How Early Should Parents Be Preparing Their Kids for Standardized Testing?

Despite the increasing number of colleges and universities that either do not require standardized test scores or make them optional for applicants, those schools remain in the minority. Actually, the larger trend is toward standardized testing flexibility, allowing applicants more choices and more control over which tests they take and which scores to submit. Therefore, expect standardized test scores to remain an integral part of the college application process for the foreseeable future. This leaves parents with the question of when and how to help their child prepare to take standardized tests. Based on your questions, here is our rough guide to successful preparation with minimal stress for yourself and your child.

First, here are a few major points about the trends that we're witnessing in standardized testing:

1. Successful test taking is an acquired skill.

Certainly, there are individuals who seem to simply have a talent for test taking. However, this is not most people. For most of us, the old adage of "practice makes perfect" still applies. Plan to set aside some time to help your child prepare not only for the content of the test but also the test taking environment. While this will likely mean sacrificing a handful of weekend days, the investment will pay off when your child is familiar with every aspect of the test taking process.

2. Application of knowledge will likely be increasingly emphasized in standardized testing.

In the Information Age, facts are at our fingertips. Therefore, expect standardized testing to incrementally but steadily move away from testing the information that is in your child's head to testing your child's ability to apply that information across a broad range of scenarios. Because of this, building logical reasoning and analytical skills has become crucial to preparing for standardized tests.

3. Preparing too far in advance may actually be counterproductive.

Standardized tests are evolving, so making a big investment when the test is more than a couple of years away may not be the best bet. If there's a radical redesign of the test (as happened recently with the SAT), then your child may become discouraged if there is a feeling that previous test prep was wasted. Instead, focus on broader skills and practicing test taking.

With these points in mind, we've created this guide for age-appropriate standardized test prep.

Elementary School -- At this age, the test is so far away that there's really no way to know exactly what form the test will take. Therefore, the best way to begin preparing your elementary school child for success in standardized testing is in setting a strong foundation in time and study management as well as cultivating a love of learning.

Junior High School -- In junior high, it's time to learn about the tests in a basic way. What are the tests called? What are the sections? How long is the test? Why do colleges ask that students take these tests? While it's still a little too early to begin organized studying for the tests, it is important for your child to be aware of them.

High School Freshmen and Sophomores -- This is the time to begin making a study plan with your child. With a schedule full of classes and extracurricular activities, standardized test prep is the easiest thing to procrastinate. Help your child make a long-term study schedule and stick to it. Also, it may be time to do a basic assessment of strengths and weaknesses in order to take advantage of any enrichment opportunities available.

Junior Year -- Based on your child's preferred school choices, now is the time to decide which standardized tests to take and settle on test dates.

While you shouldn't start practicing SAT flashcards with your child while they're still in elementary school, it's never too early to start thinking about the tests that may help them one day get accepted into their dream school. Create a solid educational foundation and provide support when the time comes to help your child succeed with standardized tests.

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.