ACT & SAT (Parental) Test Anxiety

by Robi White

I am talking to YOU, high school parents! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ students need to be accepted into college these days, and test scores are a big part of most colleges’ admission AND scholarship decisions.

First, take a deep breath! Seriously. The task may seem daunting, but if you ask good questions, seek good counsel, and take it one step at a time, you’ll make it just fine.

**Step 1: Tear out this article and keep for future reference!**

Here are some good questions:

What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

First, know that colleges do not prefer one test over the other. All colleges accept EITHER test, and they DO NOT require scores from both. That’s good news, because your student can figure out the test that ‘fits’ them best and focus on it. The ACT and SAT differ in design, but the main difference is that the ACT tests what a student has learned in school and the SAT tests logic and reasoning skills.

When should my student start taking the tests?

If you want to be totally ahead of the game, your student can use Sophomore year to figure out which test ‘fits’ them best. Most high schools give the pre-SAT October of 10th grade, and then you can have your student take the ACT spring of 10th grade and compare scores. Be sure to use an official comparison chart on either the ACT or SAT websites. If you have a Junior or Senior, don’t worry! Most colleges accept test scores well into Senior year, so figure out the right test for your student, consider their school and extra-curricular schedule, and then start the testing journey!

Should they ‘prep’? If so, how?

Remember that the word ‘prep’ simply means preparation. Most students benefit from some form of preparation as they take the ACT or SAT. These tests are totally different from a typical school exam, so preparing and knowing what to expect can’t hurt!

As far as how to prep...this looks different for everybody. There are free prep resources online, excellent face-to-face prep classes that cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, and everything in between. You need to research and find what’s right for your student’s personality and schedule.

How do I sign my student up to take the tests?

Become quite familiar with the official websites for the ACT ( and SAT ( These websites are fantastic resources for learning about upcoming test dates, cost, free sample questions and practice tests, test accommodation information, and FAQs you probably have.

Can a student take the test more than once?

Absolutely! Many students choose to take the ACT or SAT multiple times to try and maximize their score for admission and scholarship opportunities. Colleges do not penalize a student for sending multiple score reports. Or, you can choose to keep all scores private along the way and then send highest scores alongside college applications. Also, some colleges ‘superscore’ the tests: meaning they take the highest section scores across all your student’s test attempts and combine them into a ‘superscored’ composite. Look at colleges’ admissions webpages to learn a plethora of info about how they use scores.

Ok, so this is just the tip of the iceberg...have more questions? Contact me at and follow me on Facebook. I love helping parents feel less overwhelmed about all this stuff! I’ve been honored to help students in our area do their best on the ACT for many years.

Remember...breathing and getting good guidance can help take the anxiety out of testing!

Robi White


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