Jul 15, 2009

Have You Tried It Lately?

Parents periodically come to me about a son or daughter whose lack of personal self discipline seems to be interfering with his or her ability to prepare for the SAT. Personal self-discipline? After a little parental whining, I generally respond with my usual show stopper, “Have you tried it lately?”

For most of us it’s been at least 25 to 30 years since we took the SAT. And some of us are looking at more than 40 years since we sharpened up the old #2 pencils and headed over to the high school at the crack of dawn to take a college admissions test. We didn’t prep. In fact, I have a dim memory of taking both the SAT I and the SAT II (subject tests) on the same day—one in the morning and the others in the afternoon. Could this possibly be true? Or is this one of those fantasies to be filed along with the 3-mile hike to school in year-round blizzard conditions?

Happily, the mind is a wonderful thing and most of us are mercifully spared the memory of our SAT scores. And for the most part the kids don’t think to ask. Although I routinely suggest signing up for the College Board’s SAT Question of the Day, I’m not sure many parents follow-up on the second part of the recommendation which is to discuss and compare results with their kids. Now and again, I go so far as to propose parents take an entire sample test at the dining room table under simulated test-taking conditions. To the best of my knowledge, no one has risen to the challenge.

But now, the Princeton Review has come up with a mini-SAT test specifically designed for parents. Requiring only about 15 minutes, the quiz covers the basics and promises to convert parents and children from “adversaries to allies.” A far cry from the nearly 4-hour, 190-question exam, the mini-test can be scored and entered into a little competition for Princeton Review party favors. Registering also gets you (or your dog) on their mailing list.

If the Princeton Review quiz leaves you craving for more, you can always sign-up for the real thing, like Sue Shellenbarger, a 57-year old mom and reporter for The Wall Street Journal. In a truly inspiring tale of failure and redemption, Ms. Shellenbarger’s experience suggests a glimmer of hope for the nagging parents among us. It also sheds new light on that self-discipline issue.

I have one final suggestion relative to the test prep question. Before signing on with any particular company or tutor, ask how often staff takes the tests—both SAT and ACT. Truly dedicated test prep professionals have been known to routinely sit for exams. As you might imagine, it helps with empathy and preparation. If you’re really bold, ask for scores.

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