How to Help Motivate Your Teen to Study for the ACT

motivate teen to study

You know studying for the ACT is important, your teenager says he knows studying for the ACT is important…yet the excuses pile up whenever it’s time to sit down and get to work.

An “unmotivated” teenager may just be a teenager lacking some perspective. Below, we’ve outlined 3 steps to help you help your child become motivated to study.

1) Determine Long Term Goals

When your teen seems “unmotivated,” she may just need some perspective. A lack of motivation can come from not seeing the benefits of an activity. Your child probably has a lot going on – like studying for next week’s test, completing her history project, making first chair in the orchestra – and she can’t see how studying for the ACT on a Saturday morning is beneficial, because she hasn’t thought about how a good score on the ACT will really affect her future.

Top Colleges for Every ACT Score Range

The first step in creating any study plan is to establish some long-term goals so your child understands why the ACT test matters and how it ties into his future. Sit down and have a real 5-year planning meeting. Discuss the colleges your child is interested in, his or her career goals, and his or her current grades. (This may be the first of a few meetings while your teenager discovers what his goals are. He may not know during your first meeting and can use the first meeting as a springboard to research colleges and careers.)

The first step in creating any study plan is to establish some long-term goals so your child understands why the ACT test matters and how it ties into his future.

Once your child’s long-term goals are established, help her visualize the path to her goals. Say your daughter is interested in becoming a speech pathologist and wants to go to the top university in your state for her undergraduate degree. To help her visualize the path ahead, you could create a flowchart together that outlines the steps it will take for her to become a speech pathologist:

7. Sarah, Speech Pathologist

But before that…

6. Graduate degree

5. Undergraduate degree

4. Admission to XYZ University

3. Apply to XYZ University

2. Gather application materials

1. Take ACT or SAT test

All of Sarah’s goals hinge on taking the ACT test. To be clear, her goals don’t necessarily depend on her SCORE. But they do depend on her actually taking the test!

Developing long-term goals gives your teenager something real to work towards and helps her understand how studying for the ACT fits into her goals. This will create an internal motivation to study, which is much more effective in the long term than external motivators, like parental approval or rewards.

2) Create a Plan

Once she understands how taking the ACT fits into her goals, create an ACT-specific study plan together. What are the relevant timelines you need to consider? How does your daughter’s schedule align with ACT test schedules, and when are the application deadlines for her top schools?

Create an ACT-specific study plan together. What are the relevant timelines you need to consider? How does your daughter’s schedule align with ACT test schedules, and when are the application deadlines for her top schools?

Pull out the calendar and choose three upcoming test dates that work within her schedule and the college application cycle (as scores almost always increase from the first time a student takes the test to the second, she should probably take the test at least twice. She can take the third test to hone her score, if necessary). Ideally, she’ll take her first ACT 3 months from the time she begins studying.

Once the test dates are on the calendar, pick out some study tools together. Give her as much control over this process as possible so she feels ownership over her studies. After you’ve picked out the study tools, create a realistic study plan that works with her schedule.

Tips for Picking ACT Test Prep Material

  • Look for comprehensive content that is on the same level (or higher) than the test. Really learning the content that will be on the test is the best way to get your goal score. This is one of the main premises on which we developed The Olive Book ACT course. Our practice problems build your understanding of important concepts, not specific questions, so your child can take on any question the test throws his or her way.
  • Be wary of people and products that focus on testing tricks. There are a few helpful tricks to know (which we write about here on our blog and in our ACT course), but actually knowing the content, really knowing it, is the surest and the fastest path to a better score.
  • Be wary of people and products who promise results in a certain number of hours. There is no magic threshold and no fixed number of hours that will get you to your goal score.

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3) Conquer Mental and Physical Obstacles

We all know that it’s much easier to set goals than it is to see them through. Mental and physical obstacles can get in the way of accomplishing well-meaning, much-desired goals. So how do you help your teenager stay motivated to study and reach her goals?

Your child may encounter mental obstacles that keep him from studying, despite the careful plan you’ve laid out. He may believe the material is too hard for him, or that there is a better use of his time. If your child seems to be resisting, talk to him about what’s holding him back. Help him remember why he chose this study program, encourage him in his abilities, and help him see how studying fits into his larger goals.

Talk about what obstacles may be keeping him from studying for the ACT and about what he needs to succeed.

Your child could also come up against physical obstacles that keep him from studying. Does he have a designated study spot? Is his schedule too packed, not giving enough time to study for the ACT and for school? Talk about what obstacles may be keeping him from studying for the ACT and about what he needs to succeed.

Remember – Your Child is Not a Bonsai Tree

As you go through this process with your teenager, be conscious of the impression you are giving him or her about his or her worth. Your child needs to know that they are important to you and loved by you regardless of their study habits or ACT scores.

Your child’s self-efficacy is dependent on you allowing her to do much of the dreaming, planning, and living in this process.

As Julie Lythcott-Haims says in her Ted Talk on raising successful kids: remember that your child is not a Bonsai tree. You cannot prune her into who you want her to be, carefully clipping every stray leaf and coaxing every branch into place. Your child’s self-efficacy is dependent on you allowing her to do much of the dreaming, planning, and living in this process. Just like when you taught her to drive, your child needs to be in the driver’s seat, while you keep calm and coach from the passenger’s side.

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