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PSAT: To Panic Or Not

My son Jasper has PSAT’s on Wednesday and my daughter is suffering from SAT-PTSD. At dinner last night I asked Jasper how he was feeling about the upcoming test. Before he could answer, his sister Sydney, a senior, cried out, “Do we have to talk about SAT’s?!”

Over the past three years, Sydney has taken the PSAT twice, the SAT three times and the ACT once. Each time she does better. Incrementally better. But with all her prepping, her score is still not where she wants it to be. She can technically take it two more times before turning in her scores to college admissions this winter.

Jasper has watched his sister’s stress elevate. He has sympathized, endured her outbursts and even made her a special breakfast early one Saturday test-taking morning.

Jasper’s strategy is to go in unprepared. He thinks the results of the first PSAT will alert him to his weaknesses. He’ll deal with those then.

Sydney was not letting him get away with the nonchalant attitude. She wrestled him to the couch after dinner and went over each section of his College Board practice guide, giving expert guidance. She looked at me, worried. “I won’t be here when he applies to college.” She tried to give him a hug. He pushed her away. “It’s fine, since I won’t be panicking during the tests.”

An increasing number of colleges are now test optional.  They realize some kids are not good test takers. Graduation rates at colleges are growing as a measure of excellence, and high SAT scores are not the best predictor of a student’s ability to follow through for four long years.

“You gotta stress out a bit,” said Sydney.

I’m curious if keeping his cool will be beneficial to Jasper. Is it worth it to study for the PSAT? Experts differ on the value of test prep, especially if takes away from school work. Grades are still the most important thing.   

I have to think his will be healthier than Sydney’s approach, worrying and being nervous on the way to the test. It’s hard to know what to do as a parent. It always is. I can only look to my kids for guidance. And I think on Wednesday, we’ll just treat it as another day. No special breakfast, not talk about it. We’ll just hope he gets a good night’s sleep and does the best he can.

Enjoying College Tours With The Entire Family

My kids, Sydney and Jasper, have always loved road trips. From our base in Los Angeles, we’d take weekend trips and along the way, we’d always veer off to stop at any nearby college. Just to walk around, grab a meal in the cafe, or take in an art gallery. Were we pushing the idea of college too soon, too young? We thought we were just getting them used to the idea that one day they would be going to college. Or maybe we were being pushy.

When Sydney was a tenth grader, she and I took our first mother-daughter road trip. The explicit goal was to look at colleges in Northern California. We didn’t sign up for formal tours, just walked around as we always had, this time with her interest peaked. Could she see herself living in Santa Cruz or Berkeley?

This past spring, Sydney was a junior and Jasper a freshman. Sydney wanted to visit East coast schools. Since I grew up in Baltimore and my husband was from New York, we decided to make it a family vacation. To keep things affordable, we stayed with friends and family, some of whom we’d never met. This time we booked formal tours. Which meant we followed along with the student guides, wincing as they stumbled backward while explaining all the pros and a few of the cons of their schools.

I was thrilled how willingly friends and family opened their homes to us and fed us and drove us to the tours. We never needed to rent a car. We traveled on trains, buses, and subways. Getting to know relatives we had never even met was a wonderful bonus. There seems to be something about the college quest that opens an easily shared bond, especially with the parents who had been through it with kids of their own. We dined in college cafes and had a great time. But it was exhausting; the tours lasted two to three hours so we couldn’t do more than two in one day.

Jasper didn’t want to think about college yet, but he was a good sport. He toured every college with us except for one woman’s college, where my daughter did the tour with her aunt. That day Jasper and I hung out at a cafe, threw rocks in the stream and kicked a ball around the soccer field. When I asked him which college had impressed him the most so far, he said Columbia University. It was the only one where the tour guide didn’t walk backward, so he didn’t have to worry about them tripping.

Then, on a formal tour of a nearby college last weekend, our tour guide fell backward over a low wall. Jasper shook his head and whispered, “I’m not applying here.”

It’s so hard to pick a college. But it’s never too early to establish criteria. Walking forward is a good start.

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