As the results from college admissions tests begin to arrive, many parents will recognize the need for their student to retake the tests and achieve higher scores in order to be accepted at highly ranked universities. However, a typical teenager in the midst of sudden mood changes and general confusion about life might be less than receptive to the idea of preparing for another round of these expensive, time-consuming, but crucial exams. Such household tensions can leave parents at a loss to encourage adolescents to address their weak areas and maximize their strengths. Here are ten tips to ease the anxiety and help parents motivate their teens at SAT/ACT time.

1. Offer information. Show newspaper articles describing the increasing importance of college admission tests and the average scores of students admitted to colleges selected by your teen.

2. Get your teen’s attention. Take you teen to a quiet and appealing place where you can talk without distractions and interruptions. For some parents, riding in a car, at 50 miles an hour, provides the perfect setting since their teen can’t escape.

3. Visit a variety of colleges. Encourage your teen to visit classes, talk to college students, and see the types of books and assignments that are required. Consider enrolling your teen in a summer program provided by a college.

4. Make them an offer they can’t refuse. Provide creative and interesting rewards for the progress and effort. If your teen says, “You’re just bribing me.” You say, “I realize that studying for the SAT is an added burden but it is important. Your extra effort should be recognized.”

5. Compare results. Have your teen evaluate his scores with those students who are attending the schools, which your teen is interested in. “Encourage”, your teen to take a PSAT, SAT, PLAN or ACT practice test. Make a clear and short statement of fact regarding these tests. For example, “The PSAT is not only a practice test, it can lead to scholarships.” Have the student score the test and find how he compares to others in the school, state, or college in which he has an interest. Scores under the 50th percentile indicate an area of weakness, especially if the test scores differ significantly from school grades.

6. Hire a coach. A coach helps students become familiar with test format, make effect use of test time, become aware of test-taking techniques, use practice to increase speed and accuracy, and become skilled at managing test-related stress. Many teens react more positively to one-on-one instruction. Look for retired teachers or tutors who are familiar with standardized test formats and specialize in areas of your teen’s vulnerability such as reading comprehension.

7. Work with other parents and your teen’s friends. Set the stage for small study groups to learn vocabulary or solve math problems. Find used books, provide snacks, and provide support. Arrange for your teen to go with a friend to an ACT or SAT preparation course.

8. Make a plan. Keep in mind studying for the SAT is a short-term goal and not a life sentence. You are your teenager establish brief but consistent study times. For example, twenty minutes three times a week through out the month or two prior to the administration of the SAT or ACT. Set goals, monitor progress, and find resources.

9. Contact the school. Counselors and teachers are a source of information and resources. Telephone or e-mail to find out about available SAT/ACT instruction, schedules of administration, and resources. Discuss your teen’s strengths, vulnerabilities, and interests in light of the colleges selected by your teen.

10. Use humor. Humor reduces stress and strain. Use “Post-its” to write humorous comments (e.g., Leave your worries in your pack back.) Post cartoons, send jokes via e-mail, and use silly props to help your teen relax prior to or following a study session. A little laughter goes a long way on the road to SAT/ACT success.

Author's Bio: 

Geraldine Markel, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist specializing in improving critical thinking skills. Principal of Managing Your Mind Coaching & Seminars®, she previously served on the faculty of the University of Michigan, School of Education and as Director of Adolescent and Adult Services there. She is co author of a book entitled Peterson's Parent's Guide to the SAT & ACT and an audio CD set on the same topic. She is also co author of several books on adults and adolescents with ADD and Learning Disabilities. Visit or contact Geri at