Need advice on a 14 year-old taking the SAT
January 21, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Our son, who's in eighth grade, is scheduled to take the SAT this Saturday but he's not enthusiastic at all. I gave him a review book and he said he didn't know how to do many of the problems. We scheduled him for the test at the urging of his principal who believes he can qualify for the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) because he got a perfect score just recently on an ACT exam and she knows my son quite well because it's a very small grade school. I don't think he has much to lose and a lot to gain but I think he's just plain petrified of taking the test and would skip it if we let him. That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal. Any words of wisdom you can offer?
posted by qsysopr to Education (72 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal.

Well, that's a pretty good reason to be petrified of failure. Is he even interested in IMSA?
posted by jon1270 at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [55 favorites]

Your son knows you'll be disappointed. You're the obstacle here to your son's success, not your son himself.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2014 [18 favorites]

That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal.

In the nicest way possible, it's not about y'all.

he said he didn't know how to do many of the problems

That's entirely possible. There's "intelligence" and then there's "knowing how to do math that one never covered in school", and while maybe related, they are very different things.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Is anyone actually tutoring him for this exam, or even in the basics of what the exam covers? I've had to take all sorts of qualifying exams to get into this or that program since I was maybe 10 or 11, and there was always someone to actually guide me through the process of studying for the exam. Sometimes it was a class in school specifically aimed at taking the test, other times, my family sent me to a tutoring center (or just hired a private tutor for a half-dozen sessions.)

If this test is just a big black box and it's clear to him that basically all the important adults in his life will be disappointed by his failure to do something no one adequately prepared him to do, that's a whole hell of a lot of stress on a kid, and it's not surprising at all he doesn't want to take it.
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal. Any words of wisdom you can offer?

Your son may believe his identity and self-worth (and possibly his worthiness of your love and approval) are derived from what he does, rather than who he is. For kids like this (and I was one of them myself), the emotional and psychological risk of not doing something well is enormous -- there is a terror that not being good at something immediately will render them unlovable.

I am positive that this is not the message you wish to send to your child. So please, take his fear as a signal that your son has far more important needs than your need to not be disappointed.
posted by scody at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [55 favorites]

He's not afraid of taking the test. He's afraid that the outcome will disappoint you.
posted by sciencejock at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

I think it might be helpful to have a nice talk about keeping as many doors open as possible as he explores the topics he enjoys learning. If he wants to attend IMSA, then taking the test is a way of keeping that door wide open. (Contrarily, I would avoid injecting any negative language like saying a door would close. He's young and sounds like he has a lot of opportunities.)
posted by mochapickle at 12:47 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just an anecdote. I have always tested very well. I missed out on all the programs for middle schoolers who take the SAT because I was at a Montessori school during those years. I attended an Ivy League college, am now going to medical school in my 30s, and have generally had the liberty to do whatever I wanted academically, money aside for a moment. My intellectual life from 8th grade to college was every bit as rich as that of the kids who were in all those programs. I took the the SAT exactly once, as a junior.

13 is old enough to have some say, according to me, though I am not a parent.
posted by skbw at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Most colleges in the Midwest will take ACT in lieu of SAT scores. Can you call the program and ask if his perfect ACT score would acceptable?
posted by florencetnoa at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I first took the SAT around that age to get into a summer camp for gifted and talented youth. However I had also had taken the PSAT a couple of times so it was no big deal for me by that point. IMSA is not expecting him to get a perfect score. Honestly I don't even think I would ask him to review any material. He's likely been taking standardized tests since he was in 2nd grade - the SAT is just another standardized test. Instead of test prep I might focus on working through what he should expect that day (IE, the testing process), that he won't know all the answers, and he should just answer the ones he can.

Does your son want to attend IMSA in the first place?
posted by muddgirl at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

What are his friends doing? If he's not particularly motivated by 'success' however that is defined then he's probably very concerned that doing this test will separate him from his peers.
posted by sid at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2014

Unless he's been studying way ahead of his grade level, of course he's not going to know how to do a lot of the problems, especially the math ones. And of course he's feeling under pressure, because he can perceive you pressuring him. Yes, even if it's "for his own good." That's still an awful place to be as a kid. He's afraid that if he fails the test he'll be failing you.
posted by rtha at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I never took the ACT, so don't know how it relates to the SAT, other than that some colleges accept it, so i thought it was equivalent?

I took the SAT in 7th or 8th grade and was amused that i beat some of the HS kids in my neighbourhood on the math section.

If you take all the pressure off and reassure him that the score doesn't matter at all and its just practice for taking it in high school. maybe he'd take it, but i wouldn't push it.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:50 PM on January 21, 2014

The best thing to do would be to lighten up the pressure. "Just do your best, son, and we'll be proud of you no matter what the outcome." If he's taking it on Saturday there's not really all that much time to prepare and his nerves are going to be just as much of a problem as a lack of studying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:50 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also: I gave him a review book and he said he didn't know how to do many of the problems.

When did he get the book? What happened after he told you that? Did anyone address it?
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

I actually know some folks who went to IMSA (and I desperately wanted to go but my parents wouldn't let me) and honestly, none of them are, like, Super Duper Rocket Scientists Transforming The World. I'm not saying that it isn't worthwhile to go - everyone enjoyed it and made great friends, they're all smart people doing perfectly well in life - but if you're worried that your son will miss some imperative educational advantage if he doesn't go to IMSa, that just isn't the case.

Has he visited? Does he like it? Are any of his friends going? Does he want to leave his existing friend group?
posted by Frowner at 12:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

(I add that it was a pretty intense thing to go to IMSA - everyone I knew was a boarder, they lost touch with their friends from their regular school and it was a pretty big deal socially. (I only connected back up with people years later.) Unless your son is really into the idea of going or your local school is just a total dump, you shouldn't push him.)
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Did you just hand him the book and ask him later how it went, or did you sit down and go through it with him?

I took the SAT in 7th grade for academic reasons (advanced math and computer science placement in 8th grade), but nobody actually told us what it was for. I think we were told it was for a study that would be compared to our "normal" SAT seating in high school to see how the test was working. It was very much stressed that we were not going to know a lot of the answers. (Now, if he already knows that admission to IMSA is based on this exam, you can also point out that they will be scoring this test for 8th graders, not high school juniors, and nobody's expecting 11th-grade performance here.)

It did, in fact, make taking it again in high school SO much lower-stress.

I would see if he will agree (with some kind of enthusiasm and not just to please you) to try it just as an experiment and so that it will be less stressful when he takes it again in high school.

I didn't know what IMSA was until just now. He may be afraid he will be forced to go if he qualifies, you might want to talk about that with him.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:55 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, did you help him prep for this test in any way? I took virtually all those tests (SAT, ACT, GRE) with almost no prep and did very well, but I was astounded to learn that most people do significant practice first. Most kids who are going into this test will have practiced a bunch, and they will have had help practicing.

One reason I never prepped for anything was that my parents were totally unfamiliar with the social practices around tests, school admission, etc, and tended to assume that I would just go in cold and do fine. I generally did, but it was always scary, I did not do as well as I could have and there were times when I failed horribly without understanding that all the other kids had been preparing and had help.
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I took the SAT when I was in seventh grade. I was "gifted". I got (I think) a 930. My dad was all upset and kind of freaking out because 930 isn't a good score and I was the smart one, but I was 12 so who cares. What it did do was unlock a lot of nerd camp opportunities for me that I would otherwise not have known about and therefore not have attended. It also let me go into taking the SAT for realsies when I was older knowing that, well, at least I was going to do better than a 930.

Here are the important takeaways:

-This means absolutely NOTHING. How he does on the SAT as an eighth grader is completely irrelevant to life, the universe, etc.

-It could potentially give him the opportunity to do cool things if he wants to.

-There is no downside.

That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal.

Kindly, get the fuck over it. This kind of attitude is damaging for a kid to hear. (Which I know because I lived it.) You need to reframe this and think of it as a neat, interesting experience, like going to see the symphony. Something that not a lot of 14 year olds get to do, something that might seem pretty boring on the face, but something that overall might enable you to grow as a person.

If you want, your kid can email me and I'll tell him about how I did this when I was his age and how it was in the long run a good choice for me. It's my username at gmail.
posted by phunniemee at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2014 [25 favorites]

Oh, I meant to put in my previous answer that I didn't study for the test at all when I took it as a kid. My parents gave me tons of prep books and computer games that I kind of poked at but ultimately didn't bother with. DON'T MAKE YOUR KID STUDY FOR THE SAT WHEN HE'S 14 THIS IS SO POINTLESS YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW AAARUHGHGHHEH!!#$!@
posted by phunniemee at 1:01 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I went down this exact road at the same age. I was invited to take the SAT in seventh grade by the Duke Talent Search program, which led to various other gifted kid opportunities.

Here's my advice.

Don't make him study for it. This isn't a make or break life or death situation. Don't look at this as a Thing that will shape the rest of his future, and which he must Prepare For so that he can Do His Best. Pressuring him about this will not do anyone any good, and is basically guaranteed to make him resent something (whether that's you, school, gifted kid stuff, academics in general, the real round of SATs he'll have to take to get into college, or whatever).

Don't view his score on the test as a success or failure type of thing. It's just a test. Frankly, one of the best things about all my various standardized test taking years in advance of the college admissions process is that I was able to see it all for what it really was. I'd taken it before (twice, actually), knew what to expect, and knew what range of scores were possible for myself and what that would mean. If you frontload this SAT experience as The SAT Experience and get all intense about it, he will not even be able to derive that benefit from it. It will just be a giant stressball fear of failure situation, forever. Which is really not what you want.

Another great thing about not over-preparing or putting too much pressure on it is that, after I took the SAT and scored better than anyone expected, I got to feel good about myself, rather than feeling like I'd just squeaked by.

Any school or program that would use these scores is not going to expect to see college admissions level scores. Anywhere that does is probably not a program you want to consider seriously.

I ultimately attended a state math and science school, so I will also give you a little advice about that, especially vis a vis the testing.

Every class started out with a few kids who were not enthusiastic about being there, but were doing it because their parents thought it would be a good opportunity. Those kids were almost universally miserable, and a lot of them acted out in ways that were more disruptive to their educations than if they'd just stayed home. A school like this can confer a lot of advantages, but it isn't necessarily the best solution for your particular kid.

I went to my state math and science school because I was desperate to go there. Not to get in, not to be Smart, not to find Opportunities. I wanted to attend the school. While there might have been some Prestigious Opportunities that I had which wouldn't otherwise have been available to me, I honestly couldn't even tell you what they are. I probably would have gotten into the same colleges from my original high school. I was exposed to an a world class high school education, but in quantifiable terms, my life as an adult is largely the same as what any person from any high school could achieve.

Reasons I'm happy I went to the state math and science school:

- Miserable at my original school.
- Exposed to ideas and academic material I would otherwise not have learned about.
- Made friendships that have lasted half a lifetime.
- Enjoyed living and working in a setting where everybody actually LIKED things and was passionate about stuff and wanted to be there.
- Was somewhat more free to dork out about things than the typical high school experience provides.
- Met people from very different walks of life than I was used to as a small town upper middle class white kid at a parochial school.
- Got to do a lot of fun creative stuff kids at traditional high schools don't often get introduced to (such as writing and directing my own plays).

I'll leave it to you whether this matches what your kid is about, and what your goals are for your kid.

TL;DR: Do not pressure your kid to study for a test to get into a school for Status reasons. It will not achieve the desired result.

Oh, and for chrissakes don't TELL him that anything related to this test would "disappoint" any adult figure in his life.
posted by Sara C. at 1:04 PM on January 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

A lot of excellent advise here already. One way you might phrase it, if you have the chance in the conversation(s) that you really need to be having, though, is to explain to him that people take the SATs more than once all the time. That most people who do so get demonstrably higher scores the next time because they are used to the structure and experience of the test itself. And that this is a good chance for him to get a feel for it now, so he'll have more flexibility in his choices a few years later when he'd be taking it to help with college admission. (If he wants to go to college, that is.) You have to make it clear that it's within his power now to give himself the possibility of blowing off boring things later, when he's a hipper, older teen with lots of cool things to do.
posted by Mizu at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

he said he didn't know how to do many of the problems

I'm not a parent, so I won't opine on the parent-student disappointment dynamics, but the ACT and the SAT are not identical. The ACT covers more subjects, while the SAT just covers math, writing and reading/vocab/verbal, but the SAT has a somewhat different (and I think trickier) way of asking questions.

So, basically, kids who do well on one test do not necessarily do well on the other test and what your son is saying is probably perfectly true.
posted by andrewesque at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The only thing is, if your kid isn't studying for it and is part of a pool where everyone else has studied, and if he feels like it's some kind of referendum on how smart he is, you need to talk to him about it a LOT. If he, like, gets a good score for a smart kid going in cold, but everyone else gets good scores for kids whose parents did lots of prep with them and he does not realize how much this affects outcomes, he may not feel very good about the whole thing. (Ask me how I know!)

If he wants to get into IMSA and if doing well on the SAT is integral to getting into IMSA, it makes sense to study. If the purpose is purely to see how he does without studying and it doesn't really matter if he goes to IMSA or not, make sure he really, REALLY knows that.

Also, my high school crush was totally destroyed by not quite getting into IMSA - she took it as a huge referendum on her intelligence (even though she was totally smarter than some of the people I knew who went) and it did a huge number on her self esteem and general non-depression. Be super, super careful about this kind of stuff and how kids are going to handle it.
posted by Frowner at 1:07 PM on January 21, 2014

This all came about in just a few weeks and he hasn't had a chance to visit. My wife and I have just been gently urging him to take the test and do the best he can. I don't think I've been pressuring him. I found the book at a library in a discard area and it was like $1. I suggested he take a look at it. About a week later I asked him about it and he said he couldn't do the problems. Well I wasn't surprised the SAT is for juniors in High School for crying out loud! I didn't force him to study for the SAT, it was just gentle urging to look at the review book.

If he doesn't go to IMSA, he'll go to a mediocre public high school although he went to Montessori pre-school and kindergarten, and two outstanding Catholic schools for grades 1-8.
posted by qsysopr at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2014

I gave him a review book and he said he didn't know how to do many of the problems.

Seriously? The kid is 14 years old, and you "gave him" a review book, for the SAT, there is less than a week until the test, and it's confusing why he is resistant and freaked out?

It's a mystery why he says he doesn't know how to do many of the problems, given many of the problems are from year-long math classes that kids usually don't take until they're several grade levels beyond where he is?

Did you take the SAT yourself? Do you know that kids often study for months for the SAT, with the assistance of their parents, tutors, and even semester-long classes?

If you pressure your son to take an exam, upon which you clearly are placing a lot of importance, and you have clear expectations for his performance on the exam (in this case, that he will do well enough to enter the special school), then you should provide him adequate preparation support. Tossing a "review" book at him a week beforehand ain't it.
posted by cairdeas at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

P.S. I took the SAT at 12 and also scored well enough to get into nerd camp, so this isn't the opinion of someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. My parents did not pressure me at all about the SAT, and I'm not sure if they even knew the reason why I wanted to take it.
posted by cairdeas at 1:13 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, looking at the IMSA - this is not his last chance to apply, correct? He can apply again as a 9th grader and not miss anything?

My approach would be that this year is a "practice" exam and application process. This should be a very low-stress situation for him and you, your wife, and his counsellor should be actively trying to make it so. Ask him why he's scared. Ask him what you can do to help.
posted by muddgirl at 1:14 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think I've been pressuring him.

Have you asked him?

Just as when you say "I don't think he has much to lose and a lot to gain but I think he's just plain petrified of taking the test and would skip it if we let him," there's an awful lot here about what you think, and pretty much nothing about what he thinks.
posted by scody at 1:14 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing the "no prep" and "no downside" approach here, and the fact that there is no way he will know how to do all the math problems at his age. No one is expecting him to.

This should, at worst, be a waste of a day, not a thing to be scared about.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2014

What your 14 year old child needs to hear is that no one will be disappointed in him if he doesn't want to take the exam, or if he takes the exam and does poorly on it, or if he doesn't get into a fancy school, or if he gets into a fancy school and doesn't want to go, or if he cries, or if he's afraid, or if he's not as smart as other people seem to think he is, or if he is as smart as other people think he is but chooses not to use his smarts in the way that other people want him to. He needs to know that you will love him and support him and do whatever you can to make his life as awesome as possible, even if what he thinks is awesome isn't the same as what you want him to think is awesome.

I would sit him down and ask him whether he wants to take the test. Is he interested in going to a special school? Does he feel better about taking the test when you tell him that you'll be proud of him just for trying it out even if he gets every single answer wrong? Does he know that he can go to regular school and be happy and successful there? And have you made it clear to him that all of this is his choice, and if he doesn't want any of it, no one is going to force him to go to a special school far away from home?

Your son needs to know that you love him and are proud of him because he is funny and cool and brave and has great ideas and is kind to people and because he is your child and you will always love him and be proud of him no matter what he does or doesn't do. Because if he is getting even a whiff of the message that you and his mom and his principal will be disappointed in him if he skips the test or doesn't qualify for the school or for any other reason related to his performance on this test, I think it's totally understandable that he doesn't want to take it. Your follow up is making it clear that, whether you mean to or not, you're putting a ton of pressure on your son's tiny shoulders (if he doesn't do well on the test, he'll have to go to "mediocre" high school? You've been "gently urging" him to do work he has no idea how to do in order to prepare for a test he doesn't want to take that will determine the course of the next several years of his life? That's pressure. A ton of pressure. Enough to break a child.)

Make sure your kid knows that he doesn't have to get a good score on this test or go to boarding school in order to make you proud of him. Because it sounds right now like he's really worried about disappointing people, and he needs to know that you're proud of him and love him and aren't the least bit disappointed if he's afraid to do this and isn't ready yet.

(I took the SAT in 7th grade. I got into and attended a very competitive boarding school, and I flourished there. I would not have done either of those things if there had ever been a point where I felt as though my parents and teachers would have been disappointed in me if I hadn't done well. I would have cracked under that pressure. Which is, I suspect, what is happening to your son right now.)
posted by decathecting at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2014 [21 favorites]

Oh, and to speak specifically to "knowing how to do the problems" and IMSA admissions specifically.

It is unlikely that they are looking for students who already have taken upper level math. I can't speak for Illinois (I went to a similar school in a much less educationally-focused state), but in a lot of cases schools would not even offer trig, calculus, and the like to kids at a junior high level. It is not going to surprise the admissions folks at IMSA that your son's math skill level is somewhere around typical for a bright 14 year old in the state of Illinois.

They're looking for aptitude, not specific skills learned.

(FWIW I am only barely adequate at math and got into my state MSA school just fine.)
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2014

Unless you guys are somehow capable of totally concealing this from your kid:

That however would greatly disappoint my wife, me, and the principal.

then this:

My wife and I have just been gently urging him to take the test and do the best he can.

...doesn't hold much water, realistically speaking and regardless of your intentions.

"If your best isn't good enough to a standard no one helped you comprehend, then we'll all be very disappointed in you" is a really, really stressful message to send to a 14-year-old kid.
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

You think you're not pressuring him (and I'm sure you intend to not do so), but you say that you and his mother and his principal will all be greatly disappointed. If he's as smart as you think he is, he has totally picked up on this.
posted by rtha at 1:24 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Here's a question that might seem slightly out of left field; how's your son doing socially at his current school?

I ask this because the one big huge thing that taking the SAT early qualified me to do was go to CTY in the summer. As a nerdy kid slowly realizing that most of my hometown friends had very different interests from me, CTY was a godsend. I met my best friend for most of high school there, and we're still close now. Lived far apart then, still do, but we've always made a point of seeing each other over the winter holidays, if nothing else. This year was the first time in ten years we haven't met up in late December.

But here's the thing; I couldn't have articulated the void CTY went on to fill for me at 11 or 12. (By the time I went to camp in high school the things I was lacking socially felt a lot clearer.) My parents put absolutely no pressure on me to do well, just said "hey, here's this cool opportunity you qualify for, want to give it a try?" I had no prep books or software, and most of the math went over my head. (Though I may not be a great person to talk here, because I had huge math-verbal disparities on the 'real' SAT in high school too.) I have no clue how any of my friends who took the test early, both in my hometown and among the folks I met later at CTY, scored; that just wasn't a thing we talked about. Outside of CTY, the test had no bearing on my life whatsoever.

So if your son is basically okay with his social life as it stands now, or isn't in a position to really articulate what he's lacking, he may just not see a point in taking the test. In all of my "nerd camp" experiences, the happiest kids there were always the ones who went there of their own accord. The kids who were seemingly under lots of parental pressure always seemed miserable and less likely to take advantage of the fun, non-academic aspects of the camps.

Nerd camps and schools change lives for the better--I think I speak for myself and several of my friends when I say this--but you have to really want that change.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:27 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Loooooots of people who go to "mediocre" high schools go on to fantastic careers in science and technology. Lots.

Tell him he doesn't have to review, he really doesn't have to take the test if he doesn't want but even if it doesn't change what school he goes to it's a head start on knowing what to expect when he has to take it for real so that *that* time he won't feel stressed out about it. If you're sure what he already took was the ACT and he actually pulled a perfect score on any section of it at his age, he'll pretty much have his pick of colleges, don't burn him out now by pushing it.

The worst thing for bright kids is parents pushing too hard between the ages of 13-18. I know literally dozens of people who hit burnout hard in college because they'd been working so hard for so long to live up to parental expectations. He's got nearly another decade left before he's done, more if he turns out to be the sort of person who wants to go to graduate school--the next four years are not the most important ones to stress out over.
posted by Sequence at 1:27 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I took the SAT (actually, the PSAT) for the first time in 10th grade, and because I was falling a bit behind in math at that point (I caught up, massively), I didn't know how to do a lot of the problems. Actually, it was a pretty jarring experience for me to not have scored in the 99th percentile on a standardized test before.

Also, I didn't take the SATs in 8th grade, and I feel I did miss out on the option of having many of the opportunities that came from that.

I am sure your son is petrified, but you overcome petrification through familiarity. He needs to practice, with your guidance.
posted by deanc at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2014

I am going to believe that when you say disappointed in your question, you don't mean disappointed that he didn't ace every test and get into every school and be a genius, but rather disappointed that he isn't choosing to take advantage of the opportunities you're trying to give to him. But the twist of it is, just like nearly everyone here is (maybe) misinterpreting this, so is your kid. This is too fine a distinction of pressure, too much hope that he'll automatically see himself from your perspective, and too few clear messages of unconditional support. By being gentle and suggesting and waiting a week for follow up, you're not providing clarity. He doesn't have all the information you have.
posted by Mizu at 1:31 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

[This is a response from an anonymous answerer.]
I attended IMSA in the early 2000s and had a wonderful experience in every way. As you're imagining for your son, however, I went to IMSA skipping my freshmen grade (a "shmen," as we called it), and I would not recommend it. Throughout my years at IMSA and worse in college I felt distinctly younger than my peers. My younger brother attended IMSA after going to our local, good but not fantastic high school for his freshmen year, and I think he benefited from that year.

Note also that since IMSA takes far fewer shmen than regular students (at my time something like 40 out of a class of 200), the admission requirements for attending IMSA as a shmen are substantially higher. Your son's odds of getting in are higher if he applies next year.

I would echo muddgirl and have him take the SAT as a 'practice' exam. He can take it again this fall after the summer if he doesn't do well. Besides, he only has a week -- what on earth can he learn in that time that would substantially change his results?
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

The best gift my parents gave me was the power to make my own decisions from a relatively young age. You should present him with all objective information, and then allow him to decide whether or not to take the test at all (that you would be disappointed if he did not is 100% irrelevant). Make sure he knows that taking the test or not taking it are both perfectly acceptable options. If he does decide to take the test, make sure he knows that the score doesn't matter to you and you love him regardless.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:37 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I went through something similar when I was young: I decided to apply to my state's special math and science school - not because I really wanted to go, but because I was smart, everyone told me I was smart, and going to the smart-kid school seemed almost like an obligation. I signed up to take the required SAT, but I chickened out the night before the test. Later on, I ended up going to my state's Governor's School summer program, which was one of the best experiences of my life, and which I wouldn't have been eligible for if I'd attended the math and science school. So in a roundabout way, wimping out was the best decision I've made. Your kid is not doomed to mediocrity if he chooses not to go to IMSA; who knows what opportunities will come up down the line?

This sounds like an amazingly high-pressure situation for him, even if you remove your own hopes and fears from the picture. It's only been a few weeks since this idea's even been in his head, and the SAT is a big deal (even when it's not), and getting admitted to a special school is a huge deal. If this is his first time applying for something competitive, or if he considers intelligence/perfect test scores/being at the top of his class to be a large part of his identity, he might feel like his entire life is on the line here.

Ask yourself, in all honesty: how would you feel if he ended up taking the test and did not qualify? Would you assume he hadn't tried hard enough? Would you worry that he wouldn't be able to catch up to the kids who got in? Would you be proud of his courage, and grateful that he got the early testing experience?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:39 PM on January 21, 2014

I think your son either doesn't want to go to boarding school, or doesn't want to skip a grade. Both of those are totally valid feelings, and you should respect that. Someone who receives a perfect score on the ACT should be smart enough to know that they'll do very well on the SAT, well enough to meet IMSA's SAT averages.

Why not try one year of regular high school, since IMSA is mostly a 10-12 thing anyways, and then decide? I would encourage him to take it as practice, though. But no studying. Studying the week before the SAT is stupid.
posted by acidic at 1:39 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, hey, I went to IMSA (ok, 20 years ago, but still). It was awesome.

I'm sure I took the SAT. But here's the thing---I know I went into it cold. If he can do well on the ACT at 14, he can probably do well on the SAT. Or at least, well enough.

I was one of the `stupid kids' in math at IMSA. Honest to god. There were students there who were starting as sophomores in Calc III. And my verbal scores on standardized tests were always better than my math scores. And now, I am a tenured math professor at a (somewhat) research university.

So here;s the thing. If the math section of the SAT is what he's freaking out about, know he doesn't have to get a perfect score on it to qualify. And just like college, IMSA wants a balanced class. It's not all math and science, despite the title.

But I would manage *your own* expectations. Don't be *disappointed* in him about his test scores (although on preview, Mizu's got a great point). He's should think about taking the test as a lark, to see what happens. If he does great, then great! If he doesn't do as well as he wants, then...there's still stuff to learn in high school. If he gets in to IMSA, then great! He and you get to decide if it's a good fit. If he doesn't get in, it's quite possibly because of something other than the SAT scores. (E.g., need a good balance of men vs. women, Chicago-area vs downstate, singers vs string-players, who knows.)

Summary: get rid of the review book, and just let him do on the test as he does. But I would encourage him to sit for the test---there's nothing to lose but a Saturday morning.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, yeah---I would suggest *not* skipping 9th grade. The kids who did were at a distinct disadvantage socially, and there's a lot of "socially" at a boarding school.

(The boarding school aspect was awesome, though.)
posted by leahwrenn at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Btw, I would recommend against skipping a grade unless there is some kind of reason he has to get out of his school/grade NOW and there are no other alternatives. Those years make a significant difference and the combination of skipping a grade AND being away from family and friends does not make for a good situation.

The worst thing for bright kids is parents pushing too hard between the ages of 13-18. I know literally dozens of people who hit burnout hard in college because they'd been working so hard for so long to live up to parental expectations.

Honestly... This was not really my experience. The people I know who were driven and/or pushed to do well in high school generally did pretty well afterwards because they had already built the sort of work ethics and patterns necessary for doing well. There may have been other problems like issues regarding how to make good social decisions, but for the most part the "academically successful but sheltered kid gets to college and falls into drugs and alcohol and burnout before finding his true self" is more the stuff of film.
posted by deanc at 1:48 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If this is all about IMSA and the tension surrounding that, try to make sure of a few things:

Next year is probably better rather than starting off a year younger than most freshmen

Even if he doesn't get into IMSA (or he doesn't want to go) make other academic arrangements that will challenge and develop him academically and intellectually. Don't pose this as "your only path towards academic development in life is IMSA."
posted by deanc at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pursuant to the anonymous advice and things some others have said, I'd also suggest that he maybe look at using this year's SAT scores (or his previous ACT scores) to do the "Nerd Camp" thing this summer.

I'm not sure if there's a sort of "feeder nerd camp" that is understood to be popular with kids who ultimately end up at IMSA, but my school had something like that, and it's what made me understand what all this Take This Test, Do This Thing, Apply To This School stuff was about.

Suddenly I knew all these awesome people who were like me and wanted to be my friends, and they all were applying to this school next year and thought I should go, too. It was much more like going to Ren Faire and hearing, "OMG you should join SCA and come to Pennsic with us!" and much less like a big scary Permanent Record kind of situation.

That put everything into context and helped me to do this stuff on my own terms, not out of fear of failing my parents.
posted by Sara C. at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2014

I used to teach a class which helped kids score better on the SAT. Kaplan has some pretty good books (IMHO). The most important thing is that there are only a handful of types of math problems on the test (really) and if you can look at a problem and categorize it, you have a much better chance at getting them right.
It's been 8 years, but here's what I remember:
  1. Rates - person 1 moving at rate x heads towards person 2 moving at rate y, find the time they meet, the point they meet, one of the speeds or the relation between the speeds
  2. Screwy averages - given an average find one particular weight in the average or how the average changes by changing one weight
  3. Plug and chug - where it's just plain faster to try each answer
  4. Triangle Trivia - helps to know your 3/4/5 relations, and x, x, x × √2
  5. Traps - there are problems where you think they're asking for one thing and they want another entirely. Sometimes it's simple - like you sweat to solve for x and they want 3x, but a lot of people fall for it.
General steps:
Read, categorize, choose whether or not to skip, solve or move on.

Other notes - you can use a calculator, but in almost all cases it's worthless. Seriously. If you think that a problem calls for a calculator, there's almost always an easier way to solve it without. Yes, I'm pretty bright and have way more experience than my students, but I found that I could consistently score a 780 or 800 in 1/4 the time and without a calculator.

The good news is that with practice, you can get better. The bad news is that it takes time and someone to guide where you made mistakes and how to avoid them.
posted by plinth at 1:52 PM on January 21, 2014

The worst thing for bright kids is parents pushing too hard between the ages of 13-18. I know literally dozens of people who hit burnout hard in college because they'd been working so hard for so long to live up to parental expectations.
This was not really my experience. The people I know who were driven and/or pushed to do well in high school generally did pretty well afterwards because they had already built the sort of work ethics and patterns necessary for doing well.
This was not really my experience, either, but for an entirely different third reason. I did well in middle and high school because I just happened to be naturally bright and in an uncompetitive school. Big fish small pond, etc. College was comparatively tough because I actually had to work and try hard.

But my parents were super demanding and tiger-mom all the way through my childhood, no matter how good I was just naturally, and what ended up happening was that I resented my parents for making my childhood so stressful.

You have the option now to take a step back and re-frame how you're going to encourage and parent your kid.
posted by phunniemee at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

deanc: Having built a work ethic is an entirely different thing than being pushed into doing everything by your parents. The whole "falling into drugs and alcohol" thing was no part of it; it was a lot more "oh fuck it I might as well play Diablo". It's not killed anybody I know, but it's definitely resulted in a lot of very smart people who are not nearly as successful as other smart people whose parents let them figure out some of these things on their own as they went along, to develop their own motivation and, yes, their own work ethic.
posted by Sequence at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The problem here is that you have high expectations AND a completely "hands-off" attitude. You're basically telling your kid, "okay, this is the most important thing ever, figure it out, ciao!" No wonder the kid is petrified.

If this is super duper non-negotiable important to you and your wife, then it's time for YOU to do some homework. Figure out what your kid needs to do on this test, and HELP HIM LEARN HOW TO DO IT. Talk to the principal, and find out just what kinds of scores your kid would need anyway. Listen to the first-hand experiences given here, and figure out whether your kid even wants to go to IMSA.

I was your kid at one point, and my parents were very caught up in how prestigious it was, and how many worldly opportunities I would have. Luckily, they also remembered that I was the kid who got homesick during one-night sleepovers and had, like, 2 friends ever. Maybe not "intensive boarding school" material, if you know what I mean.

My mediocre public high school got me into an Ivy League university with a full ride and a stipend, so, you know. If you're thinking this is the end of the world for your kid, check yourself.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:11 PM on January 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

8th grade? I didn't take the SAT until 10th grade. And I managed to get into university, have a good paying job, and two rental properties by the time I'm 25. So even though I did well on the SAT, I don't think it matters either way. Especially in 8th grade.

Also, studying for the SAT is kind of stupid. You can raise your score by quite a few points if you get an enrolled class, or even better, a private tutor. (I had a classmate who did that. Who got 1590, by the way, and still didn't get into any of the ivy league universities.) But the books are kind of take-it-or-leave-it. So if it's important, you need to get him the resources he needs... not books.

Lastly, I remember some study that said on average, your *second* SAT is going to be the best score. This includes practice SATs. After the second one, you start getting test fatigue and not doing that well. Even if SAT scores really matter that much to you and your child, do you really want to "use up" his best chance at an SAT score that early? Because he'll learn a lot more test taking skills in the next few years, and SAT scores don't even last that long. (And you'll probably want him to take the PSAT anyway, if he might at all qualify for National Merit.)
posted by ethidda at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2014

My son took these test in 7th and 8th grade. What I told him about the test was this:

This test is going to have a lot of math problems you don't know how to work. That is okay because this test was designed for high school seniors. Think of taking this test as practice for when you are a junior or senior in high school. There will be plenty of times you can repeat this test, the scorers will take your highest score. So don';t sweat it!
posted by JujuB at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I did well in middle and high school because I just happened to be naturally bright and in an uncompetitive school. Big fish small pond, etc. College was comparatively tough because I actually had to work and try hard.

This is why both the opportunity to go to IMSA is something that should be cultivated as well as plans to keep the son challenged should be made-- I was always in a situation where I was academically outclassed by a lot of my peers and dealing with an academic workload that was somewhat out of my league, so by the time I got to college, I was used to it. My college friends who spent their high school careers used to always being able to master the material right away had a harder time of it.

It might be good for your son to be going through this process now and confronting how he deals with disappointment rather than taking the path of least resistance and avoiding the prospect of struggle until later when the stakes are higher.

The lesson of taking the SATs early is that you realize that there are some challenges that aren't overcome easily, and you shouldn't avoid them. It was a valuable lesson for me as a 15 year old to realize that I wasn't going to be able to take the SATs and do really well on them just like I had every other standardized test.
posted by deanc at 2:29 PM on January 21, 2014

Lots of good answers already, just to weigh in because I had a very similar experience when I was your son's age...

In 7th grade I was clearly bored and frustrated with 7th grade math so my (in retrospect, very generous) guidance counselor hatched a plan to allow me to take math at the local high school instead. 9th grade level, I think. To ensure that I was ready to do so, she asked me to sit in her office one day and take the previous year's 8th grade math final exam. With no preparation.

Needless to say, I was completely unable to do the problems on the test. Not because I didn't have the aptitude, but I simply had never seen the concepts or even the symbols in use. I still remember it lo these many years later because it was such a singularly demoralizing experience. I went on to attend an elite university and major in Mathematics, but as a 12 year old I shed a tear in my guidance counselor's office because I didn't know what the formula for slope was.

I can't say what the best course of action is for your son, but I suspect this is what he's feeling. It's the combination of having trouble with the test (as we all know any 8th grader would) but that it is also challenging what he has previously known or believed to be his strengths.
posted by telegraph at 2:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Lastly, I remember some study that said on average, your *second* SAT is going to be the best score. This includes practice SATs. After the second one, you start getting test fatigue and not doing that well. Even if SAT scores really matter that much to you and your child, do you really want to "use up" his best chance at an SAT score that early?

In my experience the "second test" theory has nothing to do with taking these tests in 7th-10th grades.

You're definitely not going to "waste" your best chance this way.

If anything I got better at taking the tests because I was less nervous about it.

The only thing I will say is that, because I'd been on the SAT/ACT train for such a long time, by senior year I was really not interested in giving up another Saturday for the prospect of inching my score up by what I knew would only be a tiny increment which would have no bearing on the college admissions process.
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on January 21, 2014

The lesson of taking the SATs early is that you realize that there are some challenges that aren't overcome easily, and you shouldn't avoid them. It was a valuable lesson for me as a 15 year old to realize that I wasn't going to be able to take the SATs and do really well on them just like I had every other standardized test.

Sure, that was a great lesson for you to learn, but it isn't inevitable. It depends on the context in which it happens. The lesson I drew from such experiences at the same age, due to the particular pressure my parents and grandparents put on me and the ways their disappointment manifested, was that not immediately doing well on something was terrifying and unbearable. Therefore I learned to only do things that I was already good at, while avoiding taking risks in terms of learning new things that I wasn't already good at -- a paralysis that held me back (creatively, mostly, not academically) for several decades.

In other words, you learned a lesson about persistence, because you seem to have been parented in a way that framed doing well as a matter of practice -- something within your control. I learned a lesson about avoidance, because I was parented in a way that framed doing well as a matter of innate talent or intelligence -- something that was outside my control. So for you, not doing well at a test wasn't personal, it was just a step in a process. But for someone who has been parented differently, not doing well is the very definition of personal.

That's why I would argue that the issue is far less about whether the OP's son takes the test, and far more about the OP stopping to consider the broader messages he has (almost certainly unwittingly, and with perfectly good intentions) been sending to his son about taking the test.
posted by scody at 2:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I remember my parents signing me up for things and I just went along with it because 1) They didn't make a big deal out of any of it. 2) They didn't communicate any expectations for my performance. 3) They told me they were proud of me no matter what I did/scored.

My parents created an environment for me that was totally devoid of pressure from them and therefore the entire journey was up to me. Then I wanted to do well for me, not them.

I took the ACT and SAT exactly once, summer of Junior year, with no preparation. I took the GRE a week after deciding to take it my senior year of college. I did what had to be done, when it needed to be done. I went to a top five university, got grad school paid for, and am in a career that's fun and flexible and I am happy. If your kid already aced the SAT then you probably have nothing to worry about whether he does the SAT or the science academy thing either...
posted by thorny at 3:13 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My kids took the SAT in 8th grade in order to participate in John Hopkins CTY program (my son found the logic class too easy but liked the experience and my daughter absolutely loved the writing program and went back for a second year - for the right kid is absolutely the best possible summer camp). Anyway, we found that you can take a sample SAT on-line at the College Board website. My daughter took the practice exam (without any specific prep although she had practices with standardized tests being a California public schools) She didn't do any further studying and her score the real SAT was very close to her score on the practice. So, it might be useful to have him take the practice exam at home just see how it comes out. Since you know he is bright, If he gets a low score it means that he would need to learn more about how to take the SAT and you and he can decide if it worth worrying about it. If he does well enough, then everyone can relax. (Note for CTY "well enough" was equal to the average score for a graduating senior - I think around 560 back in the day - so it might help to know what score would put in the running for the school that you are looking at)
posted by metahawk at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2014

"I'm SO excited about spending three hours on a Saturday morning taking the SAT!" said no 13 year-old child, ever.

Of COURSE he doesn't want to take this exam! Instead of spending his time with his friends (does he have a girlfriend?), he's going to be stuck at school on a Saturday morning. Yay?

You seem to be forgetting that he is not just a smart kid, he's a kid, with friends and other interests in his life. Maybe he doesn't want to take the SAT because he can't handle it, or maybe he would RATHER go to the same high school everyone else he knows will be going to anyway and doesn't see the point. Did you ask him if he even wants to go to this academy?

The first mistake you made, in my opinion, was in scheduling him for this SAT yourselves. This is about HIS future, right? He should have been told about this opportunity, and why you thought he would benefit from it. You should have asked if he would be up for taking the SAT now instead of later, like a roll of the dice, just to see what happened. Keep the pressure and the suggestion that he would disappoint you if he said no out of the decision entirely!

Then you could have sat down with him to schedule a test date together. If you could have gotten together with some of the other parents, either several of them could take the SAT together (shared misery is better at least), or if none of the other kids are going to take the SAT, you could have set up something fun for them all to do after the Test on Saturday (or even before it, on Friday night), to take the pressure off.

It s too late for that now, of course. The way you did it, though, you backed him into a corner and made taking the SAT into this big deal, where he will be disappointing everyone if he doesn't go through with it (and maybe even if he does and the score isn't so good).

Have you taken the time to tell your son how proud of him you are? No, really, think about that seriously: do you tell your son you are proud of what he has accomplished? Have you celebrated those accomplishments? Or are your eyes always on the future, on his potential? Because for many gifted or high-achieving kids, the feeling is that no matter how well they do, their parents are always expecting more from them, and THAT'S what leads to burnt-out kids, in my experience.

Your son may feel like everything he does a just not good enough, and it's wearing him down. Why should he do MORE, when he is just as likely to 'disappoint' everyone as impress them? He is only in the eighth grade! It should be that you would be proud of him just for attempting this SAT, not that you are expecting a super high score. You got a B--why isn't it an A? You did well on the ACT--now do better on the SAT!

Personally, I would tell your son that if he doesn't feel ready for this test, that's okay. And I would ether eat the cost and set up a later date with him instead when he feels he will be more ready, or let him know that no matter WHAT score he gets on Saturday YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED IN HIM. And you have to mean that.

Oh, and I'd suggest he invite some friends over after the test, too, and have a party or something, because he sounds like an awesome kid.
posted by misha at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, is your son actually interested in maths? Being good at something doesn't necessarily mean he likes it or wants to do it. He may also be reluctant to pursue this course of action set out for him by all the adults in his life because it would steer him in a direction he doesn't want to go. Maybe he wants to study drama, or music, or do something completely unrelated to maths and science. Maybe he just wants not to have to choose yet, which is pretty valid at age 14.

If he is interested in maths, then everyone else has given you lots of advice. But from a skim of the answers so far, I hadn't seen anyone suggest that maybe this isn't what he's interested in, or much of a statement from you about what he wants, only what he's capable of.

I know it's frustrating to see fantastic opportunities come up and have people you love - especially someone you have helped nurture and raise - just ignore them, or be afraid to take them. You can be gently encouraging and supportive, but you cannot make people's choices for them. I'm saying this as an ex-"smart kid" who did get pushed to do things I mightn't otherwise have chosen to do. Some of it worked out ok, some of it really didn't. And it wasn't all my parents pushing me either; at some point in there I had internalised it to the point that I was pushing myself to do things I didn't want to do. Listen to your son and help him figure out what he wants and how to be true to himself. It is a skill that will be very useful for him throughout his life.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:09 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a former kid who was forced to take the ACT at age 13 for "awesome opportunities", unless he is super stoked about this, don't make him. It caused me a whole lot of anxiety and I can definitely say I'm no better off for having done it. Just my two cents. Talk to him, tell him you won't be disappointed either way (and try not to be, being 14 sucks). If he honestly wants to do it, that's great. If not, let him be a normal high school kid. Sometimes that's all "smart" kids want.
posted by sarahgrace at 4:18 PM on January 21, 2014

You seem to be forgetting that he is not just a smart kid, he's a kid, with friends and other interests in his life.

Which is the flip side of the So Much Pressure style of gifted kid parenting.

In some ways, it was great that my parents weren't too pressuring about this stuff when I was going through it.

However, there are a lot of opportunities I later found out that I had missed out on because my parents "wanted me to get to be just a regular kid". Well, just "being a regular kid" often meant being bullied, feeling bored in class because I wasn't challenged at all, and doing things I had no interest in for lack of anything else to do. I would have MUCH rather done the things my parents passed on out of fear of being tiger parents or whatever.

I'm not saying, OP, that you must force your kid to take this test and it's a huge deal and he just has to do it. You know your own kid best, and as I said upthread, the kids I knew who were forced into this stuff were typically not happy in the Gifted Kid fishbowl at all. However, by taking the test in a no-pressure type of environment, your kid loses nothing, and potentially gets to do some pretty cool stuff that he might really want to do if he knew about it.

I just sort of blanch at "oh but your kid is a regular kid and offering him special opportunities is going to turn him into some kind of megadork who can't enjoy life" as a response. Some of those special opportunities literally saved my life.
posted by Sara C. at 4:41 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think it is a problem to ask him to take the test. The fact that he is not enthusiastic isn't a problem either--as covered previously, it would be a little surprising if he was excited about taking a long test on a weekend. But the fact that you think he is petrified does make it seem like there are different issues at play.

If he is usually anxious about test taking then that is one thing, but otherwise you might want to figure out what is up with this particular test and talk to him about it. Either he is feeling really pressured or...I don't know.

I personally would not be inclined to make the test taking itself optional--I think it would be good for him to be involved in the decision whether to go to IMSA if that turns out to be an option but I think it is reasonable for parents to occasionally ask their kids to do things that they are not thrilled about and this, for me, falls under that umbrella.

If he is not petrified, then I would shamelessly bribe him and just get him to take the thing. Actually, arranging to do something nice afterwards either way would be good--emphasis that the effort and not the result are the important thing.
posted by pie_seven at 5:05 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I think this is all something of a clusterfuck at this point. So, this is what I would do:

Apologise to your son. "Hey, I'm sorry I dumped that SAT book on you, I didn't really understand this test is aimed at much older students. I didn't mean to freak you out and in the future I promise not to sign you up for things without your permission. Your mom and I want you to see through the commitment to take it, but we don't care how you do. If you're willing to put in the three hours on Saturday, we'll try to make the rest of the day really fun for you."

Assuming he's willing, when you pick him up, DO NOT ask him how he did. Instead, congratulate him for surviving and then buy him pizza and a metric tonne of icecream and tell him he's a great sport.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Some great comments here. I'm a teacher, so that's my lens on the points below...

As many people have noted, by 8th grade children deserve to have a say in decisions about their education. First, if he doesn't want to do this, there is no point in stressing him out and having him take an exam that will test him on material he has not yet covered in school. Even if he does well on, say, the math part, he may really struggle on other portions of the exam. And think long-term here - you do not want to create test anxiety in your son by forcing him into a testing situation that is stacked against him. Test anxiety is not a great thing to have in high school.

However, I wouldn't necessarily jump to giving up the idea entirely. Instead, I'd encourage him to talk through his fears/anxieties/disinterest in it, and let him skip this Saturday's SAT. Then I'd suggest that he tour both the local high school and IMSA with you, just for the purpose of making a well-informed decision about what he does next year. This is going to be the tricky part - you'll want to help him make a smart, self-aware decision (help him talk through the pros and cons of each) without pushing him to make one decision or the other. Above all, you want him to be happy, right?

Finally, more long-term, I'd suggest reading The Price of Privilege. It focuses mainly on high-income families (and I have no idea if that's your family or not), but it contains some really important points about the psychological impact of parental pressure to succeed. I hope that suggestion doesn't sound like a critique of your parenting - I think the vast majority of parents would write the same things you've written, because they care about their kids and want them to have options. But our society pressures kids in a lot of really insidious ways, and I think it's important for you as a parent to be aware of that and the impact it can have.
posted by leitmotif at 7:03 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey I didn't do exactly this but I certainly took the SAT twice before high school for a Johns Hopkins thingy. I actually really appreciate my parents pushing me to do this and caring how I did. It meant that I could do these cool online programs and certainly meant that I was familiar and ready for the SAT when it counted for realsies. My parents picked my up after and absolutely asked how I did. I was more of the type of kid who wouldn't do something like this unless there was a little bit of push, and I didn't want to disappoint my parents as I felt they had good reasons for being concerned.

The last thing that would have helped me on this front would be to have them act like it wasn't a huge deal. I certainly didn't do great for a high school student but I did pretty well for a 7th grader and not only helping with the prep before hand but the follow up meant that I ended up able to do some really fun things that I would have missed out on had I taken my usual approach and procrastinated.

So I guess it would depend on what type of person he is. I certainly appreciate my parents for pushing me into, YMMV though as evidenced in the thread.
posted by Carillon at 8:22 PM on January 21, 2014

He's already taken the ACT and he's taking the SAT? The thing that would help my kids with this is to know that despite it's status as a little bit "better known", it's just another of the same sort of test, and not really any harder.

I'd lay off pushing the prep work at him. I'd bet that's not helping the nerves any, and anyways, what is needed is what he knows, not what he can try to cram in at the last minute. And that last minute cramming? He could misunderstand something and have it actually mess him up on the test.
posted by stormyteal at 9:02 PM on January 21, 2014

I took the SAT when I was 12 or 13 and got a terrible score -- by comparison with, you know, high school seniors. Compared to people my own age, it was really good. But he's not competing with high school seniors. Don't worry about the score, it's just the experience of taking it that matters -- he's only going to be compared with other kids his age, not high school seniors.

I wouldn't even bother with asking him to prep -- just tell him to answer the ones he knows, try not to guess too much, and just hope for the best.
posted by empath at 9:14 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should say to him, "So you don't want to take the test now? No problem - maybe next year." And then completely drop the entire subject as if it never existed - including, especially, any evidence of disappointment.

If the pressure is flat-out gone, he may find that he has some interest in taking the test but knows he has some weak spots he needs to work on first if he's to score well. He knows, beyond any doubt, that all the adults around him are going to be crushed that he's not taking the test now, but if you adult-up and put the ball back in his hands and his alone he'll do what's right for him, now and later.

This kid is smart and deserves the chance to make a decision like this for himself. He'll only be a good leader if he's given the chance to lead himself first.

The principal needs to follow the same plan and it's up to you to make that clear. "Disappointment" from a principal or parents or teachers should be reserved for seriously dangerous or criminal behavior - never for something like this.
posted by aryma at 11:46 PM on January 21, 2014

Back in the day, I was given the test for admission to the Johns Hopkins CTY program. It involved taking the SAT in, I believe, 8th grade or something like that. May have been 7th.

My parents basically placed no particular emphasis on how I did on it, except for saying "might as well take it and find out what it's about: nothing ventured, nothing gained". They treated it, basically, like just another thing.

I did well enough on it to be admitted to the program, and my parents gave me the choice of whether or not to attend. I decided not to, because I was terrified of going off on my own and meeting strange kids and being teased.

THAT point was the point at which they should have pushed me, and I wish they had. In hindsight, I wish I'd gone, because it probably would have helped me get socialized a bit better and forced me away from the self-hatred I developed later.

So, big picture: I think my parents handled it pretty well. They put no pressure on me about the test: their attitude was "hell, this is a test that high school juniors take. If you don't do well, who cares? And if you do well, opportunities may open up. Either way, go for it!" And, when it came to making a decision based on the results, they let me make the decision.

From what you've written in this thread, it sounds like you're pretty invested in this whole thing; have you asked your kid what he wants?
posted by scrump at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2014

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