How to Be the Sane Parent in a Sea of Test-Prep Crazy

Oh man, do I hear this one a lot. From the parent of a junior, who—due to peer pressure from the other parents at their (private) high school—have registered their son for EVERY single sitting of the SAT AND ACT (true story!). From the parent of an underclassman, who—due to peer pressure from the other parents at their (private) high school—are panicking about when to enroll their teen into tutoring and test prep classes. Even from the parent of a senior, who—due to peer pressure from the other parents at their (private) high school—have extended their daughter’s college list to include a whopping 30 colleges!

The more, the earlier, the better...right?

These parents usually come to me seeking advice right after they almost lose their minds (from aforementioned peer pressure from fellow parents or from the school college counselor, or after they attend their first “college meeting” at school and get overwhelmed), and are hoping and praying for a better (saner) way to handle junior and senior years. One Ace the Test: Game Plan later, they can breathe deeply again.

Here’s the secret: staying sane through test prep relies on picking out the correct pieces of information, and knowing what to tune out—which is pretty much everything else.

Here’s the important stuff. This is the stuff that is absolutely worth your time and resources to get figured out.

1) Your son or daughter’s college list, even a preliminary one

Without this piece of information, you won’t know what target SAT or ACT scores to strive for, if you need to take the Essay/Writing component of the test, if Super Scoring or Score Choice is allowed, and if your son or daughter needs to take SAT II Subject Tests.

To do this, you can either DIY it, or hire someone like an independent college counselor. To do it yourself, buy the Fiske Guide to Colleges and explore websites like the College Board's to learn about schools. If you need outside assistance, and the resources at your son or daughter’s high school does not suffice, one fabulous college counselor I know is Abby Siegel. She is truly fantastic at researching the exact colleges that would fit your high schooler’s passions and academic interests.

2) Whether to take the SAT or the ACT

It's an important decision and as soon as you've made it, you’ve saved yourself countless hours of test prep. That's why I focus on helping you make it, on this site and in my Ace the Test: Game Plan.

3) Which 2 or 3 test dates to gear up for

If you know what test dates you are aiming for, you can work backwards to create a Testing Timeline. Make sure to include enough time to drill content, learn strategies, take practice tests and take mock tests—all before the big day. A Testing Timeline like the ones I make with you in the Ace the Test: Game Planestablishes a path to test-day success that takes stress off everyone's shoulders and frees up your high-schooler's energies for studying.

4) If you need to take SAT II Subject Tests, and if so, which ones

You can find out by doing independent research or asking your college counselor—these decisions are highly individual, depending on school requirements and applicant strengths, which is why I like to address this decision individually in the Ace the Test: Game Plan™. Yes, this one too! The idea is to cover as much of the crucial early decision-making as possible with you so that you can quit worrying and get preparing.

5) Which colleges your son or daughter actually likes best.

After you’ve figured out a list, you should also plan college visits to the top contenders to make sure you’re on the right track. The time and money that goes into those visits are worth the clarity they bring to the process, and great visits can really motivate your high schooler.


In addition to focusing on the right pieces of information, your job as a parent of a high school student is also not falling for misguided advice and time-sucking ideas. Here’s a list of crazy-making myths to tune out, no matter how many times you hear them from fellow parents:

1) Just take both the SAT and the ACT several times to “see what’s better.”

This is a colossal waste of your high schooler’s time and energy during the most stressful time in his or her life thus far. Invest a little time at the beginning of the process to see which test is better, decide, and focus only on that one. You’re more likely to get the results you want if you focus all your energy on one thing.

2) Prepare early! In fact, the earlier the better!

If you are hearing this as a parent of a freshman or sophomore, please disregard with abandon. Get earplugs if you need them. Contrary to popular belief, your high schooler should NOT start prepping for the ACT or SAT freshman year. In fact, I wrote a whole impassioned post about this not too long ago.

3) Apply everywhere! The more applications, the better!

Again, more is not always better. After all, it’s your son or daughter who will have to write the supplemental essays for all those unnecessary schools, taking time away from schoolwork (this shows up in senior transcripts, and yes, that matters). And don’t forget—you’ll also have to pay the application fees for all those schools. A dozen applications is normal. Thirty applications is insane.

4) The more extracurricular activities—especially community service—the better!

When it comes to writing college applications, well-rounded students pale in comparison to students who’ve developed a true passion or two and explored them deeply. Surface philanthropy or volunteerism looks fake. If you need a reality check, read this post.

So in short? The way to stay sane during this super-stressful time in a parent’s life is to develop your own test prep plan and stick to it. Instead of spreading your time and energies thin, use them where it counts. If you feel confident in where your son or daughter is going and how you’ll get there, you’re more likely to disregard the panicked ideas of the desperate parents around you…and more likely to survive the college process with your sanity and family harmony intact.

And as always, if you need help with this, book an Ace the Test: Game Plan and I will help you!