Part One: Laying the Foundation
As a test preparation tutor, I often get asked by parents “What can I do at home?” to aid in the process. I appreciate the question as it gives me an opportunity to reinforce the idea that parents, school, and tutors are all support staff dedicated to the success of the student. To paraphrase astronaut Jim Lovell’s character in Apollo 13, students are the most visible member of a large team. To that end, we’re putting together this series on how parents can assist SSAT students at home in an effective, efficient way. Here, we’ll look at setting the foundation for SSAT success, before breaking down the SSAT into its Verbal, Reading, and Math sections and offering specific advice for parents.
A primary key to our students’ success is having the necessary rest to perform at their best. As Dr. William R. Stixrud says, “Rest is the basis of all things.” A well-rested student will have more emotional control and be able to make better decisions. When students (or parents or tutors) are less rested, they start to lose verbal retrieval: recent learning isn’t accessed nearly as well as it would be with the full recommended 8-9 hours. In fact, studies of athletic teams have revealed that sleep enables our brain to hard wire or more permanently fix the newly acquired or recently acquired skills.
While many of us know the importance of rest, putting adequate rest routines into practice can be a challenge. Often, these changes are built on small, individual decisions. Phones and other screens can be charged and left outside of rooms to eliminate night time distractions and reduce insomnia-triggering blue light. Software can be used to automatically shift computer and phone light a bit before bedtime. Routine is key in reminding our brains of our natural rhythms: lying clothes out, teeth-brushing, pet-care, and other mellow chores can be used intentionally to structure an evening and clue our brains to approaching sleep. Shifting from problem solving tasks (scheduling, math homework, etc.) to repetitive tasks or fiction reading can be helpful in getting our brains in a more passive, downtime mode.
Equally important, but perhaps more subtle, is the critical role of parents as a supportive, non-anxious presence for their kids’. This is something our president has written and spoken about extensively, including in a whole chapter of his most recent book. We want the student to know we are aware of some of the challenges they are facing, and we are there should they need help or a sounding board. Helping to create a calm, predictable environment will help the students to deal with the tough job of juggling school, tests, and general adolescence. It can also help them assert their growing independence as they realize the homework, project, or studying truly is their responsibility and not a task for mom or dad to force them to do or struggle with them to do.
Often, small changes in the language we use can make a big difference. Instead of asking a question like “have you done what you are supposed to do for the SSAT?,” consider asking “what can I do to help you meet your SSAT goals?” This can shift the dynamic from what we as adults expect of kids to how we can help them. This allows kids to perceive that what we as parents are doing is for them not to them.
While we think our advice on Reading, Verbal, and Math will help foster success, no job is more important for SSAT parents than to enjoy the time spent with their kids, to hold them in positive regard, and to let them know they are trusted to find their own path to success on the test and beyond.