I had a discussion with a test prep professional who was looking for an SAT math tutor for one of her customers. She does only the reading and writing parts, and her math tutor quit or was fired; I forget which one. She also told me something like “The student isn’t very motivated” I let her know that unmotivated students weren’t anything new to me – it was just a matter of getting through to them.
I gave the test prep professional one example of my motivating an SAT prep student of mine by emphasizing the reality he faced. I knew from this older sister (the one who found me and decided to hire me) that he was very interested in business and making money. So I just decided to tell him how the real world works. I know, that’s not a surprise if you know me, or you’ve read this blog or seen my videos. I told the test prep teacher the gist of what I told my student – that most people who make it in the business world and make truly huge sums of money attended elite, or at least very good, colleges and universities. There are some huge exceptions to that rule, but generally, you won’t even get in the door at most elite companies, law firms, graduate programs, unless you attended a good college or university and did well while you were there.
There’s no easy way to compare every secondary school’s grading systems and curriculum to the grading systems and curricula of every other secondary school in the country. For example, an average middle-class suburban public high school is not going to be the same as an elite boarding prep school. That means, to be at all fair, and not simply grant admission to applicants from the wealthiest and most influential families, colleges and universities have to make everyone take the same test. Standardized tests such as the SATs, the ACT, and so on, fill that need, albeit imperfectly. We all know that not everyone who does well on the SAT does well in college and vice versa, but colleges believe it’s better than simply relying on grades.
In other words, as I explained to my student, and repeated to this woman , it’s about rationing. There are only so many slots at colleges that give you the best chance of financial success in this country. So if you want money, and all the things it can buy, you should really study hard for the SAT, ACT, or whatever prep test. You’ll see this again if you want to practice a profession where you have to be licensed by the state – everything from medicine to cosmetology (no lie!).
The test prep teacher responded “But what if he’s not motivated by money?” I was taken aback for a second, since, to me, that sounds like “I really CAN’T STAND ice cream!” I mean, you can put those words together to make a sentence, but the sentence is basically nonsense. ;-) I responded “He’s a teenage boy. Trust me; he is.” I don’t think she liked that answer. She said she’d let the parents know about me, and that they’d get back to me if they were interested. I never heard from the parents or the test prep professional.
That exchange made me think about the phrase “not motivated by money.” That’s one of the most San Francisco phrases I’ve heard in a long time. I think the only time I turned down money when I was a kid was when my father offered me a dollar (hey, it was 1981 or so) to rake the lawn, and I told him I’d rather go play with my friends. He replied with something to the effect of “What the hell is wrong with kids these days?” I believe I ended up raking the lawn for the dollar, but don’t recall.
I was able to turn down that money because I was lucky - dare I say “privileged?” - enough to have a middle-class lifestyle where I didn’t really need every possible dollar I could earn. If you are an older teenager or an adult who can say he or she is “not motivated by money,” you’re probably from an incredibly wealthy and privileged family. That’s wonderful , but your free ride will almost certainly come to an end soon. Cars cost money; clothes cost money; food costs money; and your own place costs money. Once the parental gravy train stops, you’re going to have to scramble for every dollar you can get, just to have an acceptable standard of living. But I digress.
If you’re not motivated by money, then you’re probably motivated by higher callings such as pure knowledge and improving society (whatever that may mean to you). That’s also wonderful, but you’ll have to work REALLY hard to (1) find a post in academia (professors generally stay around for DECADES once they get tenure after bouncing from college to college as associate professors, lecturers, etc.), especially if you’re not in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields; and/or (2) if you’re planning to “speak truth to power,” you really should have an elite educational background in order to argue against very articulate politicians and activists who oppose you and to counter the obvious “Oh, this person is just a malcontent who can’t get a real job, so s/he’s a professional troublemaker.” It’s hard to make that argument against someone with a degree from Harvard or Caltech; any person is going to take a least a few seconds to consider that person's point of view, even if he or she eventually dismisses that viewpoint. The person with a mediocre educational background, even when making the same point, is more likely to be dismissed without a hearing. Is that fair? No, of course not. Is that the way life is? You bet it is. So sorry.
Finally, if you’re planning on majoring in something esoteric but intellectually rewarding (say “Classics” – i.e., Latin and Greek), or something students like because it’s fun and easy (e.g., “American Studies”), or otherwise demanding and still insanely difficult to find a job in (e.g., “Theater, “Drama,” etc.), you’ll probably need to do extremely well in the major, including the hardest courses, get ridiculously good recommendations for graduate school or entry-level jobs in the industry, and basically break your back to get a position in a field related to your major. It’s easy to get a B.A. in American Studies; it’s incredibly hard to get a position as a professor of American Studies. It’s fairly hard to major in theater and do well; it’s insanely hard to actually make a decent living as an actor, let alone become a superstar. That’s my advice for those who are “not motivated by money,” upon further reflection.
But what I’d really like to hear is what motivates YOU to want you (or the student in your life) to do well on standardized tests, or in school. You wouldn’t be reading this if there weren’t something motivating you to improve your scores. So do me a favor and let me know what it is! Feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.