ACT® TESTING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE STRESSFUL ————– 10 Important Ideas for Parents
1. Anxiety over tests is normal, and it seems to come from 4 distinct fears:
What will the test be like? What will it cover? What will I feel like taking the test? What will my score be? Science tells us that when you are afraid, you cannot learn.
2. There are very, very few students “born great test takers.” Good students study for tests. If your student doesn’t do some study or practice, chances are, the tests will not go well. Anxiety comes from uncertainty. If you are more certain, then you will reduce your anxiety. Even SOME familiarity reduces uncertainty, and thus anxiety.
3. The trick with most students is to not listen to “fear” talk. Instead, focus on limiting those fears: Practice tests are readily available online and in college offices. Books, tutors, or classes will solve the mystery of what to study. Taking a practice test in a quiet room WITHOUT any disruptions will simulate what a test feels like. A score will be due to ability plus practice, if you don’t make excuses and let fear overwhelm you.
4. Those students who do the best on this test OWN the process. They don’t have to be THREATENED to practice, and they are praised for their efforts not resulting scores. I always ask: Why do you think working toward a good score will help you get where you want to go in life?
5. Studies show that rewards AFTER hard work seem to have a greater effect than bribes or punishment. Rewarding the hard work, not the immediate outcomes, seems to really help a lot of teens.
6. FOCUS means everything in test prep. 15-20 minutes WITHOUT a phone or laptop translates into a lot more than hours of distracted work.
7. Regardless of how a student performs in school, he or she will need to review or learn basic grammar, math, reading, and science/data concepts. Even geniuses prepare for Jeopardy.
8. The trick of effective test prep is to figure out what you don’t know or what you are doing wrong, keep a list, and study whatever you need to STOP making those mistakes. Scores go up when students stop making the same errors, either due to a lack of knowledge, or a mistake in strategy.
9. There are students, of course, with clinical level anxiety, or processing issues that require extra time. However, most students will find that timing gets a lot better after reviewing the information tested and practicing with the actual format.
10. SLEEP deprivation is a huge issue with teens. One study showed that having five nights of less than six hours of sleep triggered a temporary 20-point drop in IQ. Another study showed that sleep deprivation severely inhibits information retrieval.
By: Mauri Artz, J.D. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. My advice is based on my empirical work as a test prep specialist for the last 16 years.
Owner, Simple Test Prep, ACTonlinetutoring.com, The Public Tutoring Initiative Founder, The Public Tutoring Initiative, benefit corporation dedicated to bringing high quality test prep to underserved populations; Chosen as top ACT resource for College Summit, the nation’s largest nonprofit serving first generation college entrants,; Top selling ACT educational program to libraries, Launchpad by Playaway, corp; Tutor to students now at all the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, NESCAC, all major state universities; Specializes in good students who are “not good test takers,” anxiety prone students, and student athletes.
Help! My teenager will not study for the ACT or SAT.
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
Suggestion 1: FIRMLY STATE YOUR EXPECTATION FOR TODAY.
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
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.
SIMPLE ACT Online Tutoring
“Good Enough is Never Enough” 10.29.16
October 29th, 2016
By Peter Van Buskirk
October is a time of reckoning for students as they prepare college applications. The senior year of high school is in full swing with new academic challenges as well as a sense of nostalgia as students wistfully embrace events and relationships for the “last time” in their high school experience. And, for many, the college application process represents another layer of intense activity on top of an already busy schedule.
Before long, though, the excitement and allure of going to college begins to wane as the process of applying becomes an onerous imposition. With pending deadlines and mounting requirements, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done! As a result, there is a tendency to choose the course of least resistance—to do what is “good enough.”
I would like to offer a word to the wise if you find yourself in this situation. Stay focused. Now is the time to do your best work even though doing so may mean making compromises in your social life. You can’t “will” great grades. Essays don’t become excellent overnight. College applications don’t materialize out of thin air.
Keep in mind the competition for admission. Popular forecasts to the contrary, the competition at selective institutions will continue to increase as a higher proportion of the college age population applies to college this year—and next, and the year after that. As a result, colleges will continue to be inundated by applications from more qualified candidates than they can admit. And the more selective institutions will be forced to make even finer distinctions between deserving students.
In particular, they will watch to see how you handle the pressure. Will you wilt under the weight of the added expectations? Will you find the easiest path to the “finish line? Or will you step up to the challenge?
Colleges that can be picky are indeed watching. They want to see what you do when you don’t think you have to do anything. They want to see how you approach your classroom assignments. When a “B” seems good enough, will you continue to push for the “A”?
And they will be able to gauge your investment in your application immediately. Have you been thoughtful about conveying key messages? How have you told your story? What does your essay say about you? I can tell you from experience that applications and, in particular, essays that are pulled together at the last minute have that “good enough” look about them.
You must ask yourself, then, “Do I want ‘good enough’ to represent me in the college application process—or in life, for that matter?” I wouldn’t if I were you, especially given what is at stake. By doing so, you are suggesting that you are willing to settle for something less than your best. And when your admission credentials have the look of “good enough,” you give the person reading them a reason to be dismissive of your application in favor of those that are more compelling—game over!
As a high school senior and an applicant to college, you are still in a position to control the manner in which your application is presented. Resist the temptation, then, to put things off or go into cruise control. Now is the time to accelerate! You must make that commitment, though. As one young woman observed after hearing this message at a recent program, “If nothing else, I have learned that good enough is never enough if I want to reach my goals.”
3 ways to help your child get into college, with scholarships… even if he or she is NOT a great student.
First, when your child is a sophomore or junior, start to investigate small, lesser known colleges that may be LOOKING for students with average GPA’s. There are thousands of small, little known schools with amazing educational opportunities. All you have to do is LOOK.
Second, have your child STUDY for the ACT. ACT scores are usually what colleges use to determine merit scholarships. Even a jump from a 20 , a very low score, to a 24, a very mediocre score, can translate into $4000 per year in scholarship money. EVERY point counts. How? There is an amazing online course called www.publictutoring.org where a very well known PRIVATE tutor has put all of her lessons online. The entire year only costs $79, and she livestreams a class every week. It has really turned the tide for thousands of students.
Third, start GOOGLING colleges that give merit money. You will be surprised how many will help with tuition EVEN if your student is not at the top of the class.
Many students ask, “Should I take the ACT with Writing?” The answer is YES!
Many reasons support this answer. First, most colleges require the Writing (essay) portion of the test. If you do not take the ACT with this option, you will have to take the entire test again. Students cannot sit for the Writing portion alone. Additionally, many colleges use this score for placement in their respective English programs. Another great reason to take the Writing section? If you apply to a school that requires an SAT Subject Test, then you may find that often a college will accept the ACT Writing as a substitute for one of those difficult tests!
Every week, a student asks, ” if the essay (Writing) score doesn’t really affect my composite score, then why should I care how well I write on this section?” You should care about your essay score for several reasons. First, your essay will receive a score, and that score may be accessed on your score report as a number from 1-12 and as part of a separate “combined English/ Writing score. Colleges want to see that you do not need a “remedial” course. A “remedial” course means that you are not quite ready for college. You may be required to sit (pay) and take the course, often WITHOUT credit. Yuck. So, why put yourself in that situation? Also, if you write fabulous, proofread, interesting college admission essays, yet your essay score seems low, then the admissions officer may become suspicious about WHO actually penned those essays.
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