignments. After setting a timetable, remember to register for ACT test dates, allowing for reasonable preparation time and avoiding scheduling conflicts.

Provide study resources

Many study materials are available for the ACT and SAT, from free online practice tests to prep guide books. Your child may not be motivated enough to seek them out on their own, so compiling a list of resources or purchasing prep books for them will make the process quick and painless for them.

Additionally, it’s important to remember every child is unique, and not every resource will be satisfactory for your child. Trial and error may be involved in figuring out how your child studies best.

Avoid unnecessary pressure

There’s no doubt your child is highly aware of how competitive the college admissions process is. While standardized testing is an integral part of the equation, your child should also focus on achieving good grades, participating in extracurriculars, and volunteering in the community to put together a stellar application.

Between their numerous responsibilities, your child may be stretched thin. When they’re preparing for the ACT, remain encouraging and cheerful, but be careful to avoid putting any additional, undue pressure on your child. If they make a mistake on a test, assure them it’s normal to miss a few questions and remain committed to helping them improve while also reassuring your stressed-out kiddos that doing their best is a vital piece of the puzzle.

Encourage good sleeping habits

The ACT is a grueling test, taking over four hours to complete from beginning to end. To ensure your child is well-rested and ready to take on the challenge, help them implement a healthy sleep schedule in the weeks leading up to the test. The night before the test, limit cell phone use, maintain a calm environment and prepare a well-balanced dinner. That way, you can coach them through expected anxieties and encourage deep sleep.

Make breakfast on test day

On test day, wake up early and prepare a full breakfast for your child. One of the best ways to set them up for success is making sure they have all the fuel they need to make it through the grueling, four-hour test. Try to wake up early to make them a well-balanced breakfast before they head off to the exam. Before they leave, pack them some nutritious, energy-boosting snacks and a water bottle to tide them over.

The bottom line

Preparing for the ACT or SAT can be highly stressful to students. It’s your job as a parent to support your child and act as a cheerleader as they study for their test. By motivating them and guiding them along the process, your child will be ready to take on any hard-hitting questions thrown their way.