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PSAT test time: Time for teens to tweet and parents to tune in

Wednesday, Oct. 15 marks the test date for the PSAT, best known as the pretest exam for the SAT. While millions of teens sharpen their pencils, parents can sharpen what they know about their teens by scanning social media.

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    In this file image, Rebecca Bauer takes a mock AP test in advanced chemistry class at the Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada.
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If parents want to know what their teen is thinking, a scan of Twitter in the early morning, perhaps while their own teens is standing outside waiting for the bus, might be the best indicator.

Wednesday morning, shortly before 7a.m. EDT, hundreds of tweets came pouring in, dozens every few seconds. They were all lamenting over the same test – the PSAT.

The PSAT is best known as the practice exam for the SAT, one of the biggest indicators for US students of their aptitude for college admittance. It is also the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarship Program. However, tweeting the full name of the test – PSAT/NMSQT – might actually prove that you are ready for the test and not prepared to join in the teen angst.

 According to reports, in 2013 the test was administered to more than 3 million high school sophomores and juniors in the US. 

For many parents, the outpouring of emotion on social media surrounding the test offers a small window on their kid's world when many give little to no information about their days in school. 

And this is not to say that parents need to follow their kids specifically, or drop into conversation things they learn “on the Twitter.” Perhaps it is best for parents to consider social media scanning as more of a weather forecast, showing what is on the horizon, and keeping ready to talk about it, if their teens should offer up the information.

Piper Jaffray, a US investment bank, recently published research showing that teens are heading to Twitter and Instagram over sites like Facebook. Some parents might remember similar stories from 2013 talking about the shift, but it seems that after a brief return to Facebook in early 2014, teens are in fact off the site more permanently (as permanent as teens can be.)

The Washington Post article on the study makes a great point, saying “Surveys of this type are, of course, a dime a dozen, and teen whims are as volatile as Twitter’s trending hashtags. That said, Piper Jaffray’s research is pretty thorough: It surveyed a national group of 7,200 students and accounted for variables like gender and household income.”

So, while parents might be posting on Facebook a picture of the kids on their weekend trip to see family, its important to remember that the most likes will probably come from fellow parents, and not teens themselves.

If your kids are experiencing angst over the PSAT and SAT exams, it's worth noting that some colleges are questioning whether standardized testing is the best way to identify a student's aptitude in certain topics. A study published in February by the National Association for College Admission Counseling explains that optional testing policies at universities can offer some students important enrollment and financial planning benefits. This means that some colleges are looking past the ACT and SAT for other proofs of a students’ aptitude and college readiness.

And as more teens shift their views of attending college, and more colleges shift what acceptance standards they carry, standardized tests for teens to tweet about might also shift as well.

In the meantime, parents can take heart in knowing that their kids are speaking out on what happens during their school day, it just might not be around the breakfast table.

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