8 SAT Test Prep Tips For A Busy Teen


How exactly do you help your teen study for the SAT or ACT tests when they barely have time to sleep!? We’re in that boat right now. My daughter is so busy as a junior we started calling her a ghost—she only comes out at night! She spends as much as 20 hours per week practicing with her Marching Band team. Then she might have 2-3 hours of study time for her school classes. Social time? What’s that?

mother daughter band busy teen kid carissa rogers goodncrazy


There are several options for standardized test prep but not everything is a good fit for an uber busy teen.

4 SAT Test Prep Options Pros and Cons

  1. In person test courses range from 18 to 30 hours of class time and cost between $1,000 and $1,600. They are mostly only in larger cities and cover in depth either the SAT or ACT. These are a great option if you have the time and money or your kid needs a huge help in test prep. That was never going to work for us. Partly due to cost and partly because there is just no way I can force her to attend additional ‘classes’ when she has so little time as it is.
  2. There are also moderated courses that take place online. Sort of like a webinar, you can participate from any computer with an internet connection but you must be there when the course is happening. The cost varies wildly but I found courses from $500 to $1000. The time commitment is less, but again the cost was more than we could afford.
  3. Another option is an online only course. There are several to choose from. You will probably see websites you recognize and others that are newer you might not. The price for online only (not moderated) courses can be as low as $299 and as high as $800. Most have a set access time. Usually 6 months for the subscription price.
  4. Free test prep websites do exist. Search the internet for possible options. Or ask your school’s guidance counselor. The SAT creators give out daily questions and practice exams. If your student is willing to put the time in on their own studying this could be a great option. But remember, you get what you pay for.

testrocker online test prep for a busy teen

We needed a solution costing under $1000. We also wanted a prep course comprehensive for the SAT and the ACT, one that could be utilized in small bursts—15 to 30 minute study blocks. Since we didn’t have time for the in person courses, we needed an online-only course to be mobile friendly and have plenty of visual (video) help.

We settled on the course. It fits all of the above criteria and costs $699 for a 6-month subscription. The graphics are fabulous and the video answers are very helpful. You can follow along our SAT Prep Journey over on my blog.

We’re learning fast what is most important when it comes to Test Prep and what not to stress about!

8 Test Prep Tips For A Busy Teen (You Might Be Surprised You Didn’t Know!)

  1. Determine Which Test is Best for Your Kid
    The ACT & SAT test slightly different skills. A lot of students will do better on the ACT simply because it is closer to what they are studying in class. Whereas the SAT is testing an aptitude; meaning innate ability, rather than knowledge acquired through classes. The essay requirement is much different and the grading of the two tests are also very different. The SAT give a penalty for guesses where the ACT does not. Learn more about deciding which is the right test for your child.
  2. Note the Test Dates and the Registration Deadlines and Schedule Appropriately
    Might sound silly but knowing when you are taking the test tells you a lot about how you need to prepare! There are several test dates during the school year but if you miss the registration deadline you’ll be in trouble. Finding a test date that doesn’t conflict with your kid’s busy schedule might be harder than taking the test! ACT TEST DATESSAT TEST DATES
  3. Make the Best of Study Time!
    The best advice I’ve gotten so far:

    “Sit down with your student during a test study session to see how long he or she can stay focused before wondering off for a snack or checking their phone. Is it 15-20 minutes? Then try to set a goal to stay focused for 20 minutes, then take a 5-minute relax break before going back for another solid 20 minutes of concentrated studying. That’s much more efficient than setting a 1-hour study goal session that turns into 30 minutes of looking at Facebook!”Suniti, Professional Test Prep Tutor and founder


  4. Find the Best Ways to Prepare for Each Section (ex. math, writing, critical reading)
    Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Take a diagnostic test to figure this out. TestRocker has a free diagnostic test that gives you a customized study plan.
    Solidify your understanding of the fundamentals. Score improvements jump significantly when students develop a strong understanding of concepts.
    Once you know the fundamentals, start practicing how to answer questions in under a minute.
    Keep bookmarking questions you find difficult so that you can come back to them later.
  5. Plan to Take the Tests More Than Once
    It is suggested that kids take the test as many as 3 times. Twice in the Spring of their Junior year and once in the fall of their Senior year. Taking both the SAT and the ACT at least once in case one is better for them than the other. Only the best score will be shown to colleges.
  6. Know the Difference in How the Sophomore PSAT to the Regular SAT Test?
    Be careful you don’t see your child’s PSAT test scores and think they did well enough, no need to study! The PSAT is only about 2/3rds of the size of the regular SAT and does not include the essay portion at all. The SAT math section is harder than the PSAT, it includes more Algebra 2. And the SAT test is more than an hour longer than the PSAT, so make sure your kid can focus that long.
  7. Practice VOCABULARY Words!
    It is possible to get better at the vocabulary sections, but it will take effort. Grab a free vocabulary list like Quizlet or Even better...challenge yourself to study the vocab lists with your teen! Spend 15 minutes every day in the carpool line, waiting for mom to pick you up or other down times.
  8. Secret Test Prep Tip from the experts at
    Surprisingly, don’t spend all your time taking practice tests! Instead, focus on the concepts. And use a 3 step formula:
    Learn (the concepts)
    Practice (answering questions by topic in under a minute)
    Apply (then do full length practice tests)


Not surprisingly as a mom of a busy teen there is really no way we could make all of this happen strictly on our own. Relying on a teenager to come up with a study system, register and plan in advance, study vocabulary and come up with a strategy for better essay writing is simply not realistic. (At least not for this mom and daughter combo.)  Finding a test prep course that fits your budget and time constraints might be one of the most important parts of your kiddo’s college entrance process.

I also found these two articles on test prep helpful to understand how the tests work and what is most important:

Disclosure: Carissa is testing out the Test Prep platform (say that 10x fast!) at no cost to her. Her opinions and stresses about helping her daughter get into college are all her own.

Featured image from Flickr

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Bio: In a former life, Carissa Rogers was a molecular biologist. In her current life, she is the chief researcher of bloggy karma, parenting dos (and some don’ts), new recipes, and for spice she pretends to be a photographer. She started blogging in February of 2008 and publishes her good & crazy thoughts on Find her on Twitter and Facebook.


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