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ACT stress is real — for parents

The whole parenting thing is pretty easy, except when it’s not — like when the 2-year old is throwing a tantrum or a fourth-grader is throwing up. Then there are the teen years, with all their meltdowns and dug-in heels. Can we agree that nursing an infant is much easier than nursing the hurts of a 16-year-old?

The last of our bunch took the ACT Saturday. Any parent of a high schooler knows ACT stress is real (and I’m talking about for the parent, not the student.) I just love it when my children lob random questions my way about quadratic equations and scientific graphs, then expect some sort of rational reply to come from my mouth.   

Not really.

We’ve been through the ACT prep thing with five kids now, so you’d think we’d have it down pat. But every time I end up feeling guilty, or at least wondering whether I should be feeling guilty (which is the same thing, I suppose). Did we go over enough sentence corrections? Did I explain process of elimination clearly? Did I make too big of a deal about scores? Did I make too little of a deal about scores?

Fifteen years ago, I had this friend whose daughter was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. She was all about education, all the time. Because she was one of the best homeschool moms I knew, I begged her indulgence, and she shot straight: “Treat taking the ACT like a class.” So we did, buying the books, the online videos, and (back then) the CD-ROMS. It was good advice.

Daughter No. 2 is taking French this year, which is a questionable decision since it isn’t on the ACT. (Neither are history and Bible, some of her other main subjects. Oh, well.) Anyway, one of her lessons contained this pithy little saying: Petit a petit, l’ouseau fai son nid. You should hear the way it rolls off your tongue. I love to say it. I love to hear her say it. And I especially like the meaning — little by little the bird builds its nest. It’s a good approach to a lot of tasks, including ACT prep. Too bad I didn’t apply it so much to this round.

I suppose that’s why she spent two weeks cramming before the scheduled test date. Semicolons, main points, practice tests, vocabulary, mode, integers, more practice tests, tangents (and I’m not talking about this one I’m on.) It was rough and it was December and guess what happened right before the actual test? It snowed. A lot. The ACT got cancelled. 

Somewhere between building snowmen and opening Christmas presents, it became easy to lose study momentum. I’m guessing Saturday’s rescheduled post-holiday test date and subsequent scores may reflect that fact for more than a few students, which means there will be additional test-taking and test-prep days ahead.

If you or someone you love falls into that category, you might want to go online and read about Las Vegas student Sunny Lee for some inspiration. She recently aced both the ACT and SAT with perfect scores. A perfect score on the ACT is 36, with English, math, reading, and science scores averaged for a composite total. On the SAT, it’s 1600, with evidence-based reading and writing accounting for 800 points and math for 800 points. 

That puts Lee in some very slim company.

The 17-year-old told reporters she doesn’t feel any pressure from her parents, who live in South Korea.

“They just fostered a very positive mindset and mentality so that I could search for what I wanted to do on my own,” she explains.

Lee encourages other students to consider their future when preparing for the tests.

“I believe you should be studying for the sake of yourself. Find a reason why you’re doing it.”   

There you go, parents. The cure for ACT stress is fostering a positive mindset in your student and making sure he knows why he’s studying for it. Easy peasy, right?

Let’s just hope those quadratic equations take care of themselves.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.