Category Archives: raising teens

SAT Tips for Parents

Last month, In our first installment of Why Choose the SAT, we busted some myths about taking the test. Aren’t you glad they did away with the penalty for guessing? This month, through my partnership with The College Board, I’m sharing SAT tips for parents and free resources for SAT prep. Because, helping your child get their best score doesn’t have to cost you an arm or a leg.

Yes, you read that right. There are FREE resources for SAT prep!

SAT tips for parents

Tip 1: Know The Deadlines!

Let’s face it, no amount of prep – free or otherwise – is going to do you any good if you don’t know WHEN your child should be taking the test. This actually happened to us with our oldest daughter. Silly me, I relied on a teen to give me the details. Don’t be me!

Most students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year and again in August or the fall of their senior year. If your child hopes to take the March 2018 SAT, the deadline for registration if February 9th, 2018. I know getting those dates right and not missing deadlines was an issue in our house. Get more info on registration here.  

Tip 2: Sign up for Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy

Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is the best way to prepare for the SAT. It was created by the makers of the test, it’s personalized for each student, and it’s 100% free.

There are thousands of practice questions with instant feedback, video lessons, test taking tips and strategies, and 8 practice tests!

Fun Fact: A recent study shows that students who practice for 20 hours on Khan Academy gained an average of 115 points from the PSAT/NMSQT to SAT compared to those students who did not use Official SAT Practice.  

So, get cracking. There is plenty of material out there for SAT prep.  

Insider Info: Official SAT Practice is and always will be free for all students! For the first time there is equality of access to SAT preparation and I think that’s huge game changer for students nationwide.

SAT tips for parents
Tip 3: Be Sure Your Student is Studying What THEY Need

Teens already feel quite a bit of pressure about the college admission process. You might be able to ease some of that by ensuring that they don’t over-study. Taking the PSAT/NMSQT can really help them focus on the areas they’ll need to improve. It’s a practice test usually offered at their school that will get them ready for the SAT.

Your student will get a personalized SAT study plan with Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy. By sharing their PSAT/NMSQT scores or taking the diagnostic quizzes, Khan Academy will pinpoint the skills they need to improve. This means they are spending their time on the areas that matter the most.

Official SAT Practice will guide them through lessons and give them quizzes along the way to test progress. This free SAT prep resource allows your student to move at their own pace, cutting down on stress and helping solidify the knowledge they’ll need to be successful. It will help them turn weaknesses into strengths.

Good tips, right? So why do I feel like your next question is going to be; Don’t you get what you pay for? I leave you with one last fun fact in answer to that question. More than 16,000 students in the class of 2017 who used the free Official SAT Practice saw score gains of 200 points or more from the PSAT/NMSQT to the SAT.

Stay tuned for one more article in this series and be sure to check out #ChooseTheSAT on twitter for more information from parents, experts, and more.

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

I’ll admit it’s been a minute since I took the SAT.  If I recall correctly, taking the SAT was nearly as stressful as figuring out the proper hair-to-aquanet ratio.  Things hadn’t gotten much better by the time my two oldest kids were ready for the test.  The good news for today’s college-bound kids is that things are changing. Changing in big ways.  I’ve partnered with the College Board on a series of sponsored content geared toward helping students and their parents navigate today’s SAT. 

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

questions and answers on taking the SAT

Myth 1: Taking the SAT later in the year means getting harder questions.

Truth: The College Board ensures that every version of the test is equally weighted in difficulty. 

Myth 2: Leave a question blank if you aren’t sure of the answer. 

Truth: Taking your best guess is the best practice. The SAT no longer deducts points for guessing. 

Seems my Dad’s old theory of always choosing “C” if you didn’t know the answer, holds some water now. When in doubt… Charlie out!  

Myth 3: You only take the SAT if you’re hoping to go to an East Coast college. 

Truth: The SAT is accepted by all College entrance exams. In fact, colleges and universities don’t have a preference for other tests over the SAT. 

Myth 4: SAT prep classes are very expensive.

Truth: The College Board has partnered with the Khan Academy to offer Free, personalized Offical SAT Practice. 

Myth 5: Don’t take the SAT twice. 

Truth: 2 out of 3 students actually improve their scores when taking the SAT more than once. 

five myths about taking the sat

How many of those myths did you think were truths? These days it’s not your Mama’s SAT, folks. Have questions? Email me or tweet them using #ChoosetheSAT.  

In the next installment in the series, we’ll explore ways to help students with SAT study and prep. You may be surprised by what is not on the test anymore, I sure was.  

Note to parents: If your child hopes to take the March 2018 SAT, the deadline for registration if February 9th, 2018. I know getting those dates right and not missing deadlines was an issue in our house. Get more info on registration here.  

Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.


2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring (review)

Mazda CX-3 Touring ReviewThe quest continues. Our second in line to the keys – the 17 year old – is still in need of a car and we’re still looking.  Thus far we’ve taken fully loaded SUVs and cool crossovers through the paces. Now we’re starting to think a little smaller.

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives (averaging a week or so) for cars we’re considering. The newest ride to hit our driveway was the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Let’s say this was a whole new road for us.

2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring Review

It would be remiss of me to not mention [before the review] that it’s been quite awhile since we’ve spent time in a sedan.  Even with not-so-little nugget number four off on his own doing the grownup thing, we are still a big family. Five humans, one french bull-dog who loves his bye-bye. I typically takes a bit more car to get us all around. There was certainly and adjustment period with the Mazda CX-3.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

If you don’t have too far to go, and the dog doesn’t mind staying at home, five can fit. The leg room may not be much if you had full-size folks in the back seat though. Were the teen just shuttling her sibs or besties about, it works out fine.

Best Safety Features?

Three BIG pluses in this category:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring – In my humble opinion this safety feature should be as mandatory as a seat belt. Every car has a blind spot therefore they should all have this potentially life-saving feature. 
  • 24 Hour Roadside Assistance – Toss me a thumbs-up if you’re a parent and could rest easier knowing your kid had this!
  • Skyactiv Body Ring Structure – So, explaining this can get a little engineering-deep and I’m no engineer. To put it simply Mazda has figured out a formula that makes the body structure both lighter and more rigid. How is that a safety feature, you ask? Basically they built a better egg shell. Learn more about Skyactiv and why I was blown away by how it improves safety, here.

Let’s Talk Tech

Here is where I started to figure out that I may be just a little bit on the spoiled side when it comes to car tech. Though the CX-3 we drove came equipped with navigation system and satellite radio, the tech pretty much stopped there. Beyond the fact that it was tech-lite the monitor/hub isn’t integrated into the design very well. It pops up above the dash and is just cumbersome. 



Kick off Monday with a laugh and a new ride for a week. Gives me hope Monday might not suck too bad.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

The model we drove was supposed to have integrated technology that works with Pandora® but we couldn’t get that to work. The teen herself practically lives on Pandora so she was stoked about this. Seems though that it may only work with a paid subscription.

SSM Text Messaging sounds like a great feature for a teen-driven car. The problem is this works about as well as most other talk-to-text platforms… meaning, not so good.

Gas Mileage

Here is where the Mazda CX-3 Touring gets the biggest points. (drum roll please) We averaged 33 miles highway and a whopping 29 driving around town. WOWZERS! That could really go a long way towards saving a college kid some coin.

Price Tag

One surprising perk of stepping down to a sedan from an SUV or crossover – in this case at least – was GOOD sticker shock. I can’t recall the last time took a car for a test drive that boasted a price tag under $30k. This particular car came it at $26,150. That included some premium package additions. 

Lifestyle Points

Not much to report here. The rear seats do fold flat to give you extra cargo space, but you pretty much can’t have passengers when you do that. I will say though that the lines on the body are pretty cool. This doesn’t look like a sedan, and honestly it may even have a different classification, but to me 4-doors and a low profile says, sedan. It has a unique profile that sort of says crossover but in a sedan sort of way. Maybe when an SUV and a sedan have a baby you get the Mazda CX-3 Touring? ha!

Sometimes I think my parents had it easier – “You want a car? Go get a job. Until then  you can borrow the station wagon if you pay for your own gas.” In retrospect that was likely better.

Even for Tech Savvy Kids…

Ah, the interwebs. What a wonderful world it can be. It can also be down right dangerous, even for tech savvy kids.
Today my youngest son {the 11 year-old} and his team of science guys are taking a video game they developed into competition. Listening to them rehearse their presentation the night before was one of those ‘Proud Parent’ moments that serve as reward for all the late nights, hectic days and endless hours of worry.   Raising a tech kid can be tough though.
The biggest challenge is the fact that nine times out of ten the kid speaks a foreign language.  Foreign to me that is.
Sometimes the look of pity on his face as he slows his speech and uses metaphors to explain to his mother what a particular line of code does, undoes me. Wait, I used to change your diapers child. When did you become smarter than me?!
With this latest project – he started writing simple code at age 8 – he and the team* are turning cyber safety for kids into a game. The team are all into basketball nearly as much as science, so that’s what the game is framed in. Play ball, get pointers on cyber safety. I sort of love it! 
What an amazing tool tech is for reaching kids, getting the message across. When I was growing up we had public service announcements – and that’s about it. Remember, “The More You Know?” The jingle more than the message got stuck in your head.
Even if they are getting the message though sometimes tech is such a big part of their daily life they may miss some things. A perfect example comes from a recent field trip both of my youngest kids went on.
We love the USA Science and Engineering Festival! The whole family went to the last one. How awesome to rock out with The Might Be Giants, listen to Bill Nye THE science guy speak, and remote-drive a rover across the ocean floor from the DC convention center?! Way, cool!
Science is the best idea humans have ever had. The more people who embrace that idea, the better.  ~Bill Nye
Sadly this year we couldn’t go as a family. Thankfully the kids made it there with their STEAM club from school. An epic field trip filled with some serious science. I so wished to be there that I let the boy take along my Droid Turbo 2. After all it’s pretty much unbreakable.
The phone performed like a dream. Check out the super cool shark pic he snapped.
Sadly it’s made from trash found in the ocean. Giant brains, rocket boosters, 3D printed prosthesis, he texted me tons of science awesome. Then he thought I might like to walk through with him.
Even for tech savvy kids
Since we’re Verizon customers, even the kid knew he’d be connected and could do that. What he didn’t do was ask permission. Smart kid that he is he just tapped open mom’s Periscope app and then texted me to watch. It never occurred to him that the settings on the app would allow his video to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, who was also on Periscope. Nor did the danger that could come from that occur to him.
even for tech savvy kids…
He didn’t know that those people watching would know exactly where he was, what he was doing, who was with him. I think it just really didn’t get, until that moment, how very big the world is and how small tech can make it. I quickly deleted the automatic Tweet sent out by the app, had him turn it off and uninstall it from the phone.
Once he was back home {and I could breath again} we had a long talk. I spent some time on the Verizon website’s Tips for Parents page and over at The Online Mom. Obviously this kid wasn’t the only one who was missing a few things about safety on the net. I needed to step up my game too.
How about you? Have you had any scary parent moments online? Better yet, got any tips for us?
* they call themselves the ‘Five Fists of Fury,’ in true nerd fashion. 
Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!