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.