Five Damaging Remarks Well-Meaning Parents Make

I recently posted the five characteristics of supportive parents, adapted from The Zen of the SAT by Susan Fine. Now it’s time to look at Susan Fine’s five damaging remarks well-meaning parents make. Sadly, I see that I have been guilty of at least three of the five damaging remarks, regarding tests in general. I plan on keeping this article handy as a reminder of what not to say to my sons!

1. “Don’t worry about it…It’s no big deal.”

A parent telling a teenage child not to worry about the SAT/ACT is like a general telling a soldier not to fear going to battle. It is easy for some parents, who have long since cleared these hurdles, to make light of them. “That test is so stupid. You’ll do fine,” is another way of saying: your concerns are silly. Now, in addition to the burdens of dealing with the test itself, your child may also feel foolish for being concerned.

Being dismissive of something that deeply affects another person is not a helpful way to make him or her less concerned. The words may be temporarily reassuring, but the implied message can be insulting. Perhaps parents do this because they can’t deal with seeing their children feel such acute anxiety and they feel unable to help. When your child was little, you could give him/her a hug and a kiss and make troubles go away. But the SAT/ACT is a challenge you can’t solve for your child.

2. “What did you get on your practice test?”

This question may seem fair, but it is not. If your child is preparing for the SAT/ACT and practicing weekly, you want to know how the practice is going. But, it is a loaded question. We all want to please our parents. We can’t help it. Even if you act pleased with the results, your child may feel that you are not pleased or that you shouldn’t be. Practice tests are just that – practice. Too much scrutiny of practice test results creates anxiety and can limit improvement. Of course, parents do need to be involved and should ask questions. However, parents should not focus on a specific practice test score. Scores fluctuate. Sometimes they are high; sometimes they are lower. Please emphasize the positive that you are proud that your child is practicing, and do not focus solely on one week’s scores.

3. “X is about as high as you can realistically expect to score.”

In an effort to make your child less anxious, you may try to lower your child’s expectations. However, these comments can feel like a lack of faith in your child. Also, you may not really know what your child is capable of doing.

The best bet is to set REALISTIC goals and to discuss with your child what he/she will have to do to achieve these goals. (If you need WilsonPrep to help you and your child create realistic goals, based off of diagnostic or PSAT/PLAN scores, please email us at info@wilsonprep.com.)

4. “That’s good, but you can do better.”

Some parents believe that by withholding their approval they can make their child try harder. This sort of behavior may make your child perform in the short run, but, in the long run, the lack of approval may undermine your child’s confidence.

5. “You’re just not a good standardized test taker.”

This comment is akin to “We’re just not good at math in this family.” It expresses the idea that doing well on the SAT/ACT or in particular subjects is inherited or fated at birth and that doing poorly runs in the family. Of course, there are differences in how people do on standardized tests (or in math classes), but a parent’s promoting the notion that a child just isn’t good at standardized tests may be the best way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy and to destroy any motivation to try to do well. I have seen too many students (and even students who originally said that both they and their parents don’t do well on standardized tests) make enormous improvements on the SAT/ACT. Those students who are confident are the students who show the greatest increase!

Narrowing the College Search

There are thousands of colleges and universities to choose from. Start by eliminating schools that do not meet your standards.

Consider the following criteria when first beginning your college search:

• Regional Location
• Setting (Urban or Rural)
• Enrollment Size (20,000 or 2,000)
• Academic Program
• Admissions Criteria

Admissions criteria should be the LAST thing to consider in your college search. Do not rule out schools that you’d love to go to simply because you think you won’t get in. Of course, be reasonable – if you’re a C+ student you most likely won’t get into Harvard, nor would you be happy there. But plan to apply to several “reach” and several “safety” schools.

Signs that it Won’t Last

Remember, this is a committed relationship. You want four years of happiness…

You Don’t Like the Campus.

The school is great. The program is strong. The students seem enthusiastic. But the campus just doesn’t “feel right.” Be it the urban setting, the drab architecture or the lack of landscape, if you don’t feel right on campus follow your instinct. Remember, you’ll be looking at that treeless campus and ugly building for four years!

The Social Scene isn’t You.

Let’s be honest: there are academic institutes and there are party schools. If you spend time with the student body and realize that more students show up for the “keg fest” than for algebra class, maybe you should reconsider… The best way to figure out the social scene is to spend a night or weekend on campus.

You Can’t Find the Faculty.

If you’ve tried to contact faculty members (via phone, email or during office hours) and they haven’t responded, be wary. College is not just about learning, but about establishing a career network. You want faculty members who can provide recommendations for future jobs/scholarships.

Students Don’t Stay.

A school might “look” great, but if students are leaving after a year or not graduating, there may be a problem. Learn the percentage of students who return after freshman year and the percentage of students who remain to graduate.

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