How to Get Teens to Study for the SAT

Last Updated Apr 5, 2009 5:21 PM EDT

Take pity on me. My son Ben is studying for the SAT.

It's not the test that I dread so much, it's the months leading up to the Saturday morning ritual. As so many other parents have learned before me, I've discovered that nagging a teenager to study for this test is futile.

Earlier this year, however, I found an approach that resonated with my son. I sat down with Ben and shared the obvious. The money his dad and I had saved for college has shrunk -- considerably. Therefore, I confided, we needed his help.

I told him that the best way he could pitch in with looming college costs is not to get a job bagging curly fries but to focus on being the best student possible. And that, I told him, includes performing well on the SAT.

Colleges are more likely to award Ben a handsome tuition discount if he scores above average on the SAT and he continues to improve his high school GPA.

If you can get your child on board, the next question is how does a teenager earn more impressive SAT scores? If your child is motivated -- and motivation is the key -- there are lots of ways to proceed. And here's the good news: I'm convinced that spending $1,000 or more on an SAT prep class is absolutely unnecessary.

You can start with something as simple as flashcards. About a year ago, I began feeding Ben a dozen vocabulary flashcards every couple of weeks. (Of course, reading classic novels is an even better approach, but good luck getting your kid to sign on to that.) My son now knows words like probity and inchoate and, even better, he is using some of these words in his high school papers. For help, I turned to this list of the most popular SAT words.

Even cheaper than index cards is the website It's a wonderful free resource for SAT and ACT tutoring, and I love the way it provides parents with weekly progress reports.

Ben also began using the online, video-based test prep service ePrep after one of its founders gave me a password. I haven't run across any other service that uses ePrep's approach, which costs between $99 and $599. Ben now practices taking the SAT on printouts that look like the real test, but his answers are graded online. What's cool is that Ben can click on a link for each of his mistakes and receive a mini video lecture from a popular SAT tutor explaining the correct answer. Ben learns better visually, so it's been quite helpful.

Sometime this summer, we'll know if all Ben's work has paid off. And then I'll never want to think about the SAT again.