Wednesday’s Parent: Ins and outs for standardized tests

Ins and outs for standardized tests. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Ins and outs for standardized tests. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Standardized tests are under close scrutiny as parents, students, teachers, governments and colleges question which ones to take or avoid. Across the country, parents are forming opt out movements for Common Core testing in primary and secondary schools. More colleges are providing SAT and ACT test optional admission applications. However, standardized tests are being used as a ubiquitous measurement of academic performance. Money and preferential admission offers may be attached when colleges seek to reward high scorers and entice them to attend. Scholarship dollars and bragging rights go to PSAT merit scholars. College credit may be earned from AP and IB tests.

Criticism surrounds the frequency, length, and effectiveness of standardized tests. Parents worry about the stress they put on their children. Teachers are concerned with testing influencing classroom teaching. Many people wonder if tests accurately measure what they set out to do.

Bottom line, a lot is riding on test outcomes. When students take them, they should be well prepared to do their best. Reducing stress by familiarity with how the test is graded and what it is used for is helpful. So is training for stamina by taking past tests. On test day, students can enter well rested, fed and stocked with necessary supplies, leaving most of their anxiety behind.

Parents can help with test prep by finding study materials, creating a quiet work space, and making sure routine time is blocked out for study. Sometimes, tutors are the way to go. Test-taking is a skill that children will find useful throughout life when they take a driving test, college placement test, and employment exam. For motivation, explain the benefits of a job well done.

Add some family fun into test prep. For example, make a game out of using vocabulary words and enjoy meal time conversations. Be sure to celebrate accomplishments and have something to look forward to after the test!

Read Suzanne’s post: Test Prep-The Key to the College Kingdom


This high school test means college money

Wednesday’s Parent: 7 standardized test survival tips


Don’t worry if you missed any great insights from Claire Griffiths and the #campuschat crew. Tips were coming fast about how to decide which test to take (SAT vs ACT), the differences in the test, and some great info about the new SAT coming this October! Go to #CampusChat Recap 4/22: SAT vs ACT with Claire Griffith and if you have more questions, tweet them using #campuschat.


Tonight is Wednesday’s Parent night (the fourth Wednesday of each month) on #CampusChat, Wednesday, April 22, 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will talk with Claire Griffith, manager and administrator of the Direct Hits PSAT, SAT, and ACT courses at Parents and students can also check out the fun to read Direct Hits Core and Toughest Vocabulary books. Please join @SuzanneShaffer and me-@pocsmom with our guest @directhitsfan and bring your questions and comments.

Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

The Parent’s Role in Test Prep: Passing the Academic Ownership Baton

Passing the Academic Ownership Baton. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Passing the Academic Ownership Baton. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

POCSmom is all about the parent role in the college process so it is with great pleasure that I’m sharing a guest post from test prep expert Lauren Gaggioli. As founder of Higher Scores Test Prep and host of The College Checklist Podcast (I’m Episode 23), Lauren provides her valuable insights to the parent role in test prep. Take it away, Lauren:

It is the student’s job to commit to a study program and achieve their higher scores. Period.

That may seem basic, but, as a tutor and online test prep mentor, I see a lot of parents trying to will their students into higher scores. They push. They prod. They plead. They fail.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that parents are the best cheerleaders in the world. I love seeing parents involved in the test prep process and highly recommend that they help their students on to test prep victory, but it has to be in a support capacity only.

Taking the SAT or ACT is one of the final rites of passage into adulthood.

If that sounds a little dramatic, let me ask you – What did you score? If you took either test, you probably know the answer to the question immediately.

That’s because these exams have far-reaching effects. College admission, merit-based financial aid, and a good deal of scholarship money are calculated with heavy weight given to exam results. Also, many life decisions are based on your alma mater – where you choose to live, your career trajectory, maybe even marrying a fellow alum.

If we don’t give these exams their due as a pretty important part of a student’s transition to adulthood, we miss the opportunity to teach our almost-adults who are about to embark on the college adventure without parental supervision how to take ownership of their academic journey.

Below are a few tips that will help you ease the transition and bring your student to the test prep table fully prepared (and maybe even excited) to rock out his or her very best score.

Notice that throughout this process you’ve gone from being the planner to preparing to hand off the reins to a more managerial position? You now help from afar but don’t get involved in the day-to-day minutiae of your student’s academic life.

The academic baton has been passed. For better or for worse, this is your student’s adventure. Let it be and enjoy the ride.

Before Junior Year

Take a College Visit  Preparing for the SAT or ACT without ever seeing a college campus is pretty silly. I mean, when was the last time you worked hard at something just for the heck of it? Take this trip before ever breathing a word about test prep and the exams.

Address Academic Challenges ASAP As soon as an issue bubbles to the surface, get help. If challenges are addressed in a spirit of problem-solving rather than a under the label of “you’re bad at [insert subject here]”, students be much more open to the process.

The Summer Before Junior Year

Set Your Testing Timeline Set an appointment with your student’s counselor at the end of Sophomore year to learn more about the exams and hear his or her suggestions regarding when your student should take the SAT, ACT, or both. If you need help with this step, I’ve created a free resource called the Test Prep Boot Camp for Parents. This will help you determine which test may be a good fit for your student and when you should take the exam. Learn more here.

Talk About Test Prep Options with Your Student I rarely see students included in this conversation and I think it starts the whole test prep process on the wrong foot. We need to empower our students to make good choices…so let’s do that! Their voices should be heard and their objections addressed so that families can find the test prep options that fit them best. (You can learn more about the ROI of test prep here.

Make a Plan & Commit Once you’ve talked through the options and weighed your considerations, make a plan and stick to it. I recommend typing up a simple contract (that the student actually agrees to) that everyone in the family signs. Together, you should decide what you the parent is responsible for (i.e. financial commitment with dollar amounts, limitations on how often you will check in on your student’s progress, vocabulary checkpoints for the SAT, and so on). Also, spell out what the student is responsible for (i.e. attend all sessions, complete all homework, take the real exam on a particular test date, stay in the night before that test date, etc.). Depending on your student’s motivation levels, it might be wise to have a retroactive financial commitment clause if he or she defaults.

Junior Year and Beyond

Help Find Inspiring Schools There are so many amazing colleges in the world. Sit with your student and do a little research, take virtual campus tours online together, and have your student create a list of a few schools that he or she is really excited about attending. Buy t-shirts, sweatshirts, or swag from online bookstores and help your student start connecting with his or her bright future by placing little reminders of it into everyday life. (Notice – schools. Plural. Having a few options takes pressure off students to fit the mold of one college.)

Execute the Plan (with Love and Understanding) Junior year is typically the craziest year of a student’s high school experience. The academics are challenging. College is on the horizon. Hormones are raging. The future is nigh, and our students are frazzled. During this time is important for you to remind your student of the commitment to the contract. It is imperative that students stay the course! When kids get disconnected from the “why” of test prep, they lose interest. Parents can help students get reconnected by dreaming big about the college experience and then diving into the details – in this case, test scores – that will get them there.


Lauren Gaggioli is the founder and head mentor of Higher Scores Test Prep, an online test prep company. To learn more about her test prep courses visit: or call (760) 814-9655.

Wednesday’s Parent: 7 standardized test survival tips

Egg Emoticons, photo by Kate Ter Haar, katerha

Egg Emoticons, photo by Kate Ter Haar, katerha

Parenting brings great joys and great challenges. This post is about one of the more stressful times in a child’s life. The terrible twos or the tween years can’t prepare students (or their parents) sufficiently for the pressures of taking standardized tests.

From achievement tests to college admission tests, schools are looking to measure and categorize student knowledge, abilities and potential for success. There’s a lot riding on the outcome for both the educator and the educated. Students can buckle under all that pressure.

However, parents don’t have to walk on eggshells around their emotionally fragile offspring. They can help their child with these seven standardized test survival tips:

  1. Calm nerves Familiarity goes a long way when it comes to dealing with a special exam. It takes away fear of the unknown and empowers the student by learning what to expect. Parents can make sure their child knows how long the test is, the types of questions, and the form answers should take so she knows what to do.
  2. Schedule rest Teachers advise that students get a good night’s sleep before an important test but parents can beat that standard. They can set a schedule that provides adequate rest every school night so students are regularly able to learn and function at their best.
  3. Follow the leader When teachers send home instructions and assignments, parents can see that students follow them. Helping is one thing but don’t fall into the trap of doing the work for the student. Teachers don’t and parents shouldn’t because they won’t be the ones taking the test.
  4. Prep for the test Sometimes there is no study prep for a test but other times there are practice exams. With the teacher’s approval, find them online, in school/public libraries and book stores. Take a couple together to better understand what your child will be doing and to show your support. The idea is to reduce a child’s stress (see #1), not add to it (see #5). Practicing may also improve his test score.
  5. Schedule some fun To reduce stress and put things into perspective, a little downtime goes a long way. Old and young can benefit from some rejuvenating fun. Review the schedule together and brainstorm some activities that will bring on the laughter and let go of the stress.
  6. Make a care package Parents send their college students care packages with items specifically chosen to help them through exam week. Parents can take the concept and apply it to their younger children. Create a “Test Care Package” full of your child’s favorite snacks, fruit, new pencils, highlighters, notepad, and a new mug. The last item is to encourage hydration. Add a stress-busting toy like bubble stuff, yoyo, or a stress ball and an encouraging note or inspirational saying.
  7. Provide back up Parents can show their support before and after the test. Provide a listening ear to your student and express your confidence in his abilities. When the exam is over, celebrate the accomplishment together!

Read on for Suzanne’s suggestions in her Wednesday’s Parent about standardized tests.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

SAT scam as a business

Cliché: Business as usual.    
POCS Reality: College admission testing is a big business.


The recent 60 Minutes interview with accused Long Island SAT cheater Sam Eshaghoff showed how cheating on the SAT can be run like a business.

Key elements are satisfying clients with reliable service and providing a good product. With 16 test-taking times worth of high SAT scores to boast, word of Eshaghoff’s success spread until it reached the ears of officials at his alma mater, Great Neck North High School, who notified the proper authorities. Arrests of both test taker and test hirers were made and charges filed.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice called the 19-year-old Emory University sophomore an “academic gun for hire” leading to a “huge fraud…lots of money changing hands, there were high stakes involved, and there was forgery; there was criminal impersonation.” She also described SAT scams as a nationwide “big business” that has been going on for decades with a big pay-off and little risk sometimes run by middlemen brokers who match test hirers with test takers.

How big was the money? Eshaghoff recieved an $1,100 tip for fees up to $2,500 and there were bidding wars for his service.

High scores on the SAT college admission test can increase chances for admission and eligibility for financial aid based on merit. Colleges seeking a diverse student body will not take all, even if qualified, students but high SAT scores can improve a schools’ ranking. As an inducement for sought-after students to attend, merit money can be offered.

Colleges are not informed when test results occur from SAT scams. Admitted students with fraudulently obtained higher scores can hurt honest, hard-working students when the former gets one of the few admission spots or a higher financial aid award.

According to the records of ETS, the test administrators, 3 million students take the SATs and 99% of them are honest or at least not found to be cheating. ETS is concerned there may be an overreaction to the SAT scandal.

READ more: SAT scam was a successful LI business

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: SAT scores are an important factor in the college admission process and warrant appropriate safeguards, reporting methods and penalties for fraud to protect the integrity of the college admission process. Sadly, such fraud seems to be a well-known local secret waiting to be publicized by courageous and honest students, parents, school officials and other community members.

The Dark Side of the SATs-Update

Cliché: Cheaters never prosper.    
POCS Reality: Colleges can use standardized test scores to offer admission and college scholarships.


The SAT cheating scandal is not just a criminal investigation anymore. A New York State Senate committee hearing will examine the Long Island cheating scandal that started with the arrest of a 19 year-old-college student for allegedly taking the tests for high school students.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, invited to testify/be a witness before NY Senate’s Higher Education Committee hearing scheduled for October 25 at Farmingdale State College include:

  • Kurt M. Landgraf, president and CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service
  • Gaston Caperton, president of The College Board
  • NassauCounty District Attorney Kathleen Rice
  • Bernard Kaplan, principal at Great Neck North High School
  • Robert Schaeffer, who runs FairTest, a longtime critic of the SAT.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Stakes are high because opportunities for college admission and money to pay for attending are involved. Colleges may use the SAT scores as part of their admission criteria and their institutional aid calculations to award money from their own funds. SAT cheating has an impact locally, state-wide, and nationally so safeguards and penalties should be appropriate.