Motivation and Test Prep

test prep

The fact is that parents cannot flip a switch to motivate their child. Rewards, especially in the form of money, often don’t work. Many students doing test prep for the SAT and ACT do not have a great deal of motivation to improve their scores. This is alarming seeing as admission test scores comprise 20-50% of the admission criteria at most colleges.

What parents can do is make the environment ripe for motivation. You can set up a schedule and a quiet, electronics-free place for your child to complete the assignments he receives as part of his test prep program. For every hour spent with a tutor, your child can expect an hour of homework. When students put in ample time and effort, scores will improve. And along with increased scores, you will often see greater confidence and motivation.

While internal motivation varies student to student and can come from many sources, consider these tips to motivate your student to improve his SAT or ACT scores.

1.  Open a dialogue about your child’s strengths and aspirations. 

At Educational Connections, we’ve worked with many families who seem to miss this crucial step, which is important not only for helping with motivation but also in figuring out where your child is going to be happiest and most successful after high school.

What does he or she want out of life? Sit down in a low pressure environment and listen. Figure out what it is your student hopes to achieve, whether it’s to become a video game designer, a professional golfer, an animal welfare advocate, or a Fortune 500 executive. Once you understand how your child feels, move to step #2.

2.  Ask your child what qualities of a college would help to further his or her goals. 

Don’t ask what college your child wants to go to because high school students rarely have any idea what college they actually want to attend. They likely haven’t been there, and they don’t know what it is really like. Focus on the qualities your child is looking for in a college and make a list of them. Avoid focusing on names or rankings. Some examples: in a city, strong nursing program, large and diverse student body, emphasis on environmental activism, study abroad programs, etc. When students feel that their wants are heard, they tend to view you as a teammate in the process and not the dictator.

3.  Make a list of 20 or so schools that share these qualities. has a wealth of information on colleges all over the world. The key is to focus on schools that will provide your student with ways to further his or her life goals. You can, of course, cross reference your findings with US News and World Report’s ranking system to find top-notch schools that appeal to your child, but going by name and/or rank alone is not a good idea. That is often how students end up at schools they come to dislike.

Start to implant the idea of “the dream school” in your student’s mind. Once your student is passionate about a school, many times his mindset toward test prep changes from one of checking off a completion box to actively working to improve.

In a nutshell:

  • Students are motivated when they have a vision of what they want to accomplish.
  • A clear path need not be defined, but having a general idea helps. You may have a daughter who loves animals. Could a career in veterinary medicine be an option? Your son loves video games and has a knack for graphic design. Perhaps a school with a great design or engineering program may be viable.
  • Take the focus off exact SAT scores and put it on having options of schools to attend that fit your child’s passions.