The simple, stress-free world I live in before college applications and test preparation

“Dad, I want a tutor.”

“A tutor? You’re a straight A student. What’s the problem?

“All my friends are getting tutors.”

“So? What are they getting tutors for?”

 “For the ACT/SAT. If they are getting tutors, I need to get one, too.”

With this simple exchange a year ago, I was unceremoniously thrust into the world of ACT/SAT test preparation and all the attendant stresses and costs.


Like many who find themselves in the same situation, I was without a clue about what to do. I did, however, have a definite point of view: I did not want my daughter, an intelligent and diligent student, to lose sight of her accomplishments, her demonstrated ability to learn and focus herself on a number and not a process.


I reached out to the parents of my daughter’s friends – the ones engaging the tutors. Many of those I spoke with were primarily motivated by the simple desire that their child score as high as possible (and higher than her peers) on the dreaded test. The direct academic development of their child in preparing for the tests did not figure into their calculations. Essentially, I was told that while the only thing that doing well on the SAT meant was that one knew how to take the SAT, it was a critical factor in getting into the best schools. And that is why these parents decided to spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on tutors for their children.

These parents clearly loved their child and wanted to give her every advantage in getting into a “good school.”

I loved my daughter just as much as these parents loved their children. I was not, however, ready to concede that ACT/SAT test preparation required a tutor nor the abdication of a deeper academic purpose.

Launching into internet research mode, I found, to my frustration, that much of the information out there focused on raising scores absent any fundamental approach to learning for learning’s sake.

This, in spite of the fact, that there is significant data to suggest that doing well on the ACT/SAT is not an indication of past or future academic success and not remotely correlated with future business or financial achievement.

I am deeply ambivalent about test preparation:  performing well on these standardized tests is apparently critical to the college admissions process and ignoring this reality is foolish; yet giving up on deep learning and personal development in the process of preparing has no integrity.

Right now we are presented with two choices: buy into the chase for high scores or opt out of the testing game.

I believe there is a third choice: use the tests as an opportunity to enhance our children’s ability to solve problems and think critically. We can change the goals (from high scores to deeper understanding and problem solving ability) and thereby the methods of preparation. Increased scores will be a by-product of this approach and more importantly, we will be equipping our daughter to problem solve, think independently and take responsibility for the results she wants to achieve in her life.