Every season, Chariot Learning administers practice SATs and ACTs to hundreds of high schoolers at libraries, schools, and other facilities. The dedication these teens (generally) show impresses me every time. Yet only recently did I realize the opportunity in front of us: why not ask these teens why they’re giving up a precious weekend morning to take a practice test in the first place?
Of course, you might imagine that teens take these tests because they know how absolutely essential high-quality practice is to score improvement. Maybe they’re just curious about what these tests involve. Or perhaps they have no choice in the matter… we do see a lot of students escorted by their parents.
While conjecture can be fun, I actually put the question to many of the students testing during our Winter 2018 season: “What motivates you to do better on the SAT or ACT?”
The answer, in a nutshell, was COLLEGE.
Of the 77 responses, nearly 90% involved college in some capacity. Of these, the largest portion just cared about the possibility of admission at any college:
It will help me get into college (1)
More college opportunities (1)
The next largest segment showed slightly greater ambition:
Getting into a good college (23)
Knowing I will get into a good college (1)
Myself, it’s a competition I want to do well on, get into good colleges (1)
Then came the real strivers:
Getting into a better college (6)
Getting into high-level colleges (1)
Best scores possible for top choice college (1)
Wanting to get into a highly competitive college (1)
To get into colleges that I want to be at (1)
To be competitive, I need better scores (1)
The remaining students focused mostly on the benefits of preparation or the potential return on investment in terms of scholarship. One far-sighted attendee even found motivation in the prospect of “a comfortable life.” But, at least for this group of Upstate New York high schoolers, college dominates as the biggest motivator for working towards a better score on the SAT or ACT, which is as it should be.
Then again, one test-taker did list his parents…