Help! My teenager will not study for the ACT or SAT.

Mauri Artz with one of her many successful graduates on graduation day.

Mauri Artz with one of her many successful graduates on graduation day.

As a mother of four children who were teenagers at the same time, and
after two decades of tutoring high school students, I am familiar with
this exclamation. I also have several great suggestions for anyone in this
predicament, as a test prep specialist, but also as an experienced mom.

The Problem: You are not offering your teen immediate gratification

First, remember that you think like an adult, and you look at long term
implications. Most teens look for immediate gratification, and that
doesn’t even mean next week or month or even years. Thanks to
twitter, Instagram, and texting, that definition of “immediate” means
gratification this SECOND or MINUTE. However, the developmental
stage does not mean that as parents we should give up. Instead, we
need to clearly set forth our expectations for the here and now, and
demonstrate relatable, parallel situations that any teenager would



If you
have any power in your relationship, then state and carry out a
Examples: “I paid for you to have access to an online test prep program.
Sit in the kitchen and go online and take notes from your computer for
30 minutes after dinner. I will keep you company while I clean up.” Or
more forcefully, “Saturday, your phone and your computer/iPad will
stay with me until you sit and do ONE HOUR of work on your online
If you are paying for a private tutor, then you should insist
on knowing that the assigned homework has been done and done with
complete attention (screens off!) If you need to patrol the practice,

then do so. Remember that even the most obedient teenagers can be
sneaky. Not all of them are intentionally trying to deceive you… this
exercise is just not a priority for them now, as they are not applying to
colleges at this moment. Timing is everything with the teenage mind.

I know that when my own children were little, if I said, “Please clean up
your room,” the results would be very different than if I said, “Put your
toys in this basket and your shoes in the closet.” Sometimes I would
add “I will count to 10.” Other times I would state, “If you want to go
with your brother when we go to play catch in the back yard.” You
can’t assume compliance when a child doesn’t know your exact
expectations and the time frame of those expectations.



Suggestion 2: Point out other relatable learning curves that will
support the idea that time and practice IN typically mean better
results OUT


Of course, anyone with a teenager knows that teens often could be
called the in- house Vice Presidents of IT (Information Technology)

I often remind my students that there was a time when they did not
know “how” to navigate all the technology that they so deftly handle
today. Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, iTunes…. Even school related
technology, such as Naviance, or presentational platforms such as
PowerPoint… most high school students KNOW how to utilize these

much better than the average baby boomer. Remind your teenager of
the number of steps it took to become proficient with each new
program. If you are fortunate enough to have a teen involved with a
passion such as sports, music, drama, debate, or science research, then
you will have a very easily relatable situation. Who was born throwing a
perfectly spiraling football? Who could play the flute after one week?
Who won every debate from the first tournament?
Almost all teenagers desire to drive, and that is the common
denominator that I utilize most frequently. Society does not trust any
teen behind the wheel without passing a written test, and LOGGING
HOURS behind THE WHEEL. Many states require hours in an accredited
driving school program. Whatever the case may be, very few teens do
personal bests on standardized tests without some preparation. At a
minimum, each teenager should be very familiar with the test and the
extremely tight timing involved in finishing each section.

Suggestion 3: Peer Pressure/Sibling Pressure/Advice from an older

I always hesitate to make this suggestion, as I know that it may come
back to haunt parents who love to say, “Just because he jumped off the
roof, would you?” I do, however, love to use respected friends,
siblings, or older teens who may be able to preach to your teen more
successfully than you may. Don’t feel hurt: you are not allowed to fully
choose your battles. You must care for your teen on all fronts: health,
safety, finances, education, relationships. What you are doing here is
calling in some reinforcements on this issue.

Not all students need prodding- a few of my own kids self- directed in
terms of study. Especially if there is a great relationship between the
reluctant student and the invested one- you should see if you may
obtain some support from another source.


Suggestion 4: EARLY in the process, visit an awesome college and do a
reality check with your teen

I often ask teenagers, “Where would you LOVE to go to college?” Once I
hear that response, I say, “Let’s look up what you need to be
considered there, in terms of your GPA and test scores.” If a student
has not taken a real or practice ACT or SAT, then I have them do one to
see the starting point. If the student has taken a PSAT or PLAN test,
then we may use that. Of course, there is a risk factor involved, as
sometimes the gap is so large that even an optimistic student could
become a little discouraged. However, I think that this reality check is a
great motivator for most teens. Sometimes, this little exercise energizes
even the laziest of students.
When one of my own kids saw schools that seemed awesome, the
spark ignited more intensity at school and to study for the ACT and SAT.
Many, many parents have seen the same scenario with their sons and

In tutoring and in life, I’m not one to give vague advice. I cut to the
chase and tell you what I wish someone would have told me. I sure
hope something here helps you.

Mauri Artz
SIMPLE ACT Online Tutoring